Definition of trade

 It’s the buying and selling goods or exchange of goods for mutual benefit.

Origin and development of trade

There were exchanges between countries of different environment in more favourable surrounding; there was an organised trade between hunting and gathering communities and their more advanced neighbour.

In Africa it was through the production and exchange of commodities such as cattle, salt-smoked fish, kola nuts, minerals and metals which were instrumental in maintaining trade flow, this shows that food was more important.

As people became more and more advanced, so did their needs, like clothing, improved methods of farming, improved crops and livestock and the use of modern tools in cultivation.

Modern civilisation has also contributed to world insecurity, which has lead to manufacture of weapons such as guns and ammunition.

Methods of trade

  1. Barter trade

Barter trade is the oldest method of trade in the history of human civilization. Barter involves the exchange of goods and services for other goods or services, like game meat with agricultural produces, cloth, horses, salt, copper foe gold, slaves, ivory, kola-nuts, animal skins and ostrich feathers.

These exchanges could take the form of silent trade or dumb barter. This is where is no common language and also in a form of sign language.


  • It’s suitable where there is no currency


  • It’s not easy to establish the actual value of the goods
  • Some goods could not be divided into smaller quantities
  • Lack of double coincidence of wants.( similar demand)
  • Bulky and perishable commodities had poor transportation
  • Lack of a common language
  • Currency trade

It’s the use of money to purchase commodities or to pay for services. Currency is a medium of exchange accepted by a community as a measure of value for goods and services.

Important characteristics of currency

  • It should be accepted by society
  • It should be stable and retain value without depreciating
  • It should be durable and of quality to be kept for a long time
  • It should be divisible into smaller units
  • It should be convertible into other  currencies
  • It should be portable to allow easy transportation

Major modern currencies

  • United kingdom-   sterling pound
  • USA- dollar
  • Germany- deutsche mark (DM)
  • France – franc (FF)
  • Japan – yen
  • European – EURO


  • It can be divided into smaller units
  • It is possible to store wealth sine money is a store of wealth
  • Its portable since it’s not bulky
  • It is a measure of value/ worth of goods and services
  • It has intrinsic value as currencies are generally made from precious and rare metals


  • The value of the currency may fluctuate depending on the strength of a county’s economy

Types of trade

  • Local trade
  • Regional trade
  • International trade
  • Local trade

This is the exchange of goods at the village level within a geographical region. It includes neighbouring villages; one village could produce baskets and exchange them for pots from another village.

Origin: it began due to

  1. Climatic and environment conditions. These affect the distribution of various kinds of animals and plants. Situations arise where peoples requirements are not found in the locality
  2. Uneven distribution of natural resources. No regions have all the natural resources they require
  3. Specialization, some skills were preserving for a few people, like iron-working, pottery and cloth- making. The people who didn’t have such skills acquired what they could not produce through trade.
  4. Surplus production. There was also need for local demand; people exchanged the excess of what they had in plenty with what they needed from other communities.


Local trade developed in order to satisfy the need of goods that were not available in a village and production of surplus goods made it necessary to sell what was not required to the neighbouring villages, as continuous supply and demand of goods led to further development of trade.

Peaceful co-existence of neighbouring communities also contributed to development of trade.

Regional and international trade further encouraged the development


It was organised between individuals, families, clans and alter communities which exchanged trade goods like grains, pots, iron implements, skins and livestock.

 It was organised along a common clan or tribal border on a regular basis such as weekly or fortnightly

Trade routes facilitated the easy movements of trade

It was conducted mainly using the barter method

Characteristics of local trade

  • It was carried out within a small area
  • The range of goods was limited to availability
  • The numbers of traders were few
  • It was the basis of regional and international trade
  • It was done by small- scale trade


  • It promoted good relations between the communities involved.
  • There was interaction between communities leading to the adoption of new cultural practices
  • There was intermarriage
  • Development of trading centres which grew into towns
  • There was availability of goods and materials
  • Early industries were established to produce items of trade
  • Chiefdoms emerge as a result of levies and tributes paid to traders
  • It provided a base for regional and international trade.
  • Regional trade

It’s the exchange of goods conducted between two or more geographical regions like trans-Saharan trade.

The trans-Saharan trade

It was conducted between North Africa and West Africa. It derived its name from crossing of the Saharan desert by traders.


It’s not clear when this trade started, merchants were travelling o n horse drawn chariots between north and West Africa, due to increased aridity, the volume of trade decreased, but with the introduction of the camel from Asia the trade was revived. The Arabic who originally settled in parts of North Africa and from there they started moving south, first as traders and later as settlers.


  • The camel which was used as a means of transport made it easier to travel and conduct trade across the hot and hostile desert as the camel could withstand extremely harsh conditions.
  • The availability of trade commodities like, gold, ivory, slaves, leather, kola-nuts, pepper and gum were readily available in the West Africa. Similarly the commodities such as salt, horses, weapons, iron tools, cloth, silk, beads, cowries shells, glass ware and dries fruit.
  • Strong kingdom. There were strong kingdoms like Ghana, Mali and Songhai. The rulers ensured that the trade prospered and that trade routes were secure.
  • The tuaregs. They served as guides to the caravans as they were conversant with the desert routs. They guarded the caravans against hostile desert communities who sought to rob them; they acted as middlemen and maintained oases through providing food stuffs.
  • Wealthy merchants. They financed the caravans as an investment that hoped would bring those profits.
  • Oases. This lead to growth of trans-Saharan trade through refreshment and replenishing supplies.
  • Islam. As islam spread through the region, it served to unify the traders as brothers and sisters.


Wealthy merchants in the North African financed the caravans. It was done where merchants gathered commodities and commits them to their employees who would organise caravans and they would commit their merchandise as loans to their traders who would then organise caravans.

The traders would collect commodities that were in demand in West African such as horses and weapons. The trader’s would team up with other traders to form a caravan. The caravans would be made up of several hundreds of people.

The traders would engage the services of the tuareg or Berber guides, also known as takshifs who would guide the caravans to the locations with the highest demand at the time.

During their trips, the traders would engage local agents who would serve as intermediaries.

There were two types of trade routes used namely, the main or primary routes and the secondary routes.

  1. The western route. It began at fez in morocco and went through Sijilmasa, then Taghaza, Timbukutu, Audaghast and ended in the Niger belt.
  2. The central route. This route began in Tunis through Ghat, Agades, Kano and ended within the Hausa state.
  3. The eastern route. This route started from Tripoli then went through Murzuk ,Bilma and finally ended at Njimi in Karnem Bornu.

Difficulties encountered by traders

  • The journey was long and tiring, sometimes the caravan traders ran out of supplies for themselves and animals
  • The caravans encountered insecurity in the desert like robbers and terrorisms which were hostile
  • The routes in the desert changed frequently, the caravans would occasionally get lost
  • The desert climate was harsh with very high temperatures during the day and very low at night
  • There was a language barrier between the traders and the desert communities
  • Blinding sand storms hampered the progress of the caravan
  • The caravans were always danger of attack by various desert creatures such as scorpions and snakes
  • The takshifs would turn against the employers and attack and rob them
  • There was rivalry among traders over the monopoly and control of trade and trade routes

Factors that lead to decline of the trans-Saharan trade

  • The gold and salt fields got exhausted reducing supply
  • Fall of empires like Songhai caused political instability and insecurity in the region
  • External invasion by morocco cost destruction of some commercial centres like Gao and Timbukutu
  • The rise and growth of trans-Atlantic trade rendered trans-Saharan trade unpopular
  • European trading activities along West African coast undermine the trade
  • Abolition of slave trade from the 1840s denied the traders a main trade` item’
  • The tuaregs changed their roles as guides and became robbers of the caravans
  • The desert condition like sand storms and desert insects.


  • The trade provided an important link between western Sudan and North Africa
  • It stimulated the growth of small settlement which later grew into big ancient towns
  • It created a new social class in western Sudan
  • The trade brought about islamisation of people in West Africa
  • New types of goods were introduced to the people of West Africa
  • They built schools and university were Arabic literature and philosophy were taught

C) International trade

   It refers to trade between countries outside geographical regions. It can also be define as trade which involves travel across seas and oceans.

The trans-Atlantic trade

It also referred to as triangular trade, because it was conducted between Africa, America and Europe across the Atlantic Ocean


 It began in 15th century as a result of Portuguese and Spanish exploration. At first Portuguese took slave to Europe, where they worked as domestic servants. In the 16th c. with the discovery and colonization of America, slaves were exported there from west Africa by European merchants.

Europeans in Portugal, Spain, Holland, France and Britain started plantation of sugar, tobacco and cotton in the lands. This created an agent need for cheap labour as indigenous red Indians were un willing and un fit to work in the plantation. The solution to labour problem was found in Africa.

