Trans Saharan Slave Trade Project

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The recent revival of scholarly interest in ‘forced migration’ or slavery and the slave trade in Africa has tended to follow the pattern of earlier studies: a greater focus on external rather than internal slavery. This focus on external slavery is itself almost always one-sided, for the major concern has been on the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. In reality however, external slavery is broader than the Atlantic Slave Trade, and involves the trade in slaves across the Sahara, Mediterranean Sea, the Arabian Peninsula as well as the Indian Ocean worlds. Its origins are by no means certain, but scholars have emphasized its ancient roots and modern manifestations, for the huge state structures of Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, Medieval Europe and Arab World could only have depended on a large degree of slave labour, the majority of which were African. The fall of Constantinople and of the Ottoman Empire in 1453, in cutting-off Mediterranean Europe from its traditional sources of white slaves from the Black Sea and the Balkans, turned Africa into a major source of slave labour (Mckay and Bucklar, 1992; Miers, 1975; Manning, 1990; Lovejoy,).

However, the ample focus on external slavery and particularly the Trans-Atlantic Slave has led to the neglect of a critical component of the history of slavery and the slave trade in African societies. As Hunwick and Powell (2002: ) averred, ‘for every gallon of ink that has been spilt on the trans-Atlantic slave trade and its consequences, only one very small drop has been spent on the study of the forced migration of black Africans into the Mediterranean world of Islam. From the ninth to the early twentieth centuries, probably as many black Africans were forcibly taken across the Sahara, up the Nile valley, and across the Red Sea, as were transported across the Atlantic in a much shorter period. Yet their story has not yet been told.’

The question therefore is that why has this aspect of Afro-Arab relations, and especially this facet of slavery received relatively little attention to the point of neglect? What area or areas did the trans-Saharan slave cover across Africa, and what were the major routes, markets, and entrepĂ´ts for slaves? Of what economic, cultural and political significance are these routes and markets in contemporary global social and economic relations between Black Africa and the Arab World? What were the major social, economic, and demographic dynamics of the trans-Saharan Slave Trade? What exactly is the nature and size of the Black African Diaspora in North Africa and the Middle East? Why is it that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that lasted for just about 300-400 years had a larger African Diaspora across the Americas than the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade which lasted for over 9 centuries? What has been the impact of this trade on culture, politics, religion, and identity on Africa, on the Middle East, and on its African Diasporic populations? Deeper still what is the nature, dimension and magnitude of the slave trade across the Sahara, the Mediterranean and Red Sea Corridors? These and similar questions constitute the core issues that this dialogue seeks to address.

This Methodology Workshop is organized as a first step in the conduct of a research on these key questions. More specifically, the Workshop is designed to address the most preliminary and fundamental questions in the organization of the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade Project and in particular, one of the most significant, yet least studied aspect of the Afro-Arab relations: the slave trade and slavery between Africa and Arabian Peninsula through the Sahara, Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. It seeks to open up discussion on an issue that has been shrouded in darkness, ambiguity and silence even within the academia. It is an attempt to examine in a more systematic and empirical way the “other” slave trade; analyse both the indigenous African and Arabian/Islamic cultural contexts within which it took/maybe taking place. It seeks to also examine the complex and multiple dimensions of race, politics, religion as well as the issues of ‘hierarchy and sociality’ that Afro-Arab slavery raises; generate questions about the African Diaspora in the Arabian Peninsula; assess the patterns of slave raids, routes of transportation, and markets; discuss the internal and external social forces responsible for the forced migration of African labour; the religio-political contexts/justifications within which the trade had occurred, the impact of colonization and the rise of modern states on the trade, as well as its impact on victims.


While scholarly attention on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is by far greater than that on the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, research interest has been growing in the past twenty years. One of the earliest efforts to focus on the Trans Saharan Slave Trade was at a Conference on the Trans Saharan Slave Trade organized by the School of Oriental and African Studies in 1987, its main objective being the examination of the neglected trade across the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Arabian Peninsula. A year later, a similar Conference was organized in Italy, from similar, though slightly different, tangents. Both Conferences were concerned with addressing basically three questions: why is it that the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which lasted for just about 3-4 centuries had produced a huge Diaspora across the Americas, while the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, which lasted for over 10 centuries, has produced a relatively small Diaspora? What were the patterns of migration – both voluntary and forced – between Africa and the Arab world? Why did slavery lead to the establishment of plantations in one context and not in the other?

