Ending the Indian Ocean Slave Trade

Arab slave market
Figure 1.--This image was captioned "Slave market in Mascate" (Muscat). It shows Arab traders and onlookers with captured black Africans. This illustration accompanies a lengthy eyewitness account by Loarer (no first name given) on slavery on the east coast of Africa. Source: 'L'Illustration' (Paris), Vol. 14, 1849, p. 137. Muscat is now the capital of Oman. It was Omani Arabs who turned Zanzibar into the center of the Indian Ocean slave trade.

The Indian Ocean slave trade was as in the Atlantic, primarily ended by British diplomats and the Royal Navy. This was primarily the result of the British abolition movement which grew out of the Chriustian churches. Unlike Christianity there was no abolitionist movement which developed out of Islam in Arab or other Muslim countries. In fact, slavery continued in Muslim, mostly Arab contries, into the 20th century. From a very early point, the British realized that the key to ending the Indian Ocean slave trade was Zanzibar. Unlike the Atlantic slave trade which was conducted along the lengthy African coast, a very large part of the Indian Ocean slave trade was conducted through Zanzibar. This gave the British who could use the powerful Royal Navy a great advantage. Zanzibar becamne important because it was an island. Thus the Arabs could easily defend it. Trading outposts on the mainland were vulnerable to African attacks. While the island location was realatively safe from Africam attack, it was particularly vulnerable to the Royal Navy. Thus British diplomats were able to exert considerable influence in Zanzibar. The first diplomatic success was the Moresby Treaty (1822). From that first success, the British gradually pressed the Sultan of Zanzibar for more restriuctions. Royal Navy patrols at sea also pressed the Sultan and slave traders. It was, however, not tell the Scramble for Africa and the European colonization of Africa that the Indian Ocean slave trade was finally ended.

Sultanate of Muscat and Zanzibar

Zanzibar has a long colorful history. The Assyrians and Sumerians were some of the various people to have traded with the ialand. Many other notable civilizations have traded with the island, including the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, Portuguese, Dutch and English. Particularly importat were the Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs who not only trades, but seized control of the island. As a result, the population od the island is predominately Muslim--as much as 97 percent. Arab traders soon after the Arab outburst following Mohammed's foundation of Islam reached Zanzibar (8th century). The oldest survicing building is the mosque at Kizimkazi (1107). Arab tradersm especially those in Oman, mastered the Monsoon winds to trade in ivory, slaves and spices. Given the value of the trade, the Onanis established a permanent base on the two islands which make up Zanzibar: Unguja (the main island often called Zanzibar Island) and Pemba. Here the Arabs who were at first small in number defend themselves. From this base the Omani Arabs and their fleet eventually gained control of 1,000 miles of the mainland coast from what is now Mozambique to north to Somalia. The wealth of Zanzibar and the African coiastal areas it controlled eventually led Sultan Seyyid Said, of the Busaid Dynasty, to transfer is capital from Muscat to Zanzibar (1832). Here the Busaid Dynasty would to continue to rule into the 1960s. While the Omanis were principal foreign group, there were others of some importance. The first were the Shirazi Persians (975). Shiraz is a city in Persia/Iran. A group migrated from Shiraz ad settled along the East Africa coast. The Shirazi had more interaction with the Africans and are believed to have been Intermarriage between Shirazis and Africans evolved into a coastal community with a variety of distinctive features, most importsantly a language derived in part from Arabic--Swahili. The name Swahili comes from the Arab word 'sawahil' meaning 'coast'. Indian traders primarily interested in the spice and ivory trade also settled in Zanzibar. They became shopkeepers, traders, skilled artisans, and professionals. Political contro, howeverm remained in the hands of the Omani Arabs. Finally in the 19th century, The British arrived in East Africa. They were primarily involved in missionary and trading activities in East Africa and soon began atempting to suppress the slave trade which was centered in Zanzibar.