Why African slave were more preferred than other races

  • The supply of African slave was high
  • They were cheaper to acquire
  • They were stronger than the European and Red Indian labourers
  • They were regarded as immune to tropical diseas
  • Their complexion prevented them from escaping them easily


This was influenced by the activities of Portuguese as they were to sail to West Africa and established trade links. They captured a few Africans slave whom they took too Europe to work as domestic servants. they were shipped to Hispaniola in 1510. The successes of their experiment lead to more slaves being shipped directly to America from Africa

Factors for the development of trans-Atlantic trade

  • European nations hand links with West Africa.
  • African chiefs had developed a taste for European goods such as glass, clothes, rum and fir –arms
  • The introduction of fire-arms in West Africa made it easier to raid communities for slaves and to conduct wars of conquest in order to capture slaves.
  • The establishment of mines and plantations and in new lands increased the demand for slaves
  • The increased demand of raw materials by European industries resulted in an increased in demand for slaves in America.
  • There was competition and rivalry among European nations to control the trade
  • The trade was lucrative and profitable to the merchants.
  • Ship – building technology improved with building of larger ships with a greater capacity for such as slaves.


It was conducted between three continents that are Africa, America and Europe; it involved Portugal, Spain, Holland, Britain and France. From Africa, slaves were shipped to plantations in the Caribbean and the America while raw materials including gold, pepper, ivory, hides, gum, bees wax, rice and ginger were sent to Europe. From plantations in America and Caribbean, raw materials such as sugar, tobacco and cotton were sent to factories in Europe for processing.

The slaves were the main commodity that were shipped from the West African coast and destined for plantations in America and Caribbean.

Cheap manufactured goods were shipped from European ports to middlemen on the West African coast. The middlemen held the merchandise in trust and used it to trade with the slaves captors. This lead to growth of the West African ports such as Accra, Lagos and Dakar.

When European traders arrived in the West Africa, agents of the local kings collected fees from them after which they were entertained.

Methods used to acquired slaves

  • They were sold by rulers such as chiefs and kings to the slave traders
  • The captives of war were sold to the slave traders
  • They were exchanged with other commodities e.g gun and cloth
  • Some lonely travellers were kidnapped by the slave traders
  • Commodities raided their neighbours and captured people who were sold to slave traders
  • Children were enticed with gifts liked sweets and then captured to be sold to slave traders
  • Debtors were sold to slave traders to pay debts through a method known as panyaring

Reasons for the decline

  • There was decline in demand of sugar as France began producing cheaper sugar that penetrated and dominated the European market.
  • In the 1776, the U.S.A  attained political independence from Britain, a move that deprived the British of profits made from the slave trade
  • During the industrial revolution in Europe, machines replaced human labour as they were more efficient.
  • The Christian missionaries began to advocate for the abolition of slave trade, as did humanitarians in Britain during 19th c.
  • Influential economists like Adam smith advanced arguments for a free enterprise economy; men were less productive when enslaved than free men.
  • The U.S.A. experienced a civil war between the north and south over the institution of slavery, the north which was against slavery won the war leading to the abolition of slavery in the U.S.A.
  • Leading Africans actively campaigned against slave trade. King nzinga mbemba of Congo wrote a letter to the king of Portugal requesting him to stop his men buying slave in the Congo.


  • The trade led to the development of ports like Bristol and Liverpool.
  • It contributed to the emergence of a class of wealthy traders who invested in plantation.
  • It led to settlement of Africans in America.
  • There was depopulation in Africa as slaves were captured and taken to America.
  • Slave raiding led to an increased in inter-tribal wars, the wars increased insecurity.
  • Kingdoms like the Fante, Asente, Dahomey and Oyo which controlled the trade became very powerful.
  • There was economic decline because the young and able were taken away, leaving the weak and old.
  • Slave raiding involved the destruction of property; villages were often burnt down and left in ruins.
  • There was decline in traditional industries due to introduction of goods such as clothes and glassware at the expense of local ones.
  • The trans-Saharan trade decline as goods were diverted towards the West African coast from them was exported overseas.
  • Long- lasting trade links were established between West Africa, Europe and America.
  • Slave market and ports like Lagos and Elmina from where slave were shipped, developed into urban centres along the coast of West Africa.
  • Slave trade weakened African societies to the level that they could not effectively resist colonisation.
  • The abolition of trade lead to the creation of Sierra Leone and Liberia as settlements for freed slaves
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