In the context of universal historiography, one of the most neglected sections is the study of the so-called Black Continent, and only recently has it attracted attention in the light of theories on the origin of our species. It is not by chance that the African part constitutes an enigma for scholars of history and is often presented as an inaccessible area, or at least difficult to approach. Paradoxically, African history is one of the most transcendental aspects to understand, not only the formative process of the species as such, but it is also essential if we take into consideration that the interaction of this continent with Europe and its Asian counterpart has contributed, over time, to the shaping of what we know as "Western Civilization".
From the emergence of ancient civilizations to the formation of the regional cultural blocs of modernity, African history seems to conceal its presence in the universal environment, appearing in the darkest corner that Western society itself has assigned to it and which, until only recently, has manifested its desire to come to light. Joseph Needham's statements on the relationship between Eastern and Western societies, in his book The East-West Dialogue, can easily be extended to the reality of the African continent as a whole, especially about the cultural and moral debt that Western arrogance has overlooked in its headlong rush of material achievements.
One of the phenomena that most strongly sustains the "historical disadvantage" with which the African continent enters the universal scenario concerning the West is surely the oppressive and offensive slave system that Europeans built, using and abusing African bodies and souls. One of the greatest aberrations that have taken place in the Modern Age of History, which made the African people the exclusive booty of a human group with pretensions of racial and cultural superiority, masked in an apparent humanitarian interest of "rescue of gentiles", an outdated medieval tale inspired by a Christian doctrine, sustained in the worst ethical crisis of Catholicism.
As a consequence of the first domination that meant slavery, a new version is created, but no less degrading than the first one: colonialism. Less drastic in appearance, but more perfectly defined in its forms and objectives; more civilized, but with more resources to take its domination to deeper structures, to disguise the animality of domination and to remind the dominated that it is not his will that is most important, because there is a superior will that is not easy to contradict.
The domination of the will would be followed by that of the body and, inevitably, that of culture. The colonized imitates the colonizer, dresses like him, sits like him, speaks like him, and even pretends to supplant him. The purpose of this paper will be to show the "logic of domination" sustained by the Europeans, to analyze the main phases of the slavery phenomenon, to establish the relationship between slavery and colonialism by reviewing the European concepts of domination in the light of their thought structures.
Undoubtedly, one of the most controversial issues among theologians and jurists of the Christian era, without discounting, of course, those that took place in ancient history, is the phenomenon of slavery. Some claim, based on the theories of Christian freedom, that God makes a man free and that it cannot be the man himself who makes him lose his freedom, a concept that gradually changed as the European world faced "religious competition", first with the pagan-Classical world, then with the Muslim world and finally with the New World.
The implementation of the slave regime, with the classical implications of the term, was not a common element to the African people in general and, most probably, only Egypt and Carthage were the territories that in African antiquity presented this practice. Egypt, for example, developed the slave modality with all its characteristics at the end of the IV millennium B.C., that is, around the time of the Old Kingdom (3000-2400). The explanation of the phenomenon necessarily leads us to consider the Egyptian needs in the sense of attracting large masses of workers to execute the monumental architectural projects dedicated to worship and the various public works that characterized this civilization.
The case of Carthage is less relevant than that of Egypt since this Phoenician colony in North Africa did not require a large number of slaves, since its main activity was maritime-commercial traffic, which by its very nature did not involve prolonged stays of the traders themselves and, therefore, their supply needs in the territory were not a major problem. Apart from the irrefutable practice of slavery in Egypt and Carthage, some historians, such as V. Kirov, are determined to demonstrate the existence of this productive model in regions such as Mali, Ghana, Songhay, Congo, Angola, and Zimbabwe.
The attempt to confine the African phenomenon to the Marxist categories of the mode of production has contributed in an important way to sustaining conflicting positions in this respect. Kirov, for example, justifies himself by clarifying that the same slavery concept cannot be applied indistinctly to Europe and Africa since lines of divergence can be found quite frequently. Chesnaux argues in the same sense that one cannot speak of slavery in Africa, but rather of methods of direct coercion, of capture and domination through which one individual can force another to work for his benefit, which cannot necessarily be called slavery.
