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Unveiling the Forgotten History of the East African Slave Trade


When discussing the transatlantic slave trade, it is often the West African slave trade that comes to mind. However, it is crucial to shed light on the forgotten history of the East African slave trade. This lesser-known chapter in human history played a significant role in shaping the region and had far-reaching consequences. In this blog post, we will delve into the origins, key players, and impact of the East African slave trade.

Origins of the East African Slave Trade:

The East African slave trade can be traced back to ancient times when slavery was already prevalent in various societies across the region. However, it gained momentum during the Arab expansion in the 7th century AD. Arab traders established commercial networks along the Swahili Coast, connecting East Africa with the Middle East and India. These traders sought slaves for labour, concubinage, and military purposes.

Key Players in the East African Slave Trade:

1. Arab Traders:

Arab traders were instrumental in initiating and perpetuating the East African slave trade. They established trading posts along the coast and ventured into the interior to capture or purchase slaves from local African communities. These slaves were then transported across the Indian Ocean to markets in Arabia, Persia, and India.

2. Portuguese:

In the early 16th century, Portuguese explorers arrived on the East African coast seeking a direct sea route to India. They quickly recognized the economic potential of controlling trade in the region and established fortified settlements such as Mombasa and Zanzibar. The Portuguese actively participated in the slave trade, capturing slaves themselves or collaborating with local rulers to obtain them.

3. Omani Arabs:

During the 18th century, Omani Arabs gradually replaced Portuguese dominance in East Africa. They expanded their influence over coastal cities and islands, including Zanzibar, Pemba, and Lamu. The Omani Arabs intensified the slave trade, establishing Zanzibar as a major hub for the export of enslaved Africans.

Impact of the East African Slave Trade:

1. Demographic Consequences:

The East African slave trade had a profound impact on the demographics of the region. Countless individuals were forcibly uprooted from their homes and families, leading to significant population displacement. This disruption caused social and cultural upheaval that still resonates today.

2. Economic Exploitation:

The slave trade became a lucrative business for those involved. The demand for slaves in the Middle East and India fuelled a cycle of violence and exploitation. Local African rulers often engaged in slave raiding to obtain captives for trade, perpetuating a cycle of violence within their own communities.

3. Cultural Exchange:

While the East African slave trade was undeniably brutal, it also facilitated cultural exchange between Africa, Arabia, Persia, and India. Enslaved Africans brought with them their languages, religions, and cultural practices, which influenced the societies they were taken to. This cultural fusion can still be seen in various aspects of East African culture today.


The forgotten history of the East African slave trade sheds light on a dark period in human history that has often been overshadowed by the transatlantic slave trade. Arab traders, Portuguese explorers, and Omani Arabs played pivotal roles in perpetuating this trade, resulting in significant demographic changes and economic exploitation. However, it is

essential to recognize that this history also led to cultural exchange and influences that continue to shape East Africa today.

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