British commerce as an anti-slavery device in Malawi
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During the nineteenth cantury the Industrial Revolution in Britain, as in other parts of Europe, intensified the search for sources of raw materials and markets abroad. The visit to Central Africa in 1859 of Livingstone and John Kirk led to the conviction that Malawi offered such economic opportunities and potential;' Livingstone in fact saw the British as destined for 'the largest [commercial] stake in the African Continent’.2 The British, however, misread the Malawian situation with the result that their commercial strategies in the region were equally miscalculated. In Central Africa, the function of British commerce, as advocated by Livingstone, was to go beyond mere commercial dealings and become the necessary means for the destruction of the slave trade. As in many parts of Africa, a complex situation existed in Malawi, Swahili commerce posed the greatest challenge to British economic enterprise; and since Swahili Arab commerce took much of its strength from the slave trade, it was only prudent for the British to destroy the slave trade as a means of weakening the Swahili Arab commercial dominance. In pursuance of her official antislavery policy, Britain willingly made available financial aid, albeit small, to any private British exploration abroad likely to lead eventually to commercial expansion overseas under the banner of ‘anti-slavery crusaders’. It was in this spirit that the British proclaimed a subtle negrophile humanitarianism, the ultimate beneficiary of which would be British capitalists. However, the British anti-slavery commercial strategy in Malawi never succeeded in ousting the Arab factor.