- Africans often propose that European-based countries’ wealth is based upon either African slavery or the theft of African resources.
- We review the evidence to see the accuracy of this hypothesis.
Africans and black Americans present a commonly stated but false storyline that all wealth in the European based countries is either based upon African slavery or based on stealing African resources. Typically, the person saying this does so to try to take credit for all of the accomplishments in Europeans-based countries while explaining why African countries have performed so poorly both historically and after independence. This article will test whether this claim is true by using relevant historical comparisons between countries that had significant colonies and those that did not, and their comparative wealth today.
Our References for This Article
If at any time you want to see our references for this article and also other Brightwork related articles see this link.
It is important to first review the assertion that all of (or most) of the wealth of European countries (and related countries like the US and Australia, New Zealand) is based upon slavery or African resource exploitation.
The following is a verbatim quote from one commenter that was taken from a thread on the problems in Africa.
“Yes, just like most European countries are rich because of colonization of African countries, but of course you are too stupid to see that. So, in essence, white people are living off OUR money, labor and resources.”
The assertion is that anyone who disagrees with this claim, (although evidence is not provided to support the claim) is stupid. Obviously a claim that must be agreed with or the result is that one must be stupid is a problem.
Let us being by comparing countries in Europe versus their colonial history.
A Multi-Country Comparison
If one looks at the most colonial countries, like Spain and Portugal and the UK, they significantly lag the countries with the least colonial ties, like Germany, Norway, and Sweden. Resources were extracted from Africa during the colonial period. Still, those were primarily underground resources and that the Africans both did not know existed and would not have been able to use. (you have to have mastered metallurgy to make use of mining output). Secondly, every single technology used by Africans beyond stone age instruments was brought to Africa by Europeans. So, in essence, Africans are living off of non-African technology. This is a benefit that African countries and people do not seem to acknowledge.
Who did Sweden and Norway Steal their Wealth From?
Norway had no colonies and was colonized by Sweden.
Here is a list of Sweden’s colonies in Africa.
“The former Swedish colonies in Africa were: Swedish Gold Coast (1650–1663; lost to Denmark and the Dutch) Including the Cape Coast (1649–1663) consisting of the following settlements: Fort Apollonia, presently Beyin: 1655–1657. Fort Christiansborg/Fort Frederiksborg, which became the capital, presently Osu: 1652–1658.” – Wikipedia
So, several small colonial areas owned for roughly 13 years, close to 400 years ago, explains Sweden’s present wealth?
The Dutch had a significant colonial holding in Africa, but are the Dutch more wealthy than the Swedish today? The Dutch have a per capita income that is roughly 2% higher than the Swedes. Norway has a per capita income (never had any colonies, remember) around 25% higher than either Sweden or the Dutch. This differential is primarily due to Norway’s oil discovery, as Norway was in past times less wealthy than either Sweden or the Dutch.
Secondly, the statement that European countries are rich because they colonized African countries is incorrect. Norway did not colonize Africa. Sweden barely colonized Africa. Both are some of the wealthiest countries in Europe, but their wealth cannot be based upon African colonialization. The Dutch are also wealthy, and they did have African colonies, but they are less affluent than Norway and only a tiny percentage more wealthy than Sweden. Germany had several colonies, but not for very long. Germany lost its colonies to the UK as part of the Treaty of Versaille after WW1. However, today Germany is more wealthy than the UK.
This comparison of European countries with different degrees of colonial involvement undermines rather than supports the hypothesis of wealth being based upon African resource extraction.
The Problem with Time and the European Country Colonial Theft Hypothesis
Most people usually think that a period of colonialization by Europeans by Africa was in the distant past. After all, Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492. However, this map shows the timing of the African colonial period.
The European colonization of Africa occurred in a significant way, at least between 1880 and 1913.
This is a rough approximation of the natural resources locations in Africa.
Every country in Sub Saharan Africa that is prosperous — such as Botswana and Equatorial Guinea and excluding South Africa (which has been a white-run country for most of its history) is based on oil minerals.
The Scramble for Africa
This period was called the scramble for Africa, with the European powers “scrambling” to get their part of Africa. Notice that in 1880 there are only a few colonialized areas by European powers — the most prominent being French Algeria, Portuguese Angola, and Mozambique, and the UK’s Cape Colony.
