Long Distance Trade

This was trade which took place m the East and central Africa As the name suggests, this trade Involved long distances and in most cases it entailed travelling thousands of miles Iron one region to another through hostile environment at the time this trade was well organized With sophisticated means of trade and needed well prepared people, armed with file: arms in case of danger and it was led by experienced men who knew the routes where traders passed.

The trade involved foreign trade goods from Europe and India e g. clothes. beads, gunpowder, guns, Iron products etc. as well as socially produced trade goods from east and central Africa e.g., slaves. ivory, copper. rubber, gold etc.

The main trading east African communities included the Yao, Nyamwezi, Ganda, KIkuyu, Akamba and Banyoro. The foreign trade involved Arabs mainly and the mode of language used was Swahili

Indeed by 1855 long distance trade had developed such that many African personalities and communities depended on it to form large empires, develop large tribal armies and acquired a lot of wealth. Good examples of such empires include; Mirambo's Urambo empire and Nyungu ya Mawe, Ukimbu empire.

Major Trade Routes.

Long distance trade was conducted through three main routes namely the southern, central and northern routes.

The southern route began from coastal ports in towns of Kilwa, Malindi and Sofala. This ran through southern, Tanganyika, modern Mozambique and south of Lake Malawi into corridors of Yao and Biza region. Slave trade was a dominant activity carried out along this route and the Yao tribe dominated it.

The central route from the port of Bagarnoyo and penetrated the interior across Tanganyika to Ujiji on lake Tanganyika from where it crossed the lake to reach the resourceful Congo basin. From Taborn, the route diverted northwards to link the kingdoms of Karagwe, Buganda, Ankole and Bunyoro from Tabora, again this central route branched Southwards to enter the corridors between Lake Tanganyika, Lake Rukwa and Lake

Malawi. The Nyamwezi people dominated this route and the main trading item was ivory.

The northern route started from ports of Pangaru, Mombasa and Tanga. It passed through north eastern Tanganyika and Nyika plateau of Kenya on its way to Western Kenya, Lake Rudolf and eastern shores of Lake Victoria. The Akamba, Kikuyu and Mrina people were prominent traders along this route dealing in Ivory, Slaves, traditional medicine, poisoned arrows etc.

The fourth route important to note which partly belonged to the Indian Ocean but largely the Mediterranean Sea system of trade was the Nile valley route. It passed by and sometimes through the navigable section on River Nile. It was dominated by Khartoumers from Sudan who traded with segmentary societies of northern Kenya and northern Uganda.

This route mainly dealt in slaves and ivory. This was the most notonous slave trade route in North Eastern Africa. Arabs in this route could do anything to get slaves. The route also was linked to Atlantic trade system through the Congo network and Sahara route from

Lake Chad to Sakim pori on Red Sea.

Reasons for Expansion and Growth Of long distance Trade upto The 19th Century.

Increased demand for interior goods; The primary reason for growth and expansion of trade was high demand for slaves, ivory and other mineral items from the interior of Africa. Ivory was needed for making bangles in India and variable in making piano keys, bells and other ornaments in both Europe and America

The increased demand for slaves on the other hand was in turn the result of economic development in Indian Ocean. This followed the growth of commercial activities in Pemba and Zanzibar islands during the reign of sultan Sayyid Saidi. After transferring his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar. Pemba became important for plantation agriculture, which made the demand for slaves to offer labour.

The vital role played by the Indian and other Arab merchant resident in Zanzibar greatly contributed to the growth and expansion of the professional caravan traders. The Indians advanced mainly the caravan traders, which greatly motivated them to carry out adventures in the interior of East Africa leading to the development of long distance trade.

The French sugar industries on- the islands of Mauritius, Madagascar and Reunion also played a big role in the expansion of slave trade. It was this cheap free labour in combination with island climate that favoured the growth of sugarcane.