Christian Abolitionist Movement

A key role in ending the African slave trade was the development of an abolition movement in Britain. Here Christians (Wilberforce and Clarkson) played a major role. The movement founded the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1787). Debates in Parliament commenced shortly afterwards (1789). The abolitionists managed to get a bill committing Britain to ending the slave trade (1792). The insertion of the world "gradual" and the lack of a time table meant that little was done. Opponents claimed thst it would put Britain at a disadvantage to other countries. Another bill failed narowly (1796) and Britain's attention turned increasingly to Revolutionary France. Several parlimentarians played an important role. The Whig Party played an important role. Several parlimentarians played important roles. One was Henry Peter Brougham. The abolitionists after several years of work suceeding in passing a bill in ablolishing the slave trade in conquered territories (1805). This was finally followed with the passage of the bill outlawing the slave trade in the British Empire (1807). [Pollock] This was a major step because Britain with its powerful Royal Navy after Trafalgur (1805) dominated the world's oceans. Britain was the only country with the capability of ending the slave trade. The abolitionist movement in America was much weaker than in Britain. And as it developed it was highly sectional. The Abolitionist movement in America was built around Protestant churches in the northern states. At first Quakers were the most prominent voice, but other religious groups in the North also began to question slavery. Southern churches, however, saw no relligious problem with slavery. Southern slaves, owever, saw considerable paralells with the bondage of the people of Isreael in Egypt and their plight.

Islamic Abolitionist Movement

I know of no abolitionist movement in the Arab or wider Islamic world. There is nothing in the Arab or Muslim world comparable to the largely Christan-based Abolitionist Movement in England and America that brought about an end to slave trade and slavery itself. We are not sure why there was no Islamic abolitionist movement. I assume it was because the Holy Koran clearly scantions slavery. Thus Islamic clerics and theologians, unlike their Christian counterparts, never challenged an institution so clearly scantioned by the Koran. Hopefully our Muslim readers can provide us more information about this. As a result, the British had to work with an Arab world that was not morally outraged by slavery. In fact, the Arab world generally saw religion scanction for slavery in the Koran itself. And there was considerable resistance to British efforts to end the slave trade. The Madhist rebellion in the Sudan in which General Gordon was killed is a prime example. Slavery was gradually abolished in the Middle East, almost entirelky because of British and other Europen actions. And as a result, aolition was not always fully observed by thecArabs. Abolition in many countries was taken under pressure from European countries (mostly the British) or after the creation of European protecorates and colonies.

Early Anti-Slavery Diplomacy

The first British diplomatic success against the Indian Ocean slave trade was pressure on Sultan Sayyid Said, the Sultan of Zanzibar, to stop the export of slaves to “Christian” markets. Said reluctantly signed the Moresby Treaty (1822). Said also agreed to limit the slave trading to ports in his African and Oman dominions. It was largely symbolic achievement as Sultan Said had plenty of non-Christian markets in Oman (and from Onan other Middlle Eastern markeys) as well as plantations on Zanzibar and along the East African coast. To monitor the Moresby Treaty and various trading regulations, the United States (1836) and Britain (1840) entered into permanent diplomatic relations with Zanzibar by posting consuls there. France also posted a consul. Zanzibar thus was the the first territory in tropical Africa to have permasnent diplomatic relations with European powers. The next major step in the British effort was the Hamerton Treaty, again with the Sultan of Zanzibar (1845). The treary restricted the slave trade to the Sultan's his East African dominions. Shipments could no longer be made to Oman. Thus it was one more restriction on the Indian Ocean slave trade. An unintended consequence was the impacy on Muscat in Oman. It had an adverse impact on the Muscat economy, although there are no precise accounts on the actual amounts of the finaancial losses. There was, as a result, a movement to establish a deparate sultanate.

The Royal Navy in the Indian Ocean

The Royal Navy's task in East Africa and the Indian Ocean was even more difficult than in the Atlantic. This was in part because of the support for slavery among Muslim powers (both Arabian and Persian). The Royal Navy for the first half of the 19th century focused its resources on the Alantic slave trade. This was the portion of he slave trade most known to Europeans. It was an enormous undertaking, taxing the even substantial resources of the Royal Navy. It was only after mid-century tand the Crimean War that the Royal Navy began to address the slave trade in the Indian Ocean. The Royal Navy at first focused its efforts in the Indian Ocean on Zanzibar (1870s). There were notable ahievements. The Royal Navy capturing Arab slave ships and liberating thei enslaved cargo. The Arab adjusted o the Royal Navy's operations around Zanzibar and bgan operating out of other ports. The Royal Navy's answer was set up a 'waiting net' along the northern coast of the Arabian Sea. The Royal Navy assessment that the bulk of the slavers were headed toward markets in Arabia. This also proved successful in capturing many Arab slavers and freeing those enslaved. The task of intercepting small, fast Arab dhows in the often short passages off of Africa’s Indian Ocean coast proved to be a more difficult task than stopping the Alantic trade.