These and similar questions constituted the basis for a growing interest on Slavery between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. This interest has been demonstrated in the expanding research output on the subject, clearly seen in publications such as the following: Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa by Humphrey J. Fisher (2001); African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Land of Islam by John Hunwick and Powell (2002); Islam’s Black Slaves: A History of Africa’s Other Black Diaspora by Ronald Segal (2003); Slavery on the Frontiers of Islam by Paul E. Lovejoy (Ed.); Islam and the Abolition of Slavery by William Clarence Smith (2006) and The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade by John Wright (2007). The appearance of these books has no doubt increased our understanding of the trans-Saharan slave trade. Still, some of the major questions raised in the introduction remain unaddressed. Even the most focused and interesting work on the subject – Hunwick and Powell – that drew on primary and original texts from the Qur’an and by Islamic writers to reveal the socio-religio-political contexts within which this ‘forced migration’ took place as well as open-up discussion on “the silence surrounding the experience of the relationships between the brutal culture of slavery and the rich traditions of the Islamic world’ leaves a lot of unbridged gaps and empty spaces.

Attempts have been made to address some of these gaps and spaces. One of such attempts was at a Conference on Arab-led Slavery of Africans in February 2003 co-organised by Centre for the Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS) of Cape Town and the Imam Drammen Institute of New York in Johannesburg, South Africa. This was a follow-up in the context of the NGO Forum at the 2001 Durban Conference on Anti-Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR), both of which were intensely concerned with the silence surrounding the Afro-Arab Slave Trade, and of the need to more seriously and systematically begin to study it. More specifically, the Conference organizers were influenced by “the well-known fact that whereas, relatively, much more is known about the European led Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the history and reality of Arab-led Slavery of Africans continue to be an area of silence and darkness in African and non African perceptions of African Society and History.” Continuing, the conference declared that this activity did “provide for wider consumption studies by scholars on this subject,’ and declared that “Africa served as the millennia-long reservoir for uncompensated labour obtained through brutal and dehumanizing processes for the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean areas and trade routes.” This was one of the major reasons that the Conference called for a “Civilisation dialogue between the Arab and the African peoples” as a first measure in not only addressing this ‘silence,’ but also in investigation some of the most profound but neglected area in Afro-Arab relations.

Nearly 4 years later, UNESCO, in close collaboration with the UNESCO Office in Rabat and the Moroccan National Commission for UNESCO heeded and actualized the call for such kind of dialogue by organizing an International Symposium with the theme “The Cultural Interactions Resulting from the Slave Trade and Slavery in the Arab-Islamic World” which held in Rabat and Marrakech in May 2007. The well attended symposium in its declaration confirmed that research on the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade, and especially on its patterns, dimensions and impact, is not comparable to that on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Participants at the Conference therefore recommended a network of researchers and research institutions working on this and other thematic areas to deepen our understanding of the Trans Saharan Slave Trade. To underline the importance of this endeavour, a 5-member working group was formed.

The Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), the Pan-African Strategic and Policy Research Group (Panafstrag), the Centre for Trans-Saharan Studies, University of Maiduguri, the Centre for Research and Documentation, Bayero University, Kano, the Centre for Black African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), Lagos, as well as the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, Oshogbo, came together, bound by the objectives, interests, declarations and recommendations of the Cape Town Conference and Rabat and Marrakech symposia, to begin an in-depth and interdisciplinary study of the Trans Saharan Slave Trade in all its forms, dimensions and ramifications. The Project is important not just because of its implications for the cultural heritage of Nigeria and black Africa; it is also important against the background of two well known positions:

That most studies undertaken to date on the slave trade and slavery in the Arab-Islamic world have been conducted by researchers from outside the region. Even so, research on these issues are still isolated and far between with few resources, and constrained by cultural, religious, and linguistic challenges, in addition to a lack of international attention on the issue.

