Organisation of Slave Trade in East Africa

Main peoples involved:

Arab traders

European merchants

African chiefs e.g. Mirambo and Nyungu yamawe.

The Nyamwezi

The Akamba

The Yao




The Nyamwezi

They were called Nyamwezi (people of the moon) because they came from the West direction in which the new moon is first seen. Their involvement  in slave trade was partly caused by the demand for slaves in the interior. They dealt in ivory,copper,slaves and wax they wanted to acquire commodities like glass, spices, clothes ,mirrors, guns in exchange for slaves.


The Role of chief Mirambo

Mirambo was born around 1830 AD and spent part of his life as a captive of the Tuta Ngoni in Bugoma. He organized a strong army of highly paid mercenaries (ruga ruga) who were the basis of his power.

He established friendly relations with Kabaka Mutesa of Buganda with whom they trade in salt, slaves, iron implements grains and livestock.

He acquired guns from Arab and Swahili traders and this helped him during his empire building process.

He controlled major trade routed in his territory by imposing taxes on traders passing through his area.

Between 1860-1870, Mirambo carried out extensive conquests Vinza and Tongwe and recruited some abled men for his army and sold others in slavery.

Unfortunately, when Mirambo died in 1884, his empire also collapsed because it lacked a military leader as powerful and courageous as him.

Nyungu Yamawe

The Role of Nyungu Yamawe

The name Nyungu Yamawe was a praise name meaning “Pot of stones” Nyungu was a prince of the Nyungu Yembe ruling family but failed in 1865 after the Arabs had beheaded the Chief Mnwasele.

After the Arabs had beheaded the chief of Nyungu ya mawe was terrified and ran away in 1865 and established himself at Kiwele south from where they systematically attacked and defeated the people of the regions.

His society was strategically located such that he controlled all trading activities along the routes. From the East African coast to Utipa,   Tanganyika and other trading activities. This economic progress contributed to his political development.

He conquered people and those who tried to oppose him were punished severely and others sold off as slaves.

Unlike Mirambo ‘s empire that collapsed immediately, Nyungu yamawe ‘s empire went on for many years after his death mainly because of economic organisation and efficient political system he had created.

Nyungu’s rulers took over the collection of ivory from the conquered clients and sent it to him at Kiwele.

He formed a strong centralize administration with his own rulers (vatwale) placed over conquered chiefdoms directly responsible for him.

The Akamba

The role of Akamba

These lived in southern Kenya highlands. Their ancestors lived here as hunters and shifting agriculture when they grew rich, some Kamba communities bought slaves from the coast to do their farming.

The Yao

The role of Yao

The Yao were the most active East African slave traders. This was mainly because of the growing demand for slaves at the coast and also the nature of the Yao society. It was the custom for ambitious Yao rulers to increase their power not just by capturing territories but by raiding their neighbours for slaves who then became their personal followers.


The role of Baganda

These lived in the central region of Uganda. Their importance was significant in the commercial life of the region; they traded in Bark cloth, ivory and slaves. They were friendly to Arabs who supplied them with guns that they used to protect and expand their Kingdom.


The role of Khartoumers

These were Egyptians and Sudanese traders who dealt in ivory and slaves. They were semi-official representatives of the Egyptian government with several hundred armed men in their pay.