The largest colonial area is the Ottoman/Egyptian controlled area. The Turks had a massive colonial territory and were known as far more brutal and extractive than the European colonial powers, but are the Turks wealthy today?
No, they are not.
Is Egypt wealthy today? Again no.
This video shows the timing of the European colonization of Africa.
The relatively recent colonization of Africa by European countries is described in the following quotation.
In 1870, only 10 percent of Africa was under formal European control; by 1914 it had increased to almost 90 percent of the continent, with only Ethiopia(Abyssinia), the Dervish state (a portion of present-day Somalia) and Liberia still being independent.
By 1840, European powers had established small trading posts along the coast, but they seldom moved inland. In the middle decades of the 19th century, European explorers had mapped areas of East Africa and Central Africa. – Wikipedia
The primary European colonizers of Africa were the following countries:
- The United Kingdom
However, the wealthiest of these countries is Germany. Still, Germany was the first one of the smaller players in colonizing Africa, and they kept their colonies for a short period. Germany colonized what is today known as Tanzania, Namibia, and Cameroon. The Germans stayed in Namibia, but Germany was the only colonial power in Tanzania and Cameroon for around 35 years. The Germans’ loss of WW1 and the Treaty of Versailles removed all overseas possessions from Germany, which meant that Nambinia became self-governing. Tanzania and Cameroon were ceded to the British.
The proponents of the stolen wealth argument have several problems.
- The wealthiest Western European countries have, in most cases, the least involved in the colonization of Africa.
- The European countries were already far wealthier than any of the African regions or territories that they colonized. Much of this European wealth was based upon systems of organization and technology that Europeans brought with them but did not exist in Africa.
This is not to say that European and European based countries (like the US and Australia) have not robbed African countries of natural resources. They most certainly have and continue to do so. We covered this exact topic in the article The Economist Misleads Again on Tanzania Versus Acacia Mining.
However, colonization or resource theft cannot explain the vast wealth differences between Africa and Europe and European based countries. But let us noticed some distinctions between these countries.
A Comparison of the US, Australia and NZ Involvement in Africa
|Country||Colonized Africa?||Used Slave Labor?||Is Very Involved in Mining in Africa?|
So these countries have had very different historical interactions with Africa, yet they have similar wealth levels today. New Zealand of course has had close to no interactions with Africa, so how is New Zealand’s wealth based upon exploiting African resources and labor?
The Case Studies of Egypt and the Ottomans
The Ottoman/Egypt colonial power colonized the north-eastern portion of Africa for close to 400 years. This is roughly ten times longer than Germany had colonies in Africa. However, neither Turkey nor Egypt are wealthy countries.
The Case Study of Australia
Australia is one of the largest mining countries in the world. With a small population for an entire continent, Australia has one of the highest natural resources ratios to people. However, Australia has a wealth level of other countries in Europe or the US. That is, they are no more wealthy than these other European based countries. This contradicts the assertion that Europe became wealthy chiefly through robbing Africa of its natural resources. Australia had far more land and natural resources than countries in Western Europe but did not become more prosperous. This is because Australia has little of the most valuable natural resource, which is oil.
The Case Study of Brazil
Brazil had all of the characteristics that Africans say lead to wealth. Brazil was the largest recipient of slaves in The Atlantic Slave Trade, and they had a massive landmass with enormous natural resources ranging from wood to minerals. Around 55% of Brazilians today can trace their ancestry back to the African slave trade.
The following quotation explains this.
Slavery as an institution in Brazil was unrivaled in all of the Americas. The sheer number of African slaves brought to Brazil and moved around South America greatly influenced the entirety of the Americas. – Wikipedia
However, has all of the conditions — both slavery and natural resources made Brazil wealthy? No, Brazil is roughly 1/3 as wealthy as European based countries. If slavery and natural resources made a country prosperous, Brazil would have become one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
Another question is if Brazil, too, the most slaves during the Atlantic Slave Trade, why did the commenter not state that Brazil owes its wealth to African slaves? That is why the comment was directed towards the only European based country that imported many slaves.
This is an even more egregious oversight as Brazil had the shortest life expectancy for African slaves, as the following quote explains.
Indigenous slaves remained much cheaper during this time than their African counterparts, though they did suffer horrendous death rates from European diseases. Although the average African slave lived to only be twenty-three years old due to terrible work conditions, this was still about four years longer than Indigenous slaves, which was a big contribution to the high price of African slaves. – Wikipedia
Also, why was the Caribbean, the other major importer of slaves from The Atlantic Slave Trade, also not mentioned.
