Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS



Project ID: 240898
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Germany

Twentieth century slavery

An EU team compared recent colonial African labour with slavery. The study examined the effects on workers, their resistance, practices of governing authorities and the psychological background to the situation.
Twentieth century slavery
During the final decades of colonialism in Africa, governing powers systematically forced local people into unpaid labour. The situation is well known, yet little studied.

The EU-funded FORCEDLABOURAFRICA (Forced labour: An Afro-European heritage in sub-Saharan Africa (1930-1975)?) project examined the workers' experiences. The study considered the effects of forced labour via case studies of nine African former colonies. The research also analysed entangled processes.

Using hitherto unexplored archival files, researchers extracted the voices of victims of forced labour. The work also revealed various coercive practices of the colonial rulers. The investigation compared the African situation with American slavery.

Researchers analysed the degree of destabilisation that colonial labour practices introduced into rural African communities. Work addressed the role of 'native guards' in the recruitment of labourers. In detailing the abusive conditions for workers, the research highlighted women being forced to transport food and their vulnerability to sexual assault.

The research also illustrated how workers took flight or resisted. The project examined the resistance organisation, and compared such groups with communities of escaped slaves in the Americas.

The project offered a deep analysis of the logic of colonial administration regarding forced labour. Many practices were identified as obsessive, whereby obtaining forced labour became a principal goal. The Portuguese case in Angola was extreme, but the general principle applies to most cases.

Finally, researchers investigated how colonial forced labour continued after independence of the affected countries. Although the practices became less frequent and systematic, the team demonstrated important continuities.

The work yielded eight published journal papers, with four more in press.

FORCEDLABOURAFRICA demonstrated that colonial practices in 20th century Africa were effectively slavery. The investigation sheds light on the psychology of the colonists, and establishes similarities with American and other forms of slavery.

Related information


Slavery, colonialism, Africa, FORCEDLABOURAFRICA, forced labour
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