British Diplomatic Challenge

As with operations in the Atlantic, the Royal Navy anti-slavery operations in the Indian Ocean ceated many diplomatic challenges which the Foreign Office had to address. The Sultan’s two sons (Thuwain and Majid) disputed the sucession. Lord Charles Canning, then governor-general of India, arbitrated the dispute. He decided to divide the Sultan's possessions (1861). Thuwain became the Sultan of Muscat and Oman and Majid of Zanzibar. Lord Canning as a part of the arbitation declared the independence of Zanzibar. Great Britain, Germany and France, in a joint multilateral declaration, formally recognized the independence of Zanzibar. The settlement gave a degree of recognition to the Sulyan's claim on mainland territories. Sir Bartle Frere headed a diplomatic mission to the area (1873). He succeeded in signing treaties with the sultans of Muscat and Zanzibar. Sir John Kirk, and Sultan Barghash made slave trading illegal. These treaies considerably strengthened the Royal Navy's ability to persue its anti-slavery operations. Frere suggested that a Royal Navy guardship be permanently stationed along the Zanzibar coast. Great Britain and Germany as part of the Delimitation Treaty established boundaries in East Africa (1886). The two countries rejected the Sultan's claims on the mainland, but did recognized his sovereignty over Zanzibar itself.

Dr. David Livingstone

The evils of the Atlantic slave trade was well publicised by the work of Abolitionists in both Britain and America. And because of the work of the British Royal Navy and the Civil War in America, the Atlantic slave trade while not ended was dramatically reduced by the 1860s. Very little, however, was know about the Eastern or Arab slave trade. This changed with the reports submitted by Dr. David Livingstone from East Africa. The reports of Arab atrocities while enslaving Africans caused considerable revulsion among the British public. They helped enegize the abolitionist movement. Many abolitionist had thought that with the Royal Navy's success in the Atlantic and President Lincoln's Emacipation Proclamation (1862) that their job was done. Livingstone made it all too clear that this was not the case.

Scramble for Africa: East Africa Slavery

It was the European "Scramble for Africa" in the late 19th century that finally put an end to the Arab slave trade though vestages have persited in the Sudan and other Countries. The 19th century Indian Ocean slave trade had centered on the Sultan of Zanzibar. Briatain used both diplomacy and naval power. Eventuallu Zanzibar was made a protectorate. The British, French, and Italians seized the Somali coast. The Ehiopians managed to remain independent, defeating an Italian Army (1896). It was the only Europan army to be defeatd by Africans. Britain colonized Kenya and Tanganika. The French colonized Madagascar. The Portugese retained control of Mozamnbique. Actions against slavery varied from colony to colony.

Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty (1890)

Germany finally obtained possession of Heligoland (1890). The British and Germans negotiated the Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty. The Scramble for Africa created all kinds of territorial issues between the major colonial countries, especially England, France, and Germany. Britain transferred Heligoland to Germany and ceeded claims to Madagascar to France. In exchange France and Germany ceeded thair claims to Zanzibar off East Africa to Britain. The primary British interest was the continuing slave trade from Zanzibar. Britain at the time was working to end the Indian Ocean slave trade. There was a provision in the Treaty to protect the interests of the Heligolanders.

Final Steps (1889-1922)

There were a few final steps in ending the Indian Ocean slave trade. All former slaves in Britiush Wast Africa were declared free men and the status of slave was abolished (1889). The final step was the British East Africa. Compensation claims Act (1907). This was the final measure to resolve the complicated financial isues resulting from abolition,. Claims were not considered after 1911. These British measures did not affect German East Africa. The British seized German colonies during World War I (1914-18). After the War, German East Africa becamne the British Protectorate of Tanganyika (1922). Thus the aboloition measures came in force there.

