Friday, February 8, 2008

The long term effect of slavery on Africa

Not long ago, there was discussion in the United States whether descendants of slaves should be compensated. One argument against this was that these descendants most probably had a better life in the US than they would have in Africa. Some recent research comes to the conclusion that it is rather the descendants in the regions where the slaves came from that should be compensated.

This is not exactly true. I come to this conclusion reading the analysis of Nathan Nunn. Using shipping logs from the slave trade, he constructs a dataset on the ethnic origin of slaves. After matching ethnicities to current countries, he finds that those where more slaves were taken fare worse nowadays. It is fascinating, and disturbing, that the slave trade can still have a significant impact so long after it ended. Why would this be? Maybe from the disruption in the social and government structures that the slave trade induced, which were not unlike civil war as ethnicities chased each other, and even traded their own.

Thus, even if the United States was not a colonizing power in Africa, it carries a special responsibility in aiding those countries that suffered the most from the slave trade. Let us not put all the blame on the colonizers.


RM Daza said...

I would like to add the complexity of involving the fallacy of composition. That the "United States" bares responsibility confuses who exactly is responsible. Am I? Can my family, descending from native Mexico and immigrants from Germany in the late 19th century, be responsible? I do not think so. Native American? Irish? Chinese? I believe/hope that there should exist a more robust argument. Logical fallacies such as these should be discerned further.

Independent Accountant said...

This is ridiculous. Stuff it. This is the first thing I've read of yours which makes me question your intellectual integrity. Africa is a disaster area. So? The average IQ of residents of sub-Saharan Africa is 69. Africa will always be a disaster area. My family came from Russia in 1919. On what basis do you think I owe the descendents of slaves anything? Are you looking for a grant from some civil rights group? Fess up. I got it now. You want a job in President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors. We got it now.
Eldridge Cleaver, remember him? He went to Africa in about 1975. Upon his return he said he was grateful his ancestors came to America, even as slaves. He would have preferred they came another way but, having seen Africa, he wanted no part of it.
In law there is such a thing as a "statute of limitations". Ever heard of it? Is 143 years from 1865 enough?
In 1966 I heard a speech by the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) asking for "A Freedom Budget for All Americans". The APRI wanted $185 billion for American blacks over the next ten years, then would never ask for anything ever again. Never, ever. I estimate $185 billion in 1966 is about $1.3 trillion today. The US has spent over $6 trillion over the last 40 years on the War on Poverty and IT AIN'T OVER. Reparations??? They've been paid many times over Professor. Many times.

Vilfredo said...

I do not think it is a valid point that the United States should pay reparation to African countries that suffered from slavery. Indeed, as independent accountant points out, there is something like a statute of limitations. And this is especially so as the current population of the United States has very little to do with the one from two centuries ago.

However, this does not mean the United States should not feel responsible and help in Africa. Americans have been lucky in life's lottery in being born Americans, and they should share their luck with those who are unlucky, whether this is due to past slavery or not. In fact, it is even in the best interest of the United States to do so, as the current administration seems to forget. Instead of waging costly wars to fight enemies, let us prevent people from becoming enemies in the first place by sharing some of our wealth.

John MK said...

Independent accountant, I'll bite and react to you troll.

Why is Africa a disaster area? Nathan Nunn's paper can be interpreted that slavery has to do with it. If you read it, slavery has been going on there before the trade to the Americas started, so the United States are not the only ones to have benefited from it. But it remains that it was hurtful.

What has this to do with reparations for African-Americans? Nothing I would say, and the blog master does not argue in this direction either. While I can understand that you are sensitive to this debate, as a Southerner, it is not the topic of this post.

ph said...

Is there any ethnic group that did not have some of its members enslaved? Why are African Americans seen as unique victims in this regard?

African said...

The kingdom of Mali used to enslave whites, so the reverse also happened, although not in the same proportions.

Reparations are clearly out of the picture, because of statute of limitation, issues with determining reposibility and receivership, and reparation amount uncertainty. But it remains that Africa has suffered from outside influence, and this study clearly demonstrates it, and the continent deserves our support for this and other reasons.

Independent Accountant said...

