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date: 26 November 2022

Euro-African Trade Relations and Socioeconomic Development in West Africa, 1450–1900locked

Euro-African Trade Relations and Socioeconomic Development in West Africa, 1450–1900locked

  • Joseph InikoriJoseph InikoriDepartment of History, University of Rochester


Since direct contact between Europeans and West Africans was established in the mid-15th century by the Portuguese, Euro-African trade relations have played a major role in West Africa’s long-run socioeconomic development. This critical role was connected to two totally different kinds of trade conducted by Europeans at different points in time: trade in commodities (the products of West African labor and natural resources) and trade in human captives. The first 200 years (1450–1650) of European commercial enterprise in West Africa were dominated overwhelmingly by trade in commodities; trade in human captives overwhelmingly dominated in the 200 years which followed (1650–1867). Trade in commodities returned with a bang in the last decades of the 19th century (1870–1900). The respective effects of these two trades on the development process in West Africa were as different as the trades themselves. The early trade in commodities contributed positively to the process; the transition from the trade in commodities to the trade in human captives had a disastrous effect; the 19th-century transition to commodity trade made an immense positive contribution. The positive contribution was significantly enhanced by the ending of the socioeconomic crises engendered by the trade in human captives, and by the establishment of general peace (Pax Britannia) by British colonial rule, with its free trade policy. However, the failure of the colonial administration to take advantage of the general increase in real household incomes and purchasing power and encourage domestic manufacturing in the colonies prevented the transformation of short-term growth into structural transformation and long-run development.


  • Economic History

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