Perhaps in the full sense of the Marxist conception, the practice described above does not fit in, however, it is necessary to understand the phenomenon in its temporal context. For Africa at the time being analyzed, the socio-political organization has extremely singular characteristics from the European perspective, due to the great isolation that this continent maintains to the Western world, which has allowed it to conserve a structure that in the eyes of the European seems anachronistic and, in the worst case, incomprehensible.
Africa has preserved within its society, which for the square-thinking European resembles the slaveholding model proposed by Marx, applying it by extension to African soil. The slavery described by the Europeans who defend the thesis of a generalized slavery practice is a kind of patriarchal subjection of domestic order in which the subject individuals were incorporated into the family nucleus and their role in the production was complementary to that of the free men. There were also subjections of individuals in the possession of wealthy lords with certain traits of ownership, but there is no evidence to suppose that this was a general practice, in which case it could be considered as the basis of the production system.
Chesnaux also affirms that the variety of forms of labor exploitation in Africa adopts modalities of a certain complexity in more or less ample collectivities in which the practice of forced labor can be observed, identifying group categories, but not class categories. It would thus seem to be possible to conclude that there is collective slavery since all individuals work and live for the group. Let us clarify before continuing that the thesis handled in this way may be understandable if we take into consideration that African societies and cultural groups of the era of colonial contact with Europe did not include in their credit the definition of an idea of patrimonial property.
It is evident, on the other hand, that the conceptualization of African society in the context of European ideas encountered great difficulties that in many ways were reminiscent of those presented to Western society itself on the occasion of the discovery of America. Although the exploration of Africa began well in advance of colonial penetration, Europeans were not interested in understanding - or did not want to do so deliberately - the society with which they came into contact, especially after colonization. Judging by Pierre Bertaux's commentary on the pacts made by the colonists with the indigenous leaders during the period of accommodation that preceded the occupation:
"Some stuck to the treaty as if they were trying to respect it in spirit and in a letter; others, although they tried, did not succeed. Finally, others, more cynical, denied any value to their compromise, even signed by them, which proved to be contrary to the local tradition, considered as an absolute, to which particular conventions could not infringe".
Although the geographical proximity had allowed sporadic contacts with the African coastal community, the Europeans seemed ignorant of the African environment, and the sudden decision to colonize the territory did not allow them to appreciate the cultural differences that separated them more than the waters of the ocean and that would necessarily have repercussions in the future in the relations of domination that the Africans hardly accepted, not because they were uncivilized, but because they did not share the European lines of civilization. Due to the circumstances described above, I believe it is necessary to make a brief description of the main areas that made up the African mosaic upon the arrival of the Europeans.
It is possible to distinguish, in the first instance, in a zone with compatible traits, the one that runs from the Upper Nile to the Zambezi, inhabitants of West Africa. It is a large area of civilization that despite the differences in race and language, shares a similar culture, its geographical focus is the group of lakes. In this cultural zone, the care of livestock turns out to be the activity around which the scale of values revolves. Agricultural work is considered degrading for men, even though women are dedicated to it. Hunting, on the contrary, is considered a matter of prestige and therefore occupies the main place for any man.
The rituals practiced by this group necessarily include cattle as an important element, to the point of considering that the death of a specimen is a cause of great sorrow, sometimes causing the suicide of the owner. The miotics, inhabitants of the northern region (Shilluk, Nuer, Dinka), have a varied social organization. Thus, for example, the Dinka are grouped in patrilineal classes; the Shilluk form a nation governed by a king and are grouped in six provinces. The societies of the Great Lakes region (Maasai, Suk, Turkana) developed an age-group system. Thus, the circumcised share a class for seven years, and, through a ceremony, they are granted the passage to another class. The warrior class is important, whose main characteristic is to live in group isolation, receiving visits from young marriageable girls. Marriage in this cultural group is only accepted after the age of 30.
From Uganda to the south of Zambezi, a caste society prevails in which the serfs, obliged to serve a lord, and the peasants and artisans who are relegated to second place because of their activity, are identified as the central actors. In this cultural region, it is prohibitive for the serf to own large livestock and he is only allowed to own goats. Here it can be inferred that the possession of large livestock is a badge of power. The future husband pays a bride price. Thus, polygamy is an accepted practice, since the man can have as many women as he can buy, mainly with cattle. Thus, polygamy also becomes a privilege or badge of power. Consequently, the birth of women is more appreciated than that of men.
This system of securing a wife also leads to promiscuity, since he who has no cattle can only obtain a wife by associating with another individual, with all the implications that commonwealth entails. As a consequence of the fact that the possession of livestock is distinctive of hierarchy, the king is not very aware of the territory and its demarcations, but rather of the extension of his flock. In these societies, the king can be killed if it is considered that his strength has been exhausted.
The funeral honors are also closely related to the livestock, whether used in sacrifices or for the trousseau of the deceased. In these societies, power does not obey a pre-established succession, causing periods of anarchy in the struggle for power by the sons of the deceased. As is to be expected, the ceremonial acts of all the stages of the individual's life, such as birth, marriage, initiations, etc., are also accompanied by livestock, which on these occasions change owners.
From this brief description, it can be concluded that although the relationships within the social groups that populated Africa at the time of the European colonial penetration led to a series of confusions, these arose mainly due to the European foolishness of fitting into the conceptual models of Western civilization the behavioral patterns observed by a people that had developed with great independence, especially the African inhabitants of the interior of the continent.
The first European contacts with the African continent were certainly superficial. However, following the conquest of America, and especially from the mid-16th century onwards, the interest of the Portuguese, Dutch, and English began to focus on a specific point, namely the slave trade. The African continent seemed to offer no greater attraction than its human population, and the black man went from being a barely perceived entity to merchandise in great demand overseas. For practically three centuries, the European factories established on the African coasts trafficked in the so-called "ebony wood", deploying at every step a series of dissertations that involved theology and natural law alike, trying to justify or wash guilt with a philosophical backing that could give ethical support to this most nefarious practice.
The Portuguese were followed by the Dutch (17th century) and later by the English (18th century). The rest of the European peoples were also interested in participating in the business that was increasing day by day, with the supply seeming less and less sufficient concerning the growth in demand. The activity became the economic backbone of the countries mentioned because "the slave trade was so advantageous that it aborted all attempts to develop another kind of trade". The most conservative estimates of the number of blacks landed in America range from 15 to 20 million, without taking into consideration, of course, the victims during capture and transport.
Starting from the Aristotelian idea of the natural character of servitude, which establishes reason as the parameter for judging who can be subject to domination and who can be the dominator, and which states that "slaves by nature are those whose function consists in the use of the body and from whom this is the most that can be obtained". Following the commentary on Aristotle, it is then said that natural law demands the dominion of the perfect over the imperfect, of the soul over the body, of the prudent over the imprudent. Aristotle also justified the use of force to subdue those who, being born to be dominated, resist such domination.
Aristotle's interpretation among slave traders necessarily led to an ethical underpinning that gave free rein to an activity that even claimed to be justified in the Old Testament. In Leviticus (25-44-46) it is accepted the acquisition of the servant or of the handmaid that is around and of the children of the strangers living among the Israelites; they can possess them by inheritance oath, transmissible to the descendants of the master as hereditary possession and use them perpetually "but in your brothers, you shall not rule each one over his brother with harshness". From the latter, it can be inferred - and the slave traders must have done so - that it is permitted to enslave strangers.
In short, slavery as an economic institution did not seem to hurt the consciences of the traffickers, but neither did it seem to hurt the consciences of the beneficiaries of slave labor and under these circumstances, the Africans themselves participated as a link in the slave chain, sometimes serving as intermediaries and sometimes as hunters of human specimens for sale in America. Guinea soon became the great storehouse of slaves, the slave trade was practiced along 3,500 km of coastline between Mauritania and the Congo. Soon it was possible to identify the zones corresponding to France which operated in Senegal and the kingdom of Adres, west of the Volta, Holland in Ivory Coast; England in the Gold Coast which was the most active market; England and France maintained disputes such as those that arose for the possession of the blacks of Benin.