That apart from the Forum in Johannesburg, no proceedings of such academic activity has ever been published by any sub-Saharan African Academic Institution or Think-Tank. This is not surprising since Malek Chabel, An Arab Anthropologist and independent Islamic scholar called his recent book “L’Esclavage an Terre d’Islam Un tabou bien garde” (slavery in the Islamic land “well kept secret”). Now is the time to remove the veil on this part of Afro-Arab historical interactions that predate Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery.


The Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS), the Pan-African Strategic and Policy Research Group (Panafstrag), the Centre for Trans-Saharan Studies, University of Maiduguri, the Centre for Research and Documentation, Bayero University, Kano, the Centre for Black African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), Lagos, as well as the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, Oshogbo, propose a Methodology Workshop to plan a two (2) to three (3) year research programme designed to address the themes outlined in section two of this paper, and to, through these, formulate a research project to investigate the nature, patterns, dimensions, dynamics and implications of the Trans Saharan Slave Trade on Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula. More specifically, the dialogue will develop a common methodology, develop project proposals for resource mobilization, create a research network through the identification of researchers and institutions, set timelines for research, and assign and share responsibilities for the overall project. The coordination of the project will be in conjunction with the follow up committee in Rabat that will also participate in the dialogue.


The objectives of the Methodology Workshop include:

Concretizing the Research Proposal for the whole study spanning two-three years.

Developing a budget for the Trans-Saharan Slave Routes Project.

Creating Time-lines, assigning responsibilities to participating institutions, and creating evaluation milestones for the Project to be submitted to the Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation for approval and Financial Support.

Facilitating and expanding the regional network of researchers and research institutions interested and working on Trans Saharan Slave Trade and Slavery.

Developing a methodology for and conducting an in-depth study of the Trans Saharan Slave Trade as part of the overall effort to break the silence/paucity of data on the subject.

Expanding the body of knowledge on World Slave Routes, Slavery and their impact on cultures, religions, and politics.

Publish the results of the research and disseminate it widely across Africa as part of a General History of Africa, and the whole world.


The Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation

The Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (UDUS)

The Pan-African Strategic and Policy Research Group (Panafstrag), Lagos.

The Centre for Trans-Saharan Studies, University of Maiduguri, Maiduguri

The Centre for Research and Documentation, Bayero University, Kano

The Centre for Black African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC), Lagos

The Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, Oshogbo

UNESCO Regional and National Offices

The National Commissions of UNESCO in Nigeria, Tanzania and Mozambique and other countries within and outside Africa.


The Methodology Workshop is planned to take place in Sokoto, preferably from August 11th to 16TH, 2010.



Air Tickets/Local Running: Maiduguri-Abuja-Sokoto-Abuja-Maiduguri (2) N180,000.00

Air Tickets/Local Running: Abuja-Sokoto-Abuja (3) N120,000.00

Air Tickets/ Local Running: Lagos-Sokoto-Lagos (5) N450,000.00

Air Tickets/Local Running: Kano-Sokoto-Kano (2) N180.000.00

Air Tickets/Local Running:

Niamey-Sokoto-Niamey (2) N200,000.00

Bamako-Sokoto-Bamako (2) N400,000.00

Ouagadougou-Sokoto-Ouagadougou (2) N500,000.00

Dakar-Sokoto-Dakar (2) N360,000.00

Paris (1) N320,000.00

Sub-Total N2, 710,000.00

Accommodation (24persons x 20,000.00 x 3 Nights) N1,440,000.00

Secretarial Expenses N200,000.00

Conference Hall N200,000.00

Tea/Coffee Breaks (2 breaks x 2 days x 24 persons) N200,000.00

Honoraria for Participants (15 x N50,000.00)

Local Participants (50,000.00 x 15) N750,000.00

International Participants (100,000.00 x 9) N900,000.00

Sub-Total N1, 650,000.00

Rapporteurs (x2) N200,000.00

Production of Report (50 Copies x N500.00) N250,000.00

Total N5, 660,000.00

Contingency (30% of Total) N1,689,000.00

Grand Total N7, 358,000.00

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