African Abolitionism: The Rise and Transformations of Anti-Slavery in Africa

Slavery was a major institution in all African regions throughout the whole of the 19th century. To date, most research has focused on colonial anti-slavery legislation and abolitionist actions. The history of African abolitionists and their struggles to end slavery remains largely undocumented. Little has been written about the localised trajectories of abolitionist ideas and strategies in Africa. The EU-funded AFRAB project aims to fill this knowledge gap. To that end, it will study how the African ruling classes, intellectuals, commoners, enslaved persons and persons of slave descent began to challenge the legitimacy of slavery for all humans within their own societies. The findings will contribute to African and global history and slavery studies by analysing and comparing African abolitionist ideas and anti-slavery movements.


The historiography of Euro-American abolitionism is so vast that it has a history of its own (Brown 2006). By contrast, research on African abolitionism is a narrow field focused primarily on European anti-slavery activities. It presupposes that when Europe abolished slavery in Africa, Africans became abolitionists. This conclusion is unfounded. Many general questions have never been asked: When and where did African abolitionist movements develop? Who are the main ideologues of African abolitionism? How did abolitionism spread, among which groups? What forms of political struggle did African anti-slavery give rise to? While individual African abolitionists and regional movements have attracted limited attention, there is no major review of the phenomenon on a continental scale. AFRAB fills this gap. It contributes to African and global history and slavery studies by analyzing and comparing African abolitionist ideas and anti-slavery movements, the long-term consequences of European abolitionism, and the resilience of pro-slavery discourses.