There were also dangerous regions for traffickers, such as the Malagueta Coast (between Sierra Leone and Cape Palmas), which was inhabited by warlike peoples. The trafficking process usually lasted between one and three months. The traffickers had a preference for a certain type of slaves, the so-called "pieces of the Indies", well-endowed black adolescents for reproduction or to serve solicitous masters and children as domestic servants. The blacks from the Gold Coast were highly esteemed, strong, docile, but not the Congolese, who even committed suicide out of nostalgia.
The slave trade not only exhausted Africa but maintained its barbarism and there were, at least in this period, no serious attempts at colonization by Europeans. By the end of the 18th century, the export of slaves was 100,000 per year. The 18th century, and its philanthropic movement, intensified the attacks on the slave trade and prepared the ground for the prohibition of this activity, Wilberforce obtained 1807 prohibition of the slave trade; in 1793, the government of the Convention in France had prohibited slavery, but Napoleon reestablished it, in 1833 England abolished slavery and France did so in 1848, however, trafficking practices continued, specifically in East Africa.
In 1787, English philanthropists had succeeded in founding a settlement in Sierra Leone for persecuted and freed slaves, the result was not very good, because the natives of the place did not accept the newcomers, however, the English seemed to show signs of having assimilated the approaches of Locke, who says:
"The man who has no power over his own life, cannot make himself the slave of another by contract or by his own consent, nor can he submit to the absolute and arbitrary power of another who will take his life when he pleases. No one can give a greater amount of power than he has, and he who does not have the power to end his own life cannot give another person power to do so."
In the slave race, Portugal was undoubtedly the country that led the way, not only because of the number of slaves transported but also because it made the slave trade an institution that - even after the prohibition of open trade - acquired interesting modalities in the hands of the Portuguese, such as the renting of black men to South Africa.
As a consequence of European expansion, caused in turn by the process of industrialization that permeated Western society from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, by the last third of that century, there was a general tendency to establish domination relations over territories that were poorly developed technically and lived in conditions of subsistence agrarian economy, which therefore seemed to be easy prey for the European societies of the Christian religion and with growing industrial strength.
This phenomenon is known as colonialism and its main objectives seem to be identified with the interest in controlling markets, searching for cheap raw materials, and favorable places for capital investment. This form of European colonialism seems to differ from North American colonialism in Latin America in the sense that the latter is manifested by the intermediation of companies that exercise economic domination which, at least, allows the political independence of the dominated, making use of diplomatic and economic pressures to achieve the exploitation of natural resources, also using armed interventions as a method. This singular mode of domination is commonly referred to as neocolonialism.
Justifications of colonialism
Among the most frequent justifications for colonialism are the false racial and cultural superiority, the evangelizing zeal, the European demographic need to move the surplus population to other territories, as well as the civilizing interest of the Europeans. The idea of the unpreparedness of the uncivilized to govern themselves also stands out. The fallacious and often contradictory justifications of colonialism soon revealed its true interest.
The argument of the European demographic surplus based on the emigration of one and a half million people per year throughout the 19th century, although it can be taken into consideration as a cause, does not seem decisive if we observe that from 1870 onwards some countries with colonialist pretensions such as Belgium, far from showing the alleged surplus, with a lot of work achieved a stable demographic growth.
The justification that speaks of Europe's "civilizing mission" does not necessarily seem to be manifested in the violent form of imposition that the process of acculturation assumed by missionaries and more frequently by the colonist who was more concerned with his pecuniary interests than with the incorporation of the dominated into the "privileges" of civilization. An exceptional case could perhaps be that of France, which, at least in appearance, was concerned with incorporating the colonized individual into the category of citizen, judging by the Law of 1833 which granted political rights to the inhabitants of the colonies.
However, even this disguise exposes intentions that have nothing to do with the philanthropy of the French since, according to Walter Rodney, the granting of French citizenship gave France the facility to recruit Africans into armies that made it possible to use an abundant labor force in the form of an "army of unpaid workers". Another exceptional case could be that of Portugal, which allowed miscegenation between colonized and colonizers, thus favoring the integration of the dominated into the institutions and culture of the dominator. However, in this case, Rodney himself comments that this was the European state that had the worst reputation in the application of openly slavery practices parallel to the black slave trade, even after the prohibitions.
In short, the material interests of colonization could not be hidden from the eyes of the "civilized" world, which soon understood that the modality of domination implemented was becoming the viable option for entering the international competition and set out to incorporate as much territory as possible into its dominion, to join the ranks of the industrial powers of the century. African territory then seemed the most feasible to be distributed, especially after the French defeat in 1871. The battle of the Sedan not only ended the French empire but inaugurated the era of German hegemony, strengthened by its recent unification; Germany seemed to be called upon to carry out the colonial distribution.
The systematic occupation of Africa began in 1873. This date coincided with the year of the economic crisis that had affected a large number of workers and thus, the process of European expansion on this continent, not only alleviated the crisis but prevented the threat of serious social conflicts from exploding. The European bourgeoisie found in Africa an economic paradise that more than made up for its previous losses. One of the elements that served as a basis for colonialist activity is undoubtedly the culmination of the nationalist or unification processes that matured in Europe during the first half of the 19th century and which allowed the coordination of expansion movements based on the affirmation of nationalism.
The distribution of Africa
Although European penetration had begun a decade earlier with great force and Leopold II of Belgium was ahead of his fellow Europeans, it was not until the Berlin Conference, convened by German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck (1884-1885), that the "race for Africa" began in full force.
Throughout the 19th century, the British consolidated their positions not only in Africa but also on the main trade routes between Europe and South America, India, and China. The African lands of Gambia, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, and Ghana gradually lost interest for the British, especially with the abolition of slavery, which had originally been their main source of mobilization. Nevertheless, these possessions, together with the Cape Colony, will serve as a platform for the expansion process, which in this case will take place from 1882 onwards. It is already clear at that time that the British objective was to bring the territory between Cape and Cairo under their control.
The first firm step towards the domination of Africa was the acquisition of the Egyptian shares in the Suez Canal, which made it possible to secure, in 1875, the route to India. Shortly afterward, in 1882, Great Britain took possession of the whole of Egypt, thus securing a starting point for expansion towards southern Africa. The English project would be opposed by the French obstacle that also dreamed of a similar idea that consisted of trying to unite, by land, the eastern and western coasts of the continent. This incident was resolved in the so-called "Fachoda crisis", turning Sudan into an Anglo-Egyptian condominium.
The expansion towards Southern Africa was due, in good part, to the personal action of Cecil Rhodes, whose first achievements included the conquest of Zimbabwe, which he baptized with the name of Rhodesia. Rhodes encouraged English migration to the colonies with the attraction of the exploitation of diamond and gold mines. He is appointed Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and, under this position, he assumes the conquest of the lands occupied by the Dutch who were established in the Transvaal. The war against the Dutch or Boers lasted for a long time (1889-1902) and is one of the most remote antecedents of a war between whites in African territory; its final result was the annexation of the Transvaal.
It is worth noting, on the other hand, the importance that the construction of a road and railroad infrastructure had in the English colonization project, which immediately denoted the commercial interest of the English colonization.
The modality adopted by British colonialist activity includes, in addition to the colonies, protectorates, and the so-called dominions. In the case of the colonies, their administration depended directly on the Crown, and no political rights of any kind were recognized for the dominated people; the protectorates retained their indigenous governments, although they were occupied by a colonial army. The dominion modality was only applicable to South Africa on the continent and to the English colonies such as Newfoundland, Australia, Canada, etc., which were granted preferential treatment due to their white component. They enjoyed political autonomy and were smoothly integrated into the monarchy.
The British Empire as a whole, agglutinated the dominion over a considerably vast territory since, by 1902, it was made up of a portion representing 20% of the earth's surface and containing almost a quarter of the planet's total population.
The French presence in the African continent is increased with the possession of Tunisia, which causes an Italian protest; from the capture of Senegal and Algeria, the penetration in the Sahara begins. The loss of Senegal to the British was compensated by the French military presence in western Sudan and the expansion into Equatorial Africa. The "Fachoda crisis", which gave England control over Egypt, had given France control over Morocco by signing an alliance that received the name of Entente Cordiale.
