Africas Role in World Affairs

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Africa has long been considered marginal to the world in both economic and political terms. Indeed, Africa has never existed apart from world politics, but has been unavoidably entangled in the ebb and flow of events and changing configurations of power. This essay seeks to examines external involvement in the continent, exploring how Africans and in particular, African political actors interact with each major external states and international organisations currently influencing African politics.


First of all, to consider Africa's role in world politics, we must first understand the background of Africa’s past. The ideas and events, which have shaped the presumed inferiority of black peoples with the superiority of whites, which arose in Western societies as Europeans sought to justify their enslavement of Africans and the subsequent colonization of Africa.


Why go back five centuries to start an explanation of Africa's role in the world affairs today? Must every story of Africa's political and economic under-development begin with the contact with Europe? The intention is not to produce another nationalist tract on how whites, driven by lust for material possession and armed with firearms, gin and a bag full of tricks, subjugated innocent Africans. The reason for looking back is that it holds the key to the root of Africa's alienated role in world politics and the current predicaments facing African societies.

From the outset, relations between Africa and Europe and for that matter the world at large were economic. Portuguese merchants traded with Africans from trading posts they set up along the coast. They exchanged items like brass and copper bracelets for such products as pepper, cloth, beads and slaves - all part of an existing internal African trade.

The African societies then were utilizing a diversity of materials made available through inter-regional trade; artists celebrated the aesthetic and ethical values of their societies, including the value which African cultures placed on personal achievement, industriousness, and responsibility. Tragically, however, Africa's extensive trading systems and its predominantly small-scale and decentralized political structures made Africa sadly responsive to European demand for slaves. Consequently, between about 1450 and 1880, roughly twelve million Africans, torn from homes and families from Senegal to Angola, reached the Americas as slaves. It must however be noted that, even though domestic slavery was common in Africa and well before European slave buyers arrived, it was in forms less brutal than the slavery practiced during the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.


Historians have long debated both the causes and consequences of the slave trade, and much disagreement remains. Few scholars would deny that Europeans bear major responsibility. In the early nineteenth century, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was declared illegal and eventually eliminated, being substituted by a 'legitimate commerce' (i.e., non-slave) trade, mostly in vegetable products such as palm oil and groundnuts. African societies who were significantly involved in the slave trade in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries changed to non-slave exports by the mid-nineteenth century. The transition occurred among various societies at different times within the nineteenth century, but the commercial shift affected both coastal and interior peoples and kingdoms to varying degrees. Hopkins (1973), postulated a general "crisis of adaptation" from slave to legitimate trade, and further argued that this transitional period, rather than the colonial era, was the beginning of the modern economic history of West Africa.

Some historians have argued that the slave trade caused devastation, depopulation and political disruption. Others have argued that Africans engaged in...
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