Introduction and availability of firearms was also instrumental in contributing to the growth of long distance trade in the 2nd half of the 19th century. The presence of firearms made it easier for Chokwe, Bisa and Nyamwezi people to transform their traditional skills into modem ones to attract the available market and it also aided those who were involved in slave trade to easily acquire captives.

6. The division of labour or specialization among the Chokwe and seasonal pattern of land use among the Nyamwezi West Central Tanganyika IS also seen as having led to the growth and expansion of long distance trade. After preparing the land for plantmg, men would leave the work of harvesting to women. Men would then travel far off hunting for ivory and transacting trade for several months without checking back on their homes.

Among the Nyamwezi also their growing season lasted from March to November and men would find themselves free to join the long distance trade caravans into the mtenor of East Africa. This was a great contribution, which led the Nyamwezi people and Chokwe to travel long distances in trade activities as they wait for a growmg season to start.

7. The growth and expansion of long distance trade was also encouraged by existing inner demand for imported European and Indian products e.g. clothes and more especially fire arms.

Reasons for the decline of long distance trade.

As the Yao, Akarmba and Nyamwezi societies as discussed above, each controlled its own trade routes efficiently until the last quarter of the 19m century when It started declining

Steadily. The causes for its decline were many and complex but the follow ing can be singled out most outstanding.

1 Inter tribal wars; By 1880 competition for long distance trade items had come to it's climax with many new East African societies interested in joining the long distance trade business e.g. in Kenya. the Akarnba fought oftenly with the Nandi in competition for rare products such as ivory which Arabs wanted most in Kenya.

2 Followmg this competition, the competition near the coast prevented the inland societies from reaching the coast. They could either torture or force them pay high taxes in order to let them pass through their land e.g Nvamwezi didn 't allow Baganda to pass through their land The Banyoro also were oftenly refused to cross Ankole and Buganda going to the cost hence leading to the decline of long distance trade

3. Presence insecurity created by Bandits; Almost in all trade routes, they had a problem of way layers eg the central route that was occupied by the Nyamwezi had a group of Bandits known as Rugaruga and Mvui who molested (tortured) traders from the central routes whereas hostile Zararno, Ukimbu, Pokorno molested traders from Kenya.

4 The deplation of elephants population due to overhunting indeed affected ivory products also contributed to the decline of long distance trade By 1890s it was hard to acquire a lot of ivory for trade with the coastal communities The elephants had been forced to migrate to distant areas or else they were killed in large numbers especially after the introduction of guns

5 The death of outstanding long distance traders almost at the same time and continous assassination of African chiefs by the Swahili and Arab traders in search of trade items also contributed to the decline of long distance trade. Mirambo, Nyungu ya Mawe and Kabaka Muteesa 1 of Bugznda all died in the same year of 1884 whose active participation and organizational abilities had led to the success or growing of the long distance trade and unfortunately their successors lacked such abilities.

6. Time for scramble and partition of Africa; In the 191hcentury period it led to the coming in of very many Europeans who were interested in legitimate trade that led to the closure of this long distance trade e.g. missionaries in particular condemned the slave trade act and advocated for growth of cash crops which provided the raw materials that European industries needed at the time. Perhaps if European industries had not arrived in East Africa

at the end of !9th century, long distance trade would have continued a little longer.


To a large extent, long distance trade in East Africa and central Africa constituted a crisis and revolution as it had both positive and negative effects in its social, political and economic consequences as for example::

,Social aspects.

I. Long distance trade led to interaction of diverse societies which led to the spread of various cultures like language and other ways of living in east and central Africa. This broadened peoples' understanding as before the long distance trade, societies have been confined only to their small localities and people were ignorant of what happened beyond their own boundaries. The interaction of interior people with Arabs at the coast made them adopt Swahili language and Islam as a supplementary religion to their traditional beliefs

2. Long distance trade helped to improve the relationship between some African societies which had been enemies before e.g. the Akamba and the Nandi tribes In Kenya had to ignore their traditional differences in order to trade freely as friends.