With the Entente Cordiale, Germany perceived a limitation to its colonialist pretensions, since this pact left France free hands to penetrate Morocco, and the German protest was not long in coming. Germany wanted access to the North African market and the mines of the Rif, and since France had Morocco, it sought to obtain concessions to facilitate this. The conference of Algeciras, in 1906, will be in charge of solving the so-called "first Moroccan crisis". In it, Moroccan independence was recognized under the preponderant French influence. In the "second Moroccan crisis", caused by the French insistence on occupying Morocco, the issue was resolved by granting Spain control of the northern part, France obtained the protectorate over most of the territory and Germany obtained an extensive territorial strip of the Congo to be added to its colony of Cameroon.
It should be noted that, unlike the English colonization patterns, France adopted forms that allowed the incorporation of the native aristocracy into the colonial project, thus creating the so-called "colored French". This modality is also known as "colonialism by assimilation", which underlies the presence of an anti-racist premise in its practice. From the first French city in Africa created in 1659 under the government of Louis XIII in Senegal, France deployed a colonizing activity that continued until the post-World War II period. This has enabled it to establish a vast dominion over black Africa, the importance of which is crucial to the country's current economic development. It is, in this sense, considered the second most important country in the colonialist activity.
It was from 1882 onwards that the German Empire took an active part in the so-called race for Africa, founding the first German companies for trade with the black continent. At the Berlin Conference, the participating European countries found the desired ethical backing for their expansion into Africa. Germany did not want to be left behind and between 1884 and 1885 established protectorates in southwest Africa in territories such as Namibia, Cameroon, and Togo and the so-called German East Africa (Tanzania). This vast territory, which exceeded the German territory in proportion by several times, would be extended with the annexation of a strip of French Equatorial Africa in 1911, after the second Moroccan crisis.
The protocol formalities to establishing a protectorate were standardized by the English, French, and Germans in such a way that the practice of sending authorized representatives to negotiate with the native chiefs the tutelage of this or that power became generalized. The Germans did not deviate from this protocol, with Dr. Gustav Natchtigal standing out among their representatives to carry out the negotiations.
A curious case in the analysis of Dr. Natchtigal's performance is the episode where it is related that five days before the British consul appeared before the chief of the Dulas tribe, King Bell, he had signed the agreement for the creation of the protectorate in Cameroon. This race to obtain possessions in Africa was justified on the eve of a meeting such as the Berlin Conference, where the country with the largest territory under its dominion could negotiate better. Thus, following Natchigal, between May and July 1884, it would conclude agreements on the Togolese coast, a territory recognized as a German protectorate by the Berlin Conference.
Among the main countries with colonial interests in Africa, the singularity of the Belgian case stands out, due to the characteristics of a particular enterprise that colonization assumed in the hands of Leopold Il. The sample of the phenomenon is exemplified by the Belgian ruler's ownership of the International Congo Association. Officially, the Berlin Congress recognized Leopold I's ownership of the Congo, from which the sovereign began to grant concessions such as that of the Katanga Company, which was granted one-fifth of the Congolese territory, reserving for himself (Leopold II) 50% of the total shares.
The abuses of the slave trader Tippu Tip and the British campaigns of discredit against Leopold II are the main causes that in 1908 the sovereign finds it necessary to cede the dominion of the territory, until then private, to the Belgian nation. A territory almost as large as India and almost 90 times larger than Belgium itself passed, utilizing the so-called October Law, from the hands of one man to those of a country.
The expectations of development within the colonial structure for African countries seemed to be inexorably reduced to what was defined by the colonial policy of their respective metropolises, however, within the colonized territories, especially in those belonging to France, the ideas of liberation began to grow, very often supported by voices that emerged from the colonial power itself as a projection of the enlightened liberal movement and European philanthropy.
It was in this context that the Pan-African congresses were held from 1919 onwards, with successive venues in Paris, Brussels-Paris (1921), Lisbon (1923), New York (1927), and London (1945). In the latter, the idea of liberation was brought to the forefront.
Colonialism has been mortally wounded and African countries are pushing their liberation movements more strongly. It seems that Fanon's prophecy begins to take real shape in the consciousness of the African who makes his own the idea that "For the colonized, life can only emerge from the decomposing corpse of the colonist".
Author: Luis Torres Monroy