The combination of individual and national power and the need to find a safe route to the trade markets of the Indian Ocean led the Europeans to the continent of Africa in the late 1400s. They would soon discover the abundance of its natural resources and in the next four centuries would systematically trigger the breakdown African societies. These acts would lead the Africans to be integrated into an exploited and racially dominated labor structures that would spread throughout the world. It began with the exploration of the Portuguese in and around western Africa in the late 1400s to gain access to the Akan goldfields of West Africa. Once they gained access to these fields it helped finance future exploration round the southern tip of Africa and reach the trade markets of the Indian Ocean.
They purchased silk, spices, perfumes and other goods, return it to Europe and sold it for a profit. They built the fort of Elmina in West Africa to protect their interests from other European countries who were also seeking fortune in Africa. When they reached the eastern coast of Africa it was amazed by the wealth of the Swahili States comprised of Zanzibar, Kilwa, Mombassa and Sofala, they wanted to seize them. They first sailed into the important towns and demanded the rulers to become Portuguese subjects and pay them tributes. When the rulers refused the Portuguese would raid the towns until they gave into them.
They built a fortress called fort Jesus in Mombassa to protect their interest in the east. The Portuguese discovered the island of Sao Tome of the West Coast of Africa in 1470 and would soon become the largest producer of sugar for the European markets. The laborers consisted of African slaves brought over from the African mainland. These sugar plantations were owned and run by European overseers and it would become the model for the plantation slavery systems in the Americas. The practice of slavery and slave trade existed in African societies before the Europeans It is important to point out that they were either regarded as private investment for the local chiefs, kings, and merchants or dependent royal subjects for producing revenue and performing administrative and military duties.
Before the Europeans, they were used to build and strengthened states. They were acquired through wars and trade, and were kept to work on the land or used in warfare. After the Europeans arrived, the slave trade changed dramatically. The Europeans caused internal divisions among African societies. The Oyo-Dahomey Wars, local/regional conflicts among the Asante, and internal division within the Kongo kingdoms helped the Europeans acquire slaves in exchange for textiles, guns and ammunitions to expand their territories. The Europeans benefited from this by shipping off the slaves to the plantations of the Americas. As a result the African societies experienced a drastic change.
The depopulation of skilled craftsmen increased wars between tribes. Families were torn apart and children that were left behind became vulnerable to being captured by rival tribesman. The slave trade as a result expanded because of the participation of African rulers and merchants in the international exchange economy, involving the exports of humans.