Nevertheless, in some cases long distance trade introduced conflicts and hatred among African societies e.g. the Yao slave dealers were hated by Ukimbu, Hehe and Ngoni people when they often attacked each other in their slave trading activities.

3. The trade involved itself in the selling of human beings, which greatly depopulated most of east and central African societies e.g. many people were killed as they were trying to defend themselves against the slave traders while others were adopted and enslaved in distant places hence depopulating many parts of East and Central Africa.

4. Urbanization impact; as long distance trade expanded in East Africa, the old trading centers were developed into towns. These included Kilwa, Tabora, (Unyanyembe) and Ujiji on lake Tanganyika.

5. Emergence of famine and diseases in some areas of East and central Africa as a result of slave raids which forced people to flee their areas of homesteads looking for safer areas. This disorganized the agricultural activities and earlier social economic ventures set up by east and central African people .

Economic effects

6. long distancetrde led to the widespread introduction of new commodities in the interior. The previous unknown items e.g guns. beads porcelain materials, clothes and other items were spread into the Interior of East and Central Africa.

However, introductntion of firearms accelerated the slave trade activities because weaker comunities could easily be taken into slavery.

The trade revealed how productive the interior of East and Central African region was. They saw a lot of ivory, copper, gold, tortoise shells and rhino horns, opportunities which

Were not yet exploited and Europeans developed an Interest to control East and central

African areas for easy exploitation of these valuable raw materials.

8. It eventually carne to discourage the production of local commodities such as beans, iron implements salt and back cloth manufacture. This was mainly due to the major reasons.

Local commodities proved less profitable than slaves and ivory.

The imported commodities like clothes, hoes and sauce pans proved quite superior to local ones

9 futher more it began the monetisation proc-ess of east and central African economies The use of cowshells. as a medium of exchange increasingly became important in East Africa. By 1870s the use of Cowshells had reached as far deep as Buganda and BunY0rD. By the end of the 19th century even the Indian rupees had spread to Buganda This greatly undermined the old system of Barter trade.

1o The pre colonial trade stimulated the production of local foodstuffs required to meet food demands of caravan traders who did not carry any food supplies along with them along the way. This gave the natives along various trade routes in East Africa an OPP011unity to have an income from the salt' of food

items to the long distance traders.

11. It led to the development rind emergence of people with skills who made names as traders and pioneers in large economic activities of East Africa. Some of the examples of these traders and pioneers include Mirarnbo, Nyungu-Ya Mawe and Tippu Tip.

12 The demand and sale of ivory led to depletion of elephants as their survival was tampered With the great demand of Ivory. The long distance trade therefore demonstrates an example of man's misuse and exploitation of African human and animal resources without any conservation measures put in place.

Political Effects

13 The firearms introduced during the long distance trade helped in the strengthening of some

African communities which were weak before such that they were even able to stage strong resistance against the invading colonialists in the later years. E.g. Banyoro, Hehe- Nandi resisted colonialism during the long distance trade.

However the guns were also responsible for the depopulation and destruction of wild life

notebly elephants m search of ivory .

14  It led to state formation in East Africa. This came about as a result of individuals who acquired wealth and other opportunities from long distance trade that helped them to build larger political kingdoms e.g. Nyungu ya Mawe, Muteesa I, Mirambo and Msn were able o build their empires as a result of opportunities from long distance trade.

Mirambo created Urambo states, Nyungu ya Mawe formed Ukimbu states while Msri created Shaba state in Eastern Congo. Tip Tippu also built a strong Kasongo Empire.

However, some weaker societies like Ngindo and Tonga of South Tanganyikadeclined as

a result of long distance trade activities. These societies could not cope with powerful prosperous societies because of slave trade activities, which depopulated their areas.

15 Long distance trade communities managed to build themselves large armies which were used to expand their territories e.g. Nyamwezi had Ruga Ruga, trained especially for plundering and defence of the kingdom. The Banyoro also built its army known as Abarusura, Nyungu Ya Mawe's army (Mviti) while the Baganda were to expand it in all directions because of the guns from long distance trade.