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'Trust in God - but tie your camel first.' The economic organization of the trans-Saharan slave trade between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries


  • Prange, Sebastian


This paper examines the economic organization of the trans-Saharan slave trade between the fourteenth and the nineteenth centuries on those routes that moved slaves from Sudanic Africa via entrepôts in the Sahel and Sahara to the Maghrib. The commercial framework of this trade was integrated into ethnic, cultural, and religious systems, yet for its efficient operation could not rely solely on these social institutions. The paper considers temporary cooperation of itinerant slave traders and then projects them onto the broader patterns of commercial organization. It is shown that similar pressures resulted in comparable outcomes: partnerships were formed to take advantage of economies of scale in commercial services and to limit cooperation problems. This demonstrates that the organization of the trans-Saharan slave trade was economically rational and can be analysed in terms of cooperative and non-cooperative strategies. Moreover, it is argued that the trade was not restrained by social institutions but versatile in adapting its economic institutions to specific market imperfections. It is concluded that institutional economics and game theory are more useful in explaining the economic behaviour of those involved in the slave trade than standard neoclassical economics.

Suggested Citation

  • Prange, Sebastian, 2005. "'Trust in God - but tie your camel first.' The economic organization of the trans-Saharan slave trade between the fourteenth and nineteenth centuries," Economic History Working Papers 22481, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Economic History.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehl:wpaper:22481

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    JEL classification:

    • N0 - Economic History - - General
    • B1 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925
    • O55 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Africa


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