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Modern Voices
Margaret Washington on the relationships between Europeans and Africans
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Q: How do relationships begin to get developed between Europeans and Africans?
Margaret Washington

A: These relationships are based on, as far as the Europeans are concerned, a desire to trade, first in gold and in textiles, later in human cargo. For Africans, it's mainly wanting to get extras, not necessities. And it is a trade between the Europeans and African elites. Because Europe is more technologically advanced than Africa, Africans are in a situation where they can get goods that they don't have. They can get guns. They also want a different kind of textile that they can get from the Europeans, and [iron bars] -- a more sophisticated kind of iron. Nothing that is really essential to African culture or African survival or the Africans' economy. But it is something that they want. It is essentially a desire that they have to have European goods, which in some ways they consider superior to their own.

Economically, this trade is not really benefitting Africa. But it is a trade that is controlled by the Africans. They're very careful not to allow Europeans into the interior. So they consider themselves the equal, and they're going to make sure that the Europeans do not infiltrate their land.
Margaret Washington
Associate Professor of History
Cornell Universiy

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