I think Africa has net benefitted from "outside influence". No sub-Saharan tribe ever discovered writing. Consider, without Western Influence, Africa would be as it was in say, 1500. Should the Arabs pay reparations? After all, some slave traders were Arabs. Other slave traders were Portugese. So? Should Africans pay the English reparations? Whaaaaat? Yes. William Wilberforce encouraged the Brits to stamp out the slave trade. The British Navy did the rest. Should the Brits send a bill to the Africans for services rendered? For that matter, how much credit should the "Blue Coats" who served in the "War of Yankee Agression", 1861-65, get as 600,000 of them died in the stuggle? Is their blood worth anything? As far as I'm concerned, the US don't owe Africa nuttin.

Nuriddeenk said...

Why is it that Asians and Jews are owed reperation from American but not blacks. The history of this country has been that after it wages war it helps to rebuilds the country. Americ has hardly given Africa a helping had after colonizing and enslavement. I find it amuzing that people think of slavery as this great distant thing. My great Grandfather was a slave.
And 'Independent Accountant' you do have something to do with it. Slavery ended in 1865 and Jim Crow began from then until the 1960's. MLK famously said "A threat to injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere". Any time you went to a whites only bathroom, anytime you sat back while others recite racist jokes, everytime you did nothing was a pat on the back for racism. Slavery was a institution not every white owed a slave but most adhered to the injustice of slavery by not doing snything by simply watching.
Economically this country was built from the beginning on the backs of slaves. And to assume that we blacks are better off here is insulting. One of the greatest civilizations 'Eygpt' is in Africa. But once you come and repeatedly steal from and kill the inhabitants of a country -they may not do so well. You whites hearts have been tainted and it is time for you to see the black as your fellow human, have compassion for him and te struggles of racism he still faces today. Blacks don't want a hand out, as James Brown said "open the door and I'll get it myself".

Independent Accountant said...

Here's a link for you. Read it if you dare.
I repeat, in my judgment we owe Africa nothing. My family lived in New York City. I never saw Jim Crow. Neither did Barak Obama or his wife, two obvious affirmative action babies.
Consider the counterfactual. Suppose the slaves had not been brought here. They would have stayed in Africa. Would they have been better off in Africa? As what? In all likelihood slaves, yes they had slaves in Africa, or thrown in the proverbial stew pot. If it makes you feel good to to call me racist, go ahead. I call 'em the way I see 'em. Are you looking for a post doc with Jim Hekman at Chicago?

mrsg said...

I am studying this for a history class and can not believe the lack of knowledge about slavery that exists in the USA. Many slaves were sold by their own families, so maybe they should try to collect from them.
The act of people enslaving other people has existed in our world throughout history in every civilization, while the blame is placed largely on the backs of the western countries. The word slavery derives from the word Slav, for the Slavic people of Europe that were enslaved by Germans during their eastward expansion in the 10th century Slaves were owned in Greece in 7th century BC and in Rome in 2nd century BC. There are references to slavery in the Bible; Abraham had a child with his female slave because his wife could not conceive.
Contrary to popular belief in the United States today, slavery was not based on hatred of a specific race. Slaves were equally black and white until the middle ages. During this time European countries outlawed slavery, while African countries continued to sell slaves. Africans captured and sold people from different African tribes, as well as their own kin in some instances. In Africa, people showed their power by the number of slaves they owned and not by the value of their possessions.

Anonymous said...

The public accountant is bliss with ignorance and is out of touch with reality. It is very fundamental; if the blacks who were enslaved in America had done just a portion of their forced labor in Africa - Africa would have benefited. Although, Africans also enslaved some of their own, those work results still ended up benefiting their people or their economy in some way. Reparations is not an idea that as exceeded the bounds of any "statute of limitations",..this is insulting. Sincere acknowledgment, real sensitivity and appropriate closure is truly the only way to patch the wounds of slavery, because THE EFFECTS OF IT STILL EXIST TODAY!! It's easy to be a insensitive or sarcastic blogger on the internet, but this is serious. Many nations took part in the terrible act of slavery, but that still doesn't make it right. Many people speed, but the trooper is only concerned with the one he's speaking with,...God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Has it occurred to any of you that the reason Africa is in such bad shape is because of slavery? No one deserves to go through what the United States and Europe did to Africa, and someone needs to be held accountable. Yes, a lot of areas of the world suck, but that does not excuse anything. Put aside your patriotic bigotry and take a real history class.

Anonymous said...

well i think that the united states of america should help africa because they were involved in slavery. the south used slaves, for that they have to repair what they did.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who wants to have an informed and intelligent opinion on this issue, I'd recommend reading The Hidden History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally. I discussed her book and some of the research in it in a couple of posts. Here is one post that directly deals with the issue of slavery and African societies, and it includes several quotes from Kenneally's book: