The typical African culture was the culture of family, town, and small tribe. Hence domestic slavery easily developed a slave trade through war and commerce. Only the integrating force of state building could have stopped this slave trade. Was this failure to develop the great state a racial characteristic? This does not seem a fair conclusion. In four great centers state building began in Africa. In Ethiopia several large states were built up, but they tottered before the onslaughts of Egypt, Persia, Rome, and Byzantium, on the one hand, and finally fell before the turbulent Bantu warriors from the interior. The second attempt at empire building began in the southeast, but the same Bantu hordes, pressing now slowly, now fiercely, from the congested center of the continent, gradually overthrew this state and erected on its ruins a series of smaller and more transient kingdoms.
The third attempt at state building arose on the Guinea coast in Benin and Yoruba. It never got much beyond a federation of large industrial cities. Its expansion toward the Congo valley was probably a prime cause of the original Bantu movements to the southeast. Toward the north and northeast, on the other hand, these city-states met the Sudanese armed with the new imperial Mohammedan idea. Just as Latin Rome gave the imperial idea to the Nordic races, so Islam brought this idea to the Sudan.
In the consequent attempts at imperialism in the western Sudan there arose the largest of the African empires. Two circumstances, however, militated against this empire building: first, the fierce resistance of the heathen south made war continuous and slaves one of the articles of systematic commerce. Secondly, the highways of legitimate African commerce had for millenniums lain to the north. These were suddenly closed by the Moors in the sixteenth century, and the Negro empires were thrown into the turmoil of internal war.
It was then that the European slave traders came from the southwest. They found partially disrupted Negro states on the west coast and falling empires in the Sudan, together with the old unrest of over-population and migration in the valley of the Congo. They not only offered a demand for the usual slave trade, but they increased it to an enormous degree, until their demand, added to the demand of the Mohammedan in Africa and Asia, made human beings the highest priced article of commerce in Africa. Under such circumstances there could be but one end: the virtual uprooting of ancient African culture, leaving only misty reminders of the ruin in the customs and work of the people. To complete this disaster came the partition of the continent among European nations and the modern attempt to exploit the country and the natives for the economic benefit of the white world, together with the transplanting of black nations to the new western world and their rise and self-assertion there.