November 2019 to October 2024
post-slavery societies
Research fields
History and Archaeology

Around 1900, the East African region (present-day Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Eastern Congo, and northern Mozambique and Malawi) contained hundreds of thousands of slaves. By 1920, they had disappeared off the map. We have exemplary studies of the politics and social struggles around slave emancipation on the Swahili coast, but very little information on the aftermath of slavery in mainland areas further away from the sea. Yet better-studied comparative cases in West Africa and the New World show that typically, slavery has a long afterlife. In East Africa, it is clear that colonial administrators and missionaries preferred to keep quiet about continuing marginalization and exploitation, as it would have undermined the narrative of colonialism as a force against slavery, thus for good. What remains unknown is the role of ex-slaves themselves in establishing this blanket of silence, and how it helped or harmed them. Moreover, the gender and family dynamics of emergence from slavery, ex-slaves’ migration routes, their negotiations for access to productive resources and status, all remain to be established. The ERC project pursued these questions through five place-specific case studies in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and the Eastern Congo.