It is almost as if the Brazilian involvement in slavery is entirely off of the radar of Africans. One has to ask, is this because Brazil and the Caribbean are not Europe based countries? The Caribbean is complicated; it began as European based, but the population quickly became majority slave, and as time passed, the descendants of African slaves took political control. And the European presence wanted, these countries have come to be seen as not European based.
Is US wealth Based Upon African Slavery?
The earlier commenter described Europe as living off of African labor. However, this comment is more specific on this point.
Slaves did all the hard work that the white didn’t want to do .. America is a great example !!! Why do you think they are so rich?? Black people did everything by force and the whites got all the profit and pass down to generations.. money.. Jobs… lands.. mansion ..family farms … basically everything and the black even now hardly owned shit .. same as African counties.. we have to build it ourself no one will come do it for free .. that’s what she meant I think..
This again attributes all of the wealth in a European based country to slavery.
First, it is undoubtedly true that US slaveholders exploited the labor of slaves. This is sometimes generalized to all non-slaves when, in fact, the existence of slaves in any society drives down the general wage level. And non-slaveholders do not benefit from slavery; in fact, they are worse off. And slaveholders do not offer some of their ill-gotten gains to non-slaveholders.
While African labor was exploited, this simplistic assertion that the US is wealthy primarily because of African slavery does not hold up.
This video explains the problematic explanation that slavery led to significant wealth.
Brazil and the Caribbean imported far more slaves than the US — then why aren’t these countries as wealthy as the US — that imported far fewer slaves.
Understanding the Origins of the US and How it Intertwined with Slavery
Like Australia and South Africa, the US was and continues to be based upon a European system. Recall that the Indians had been in the Americas for over 10,000 years and had access to all of these areas’ natural resources but did not become wealthy — even though various Indian tribes did enslave other tribes. The US, like Australia, placed a European based system onto an unexploited land. However, other countries have also had access to enormous amounts of unexploited land but did not become wealthy. One perfect example of this is the primary country to the south of the US, Brazil.
Brazil was the primary recipient of slaves from The Atlantic Slave Trade. There were around 388,000 slaves that arrived in the US during the entirety of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Brazil took in 5 million slaves, and the balance of the rest (the total being around 12.4 million) went to the Caribbean and other areas in Latin America. We covered this in the article Where Did African Slaves Come From And Where Did They Go? Most of the world’s population is completely unaware of this history. Movies and discussion seem to center around white to black slavery, when, in fact, non-white slave owners are the norm.
Graphics like this will often confuse people about where the African slaves during the Atlantic Slave Trade went. This states the slaves that went to “the Americas.” This is not “to America,” the Americas are North, Central, and South America, including the Caribbean.
The US received 5 percent of all of the slaves from The Atlantic Slave Trade. This brings up a question.
Is Slavery a Pathway to the Development of Wealthy Societies?
If slavery is the pathway to building a wealthy society, why are the areas that received 95% of the slaves’, not wealth? One reason is that slave societies are well known to fall into a state of decline gradually. For the vast majority of Latin America’s history, the nonelites have been treated as borderline slaves. As with slaves, there has been little effort to educate the broader population. Slavery creates a tiered system where those at the top know that they don’t have to work, and those at the bottom know they can never improve their condition and must work on command.
This may, in part, explain why in the entirety of the vast landmass of Latin America, barely any innovation has come from these societies. Slavery also prevents income from flowing to more of the population. Rather than being an engine for growth, slavery quickly ossifies any community where it exists, makes the elites dependent on it and reduces both sides’ incentives. It also reduces the incentives to improve the human capital of the slave so that they can perform more valuable work. This quote of Roman slavery illustrates this issue.
“The averaged recorded age at death for the slaves of the city of Rome was extraordinarily low: seventeen and a half years (17.2 for males; 17.9 for females). By comparison, life expectancy at birth for the population as a whole was in the mid-twenties (36% percent of men could expect to reach the age of 62 and 27% of women if they succeeded in reaching the age of 10).” – Wikipedia
Of the countries that received slaves during the Atlantic Slave Trade, the US was the only country with a white majority. The US approximated the development of the countries where most immigrants were from, and this was Europe.
