It’s easy to believe that in the 21st century that issues such as slavery are
far behind us. In reality, many of these enslaved African people and
colonies were only freed around 100 years ago. Despite anti-slavery
movements and the Emancipation Act, slavery was certainly not over in
How recent was African Independence?
Despite the fact that most western abolitionist movements occurred in
the 19th century and allegedly ended slavery, this did not put an end to
slave-like labor in African countries. The first Sub-Saharan African
country to gain full independence was Ghana, which only occurred 63
years ago. This is well within our grandparents and even some of our
When was slavery ‘abolished’?
In Britain, slavery was abolished in 1833. This meant that slaves were
no longer allowed to be traded, however this did not mean that they
were ‘free’. They were still kept as apprentices by their former owners
for four to six years. Only children under 6 were immediately
emancipated. Former slave owners were compensated for their loss of
labor, however, the enslaved were given nothing. Evidently, this was
not full emancipation. Moreover, this did not free the enslaved people
in colonial Africa.
The Belgian Congo
The Congo was colonized by King Leopold II of Belgium in the late 19th
century and renamed ‘Congo Free State’. This was only over run in
1908, which was only 112 years ago. The Congolese people who lived
there were treated as slaves, possessing no rights or having any
protection by law from exploitation. They built railways to support
European interests, produced rubber, again for European bikes and car
tires, and worked as miners. They experienced mass brutality, including
kidnapping, mutilation, robbery and murder to gain labor and
resources. The Force Publique were used to keep these enslaved
people in line by crushing revolts and collecting the goods.
Namibia was another colonized country which only gained
independence in 1912, only 108 years ago. The German people who
had settled there confiscated land from the natives and stole the
natives cattle. In countries such as these, agriculture is such a large part
of people’s livelihoods, meaning that many natives were enraged.
Rebellions broke out against the colonial rule and as a consequence,
mass genocide was carried out against the Herero and Nama people.
It’s estimated that over 100,000 native people were killed through
starvation and dehydration in the desert.