Brussels Anti-Slavery Conference Act (1889-90)

Largely at the behest of the British making full use of the Royal Navy, numerous bilateral traties and agreements were reached as part of the decades long effort to end the slave trade. The British established a network of binational treaties with both other European powers as well as African rulers granting rights to search slave shios abnd arrest and prosecute slavers. Rival European powers, especially the French, were suspiousd that the Briutish were not motivated by the Abolituimist Movement, but by a desire to impoede the commerce and colonial development of other countries. This meant that Britsin had been unable to negotiate a treaty with Frabnce. The Scramble for Africa had so signicantly changed the situation on the ground there that a multi-national conference was needed to the deal with the issue of slavery and the slave trade. The first multilateral effort to end the slave trade was the Brussels Anti-Slavery Conference. Given what was going on in the Congo, Brussels might seem like an unlikely place to hold the conference. London would seem the more logical place. British diplomsts, hoeever, wanted to downplay the idea that this was a British effort and promote this as an action taken by all civilized nations. The delegates thus set out to negotiate the first general treaty for the suppression of the African slave trade. By this time the Royal Navy had helped end the Atlantic slave trade and greatly reduced the Indin Ocean slave trade. Tragically the slave trade was still rufe in the African interior and desimating large areas of the Continrnt. Markets for slaves still operated in the Muslim world and were being supplied through the Indian Ocean. And Europeans were still sending slaves to their colonies by calling them contract workers. European traders and businessmen, missionaries, prospectors, adventurers, and others were penetrating into the interior of Africa. And in many cases provoking resistance among Africans. Swahili/Arab slave traders and their African allies were importing arms and ravaging large areas in which they still conducted slave raiding. To end these continuing atocities, the imperial powers needed to cooperste to disarm them and impose colonisl adminidtratiuon. The British public strongly supported efforts to end the slave trade. David Livingstone’s appeals had moved the British public. Cardinal Lavigerie, the French founder of the missionary order of the Society of Our Lady of Africa or White Fathers, began touring European capitals seekinhg volunteers to fight the well-armed slavers. The British were concerned about not only losing control of the movement but th Cardinal's Crusaders asked King Leopold to call a conference of the European colonial powers to negotiate an jntrnatiuinl treaty to supress the slave trade. The British gol was st first limited, but the delegates once assembled decided to go much further. The resulting Treaty, the General Act for the Repression of the African Slave Trade of 1890, better known as the Brussels Act, declared that the best way of ending the slave trade by establishing their administrations, developing communications, protecting missionaries and trading companies, and initiating Africans into agricultural labor and the 'industrial arts'. The delegates agreed to prevent wars, end slave trading and raiding, stop the castration of males (to makje them more vaklusble in Muslim markets), and repatriate or resettle freed and fugitive slaves. They agreed to restrict the arms traffic in tropical Africa (between 20° north latitude and 22° south latitude). Some support was obtained from Muslim countries. The Ottoman Empire, Zanzibar, and Persia agreed to outlaw the import and export of slaves, and the mutilation of males, as well as the freeing, repatriating, or caring for illegally imported slaves. The delegtes committed to established an office in Zanzibar to disseminate information to help identify and arrest of slavers. Another office was set up in Brussels was to collect information on the measures taken to carry out the Treaty, and produce statistics on the slave, arms, and liquor traffic. The Conference produced the Convention Relative to the Slave Trade and Importation into Africa of Firearms, Ammunition, and Spiritous Liquors. It was a collection of the anti-slavery measures agreed to at the Brussels Conference, ofte referred to as the Bruusels Conference Act. The stated puroose was to "put an end to Negro Slave Trade by land as well as by sea, and to improve the moral and material conditions of existence of the native races".

Convention of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (1919)

The Brussels Act was supplemented and revised by the Convention of Saint-Germain-en-Laye signed by the Allied World War I powers (September 10, 1919). This was the treaty with Austria ending Woirld War I. A separate treaty was signed with Hungary. This was necessary because the Austruian-Hungariam Empire was disolved at the end of the War.





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Created: 3:34 AM 3/22/2010
Last updated: 3:54 AM 5/31/2018