Those slaves sent to the Caribbean or Latin America fared far worse than those assigned to the US. And the wealthiest grouping of Africans in the world is the African Americans in the US.
The Peculiar Selective Observations Around Slavery by Africans
Africans don’t discuss slavery in Latin America or the Caribbean. It seems the only reason they don’t is that the topic of slavery is of little interest to Africans unless the slaveholder is white. I have spoken to many Africans who think it is great to get extremely low-cost servants for their homes. Then in the next breath, I will talk about the evils of while owning black slaves. Slavery, which enormously predated Europeans’ arrival in Africa, and which continued after the colonial period receded, has somehow been converted into a European invention in the minds of Africans. However, Africans are aggressively selling slaves in many parts of Africa in the current day, and it is considered entirely normal. According to the Global Slavery Index, slavery is still quite commonly found in Africa today. https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/
Mauritiana has an extensive slavery history, being a primary origin of slaves destined for Brazil.
Slavery occurs today in Mauritania.
Here is Mauritania’s government’s response to observations around its slavery.
“Slavery no longer exists, and talk of it suggests manipulation by the West, an act of enmity toward Islam, or influence from the worldwide Jewish conspiracy.”
I must tell you that in Mauritania, freedom is total: freedom of thought, equality—of all men and women of Mauritania… in all cases, especially with this government, this is in the past. There are probably former relationships—slavery relationships and familial relationships from old days and of the older generations, maybe, or descendants who wish to continue to be in relationships with descendants of their old masters, for familial reasons, or out of affinity, and maybe also for economic interests. But (slavery) is something that is totally finished. All people are free in Mauritania and this phenomenon no longer exists. And I believe that I can tell you that no one profits from this commerce.
Yes, if you bring up the topic of slavery, you not only hate Islam but are possibly or even probably Jewish.
Libyan Slave Markets
Slavery has reappeared in Libya. Slavery and sex slavery has been exported to Italy from Lybia. Sex slavery is rampant throughout India, as is bonded labor, as we covered in the article How Indian IT is Bringing Bonded Labor to the US. Slavery, bonded labor, and various forms of debt peonage are being brought to European based countries by non-European based countries. And the majority of Africans either want to talk about The Atlantic Slave Trade or how Europeans (and only Europeans, not Brazilians, for example) held slaves hundreds of years ago.
Slavery markets exist in Libya. The US and European bombing caused Libya’s instability. However, once the rule of law was destroyed, the slave markets began to grow, and this is based upon a culture of accepting slavery. The slave markets are controlled by Africans who do not are in favor of slavery. People are purchased for roughly $500.
According to the Global Slavery Index, European and European based countries respond very differently to slavery than African and other European non-European based countries.
The worst response to slavery on the part of the US is that a strong argument could be made regarding products that contract manufacturers make for wealthy US corporations. But are known to be manufactured in factories with both slave conditions and also sweatshop conditions. Apple has become enormously wealthy in significant part by a combination of sweatshop labor and tax evasion. However, in this case, the exploited people are not Africans by Chinese.
Yet Africans prefer to talk about slavery by whites, which has not existed for some time, rather than addressing slavery presently occurring in non-European based countries.
As well as in other places like the Middle East and Southeast Asia and India. None of these areas are European. In any given year, 89 million people are subjected to some slavery type conditions.
This information is easy to find by simply searching the Internet; however, in Hollywood, unless slavery takes place in a white society, there are not depictions of slavery.
This means that the public ends up with a highly inaccurate depiction of slavery — presuming inaccurately that it primarily occurred in just a few locations in the world and for only a minimal time.
How is Your Knowledge of Slavery Geography?[wpgenially]https://view.genial.ly/5eede333e8077d0d7369c1a5/learning-experience-challenges-slavery-geography[/wpgenially]
- European powers did and continue to steal natural resources from Africa.
- The US did exploit African slaves.
However, both of these statements are true does not contradict the fact that neither the hypothesis that European wealth is primarily based upon the theft of resources or on African slaves. Economies are multifaceted entities with many moving parts. There are sufficient data points in terms of the countries that participated in colonialization and used slaves to disprove these hypotheses. Not only is there no evidence for them, but the evidence also works in the opposite direction. These hypotheses seem to be proposed by those looking for excuses to explain the differences in development between Africa and non-African countries.
This topic is also covered well in the following video.