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The Sultans of Zanzibar and the Abolition of Slavery in East Africa

Liebst, Michelle; (2024) The Sultans of Zanzibar and the Abolition of Slavery in East Africa. Law and History Review , 42 (1) pp. 49-74. 10.1017/S0738248023000561. Green open access

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Abstract

In 1890 Sultan Ali of Zanzibar declared in writing that ‘we wish by every means to stop the slave trade’. Statements like these, in addition to the actual passing of anti-slavery legislation, call into question the generally accepted scholarly understanding that the sultans of Zanzibar only agreed to pass and enforce anti-slavery legislation because they were under duress from European, mainly British, powers, who negotiated favorable political and economic benefits in return for (gradual) abolition. A close analysis of the sources tells a more complicated story of both collaboration and conflict between the Zanzibari sultans, their subjects, and the British agents. Moreover, each sultan had distinctive political and religious beliefs, as well as individualpersonal experiences and outlooks. This paper explores the anti-slavery legislation passed under three sultans of Zanzibar: Barghash bin Said (1870-1888) who prohibited the transport of slaves by sea in 1873, Ali bin Said (1890-1893) who passed the Slave Trade Prohibition Decree of 1890, and Hamoud bin Mohammed (1896-1902) who passed the Abolition Decree of 1897. By analyzing draft treaties and correspondence before and after the passing of legislation, this paper argues that the sultans and their advisors were not devoid of ideological interest in ending slavery;and that British agents and explorers in the region were too hastily hailed as abolitionists.

Type: Article
Title: The Sultans of Zanzibar and the Abolition of Slavery in East Africa
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1017/S0738248023000561
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0738248023000561
Language: English
Additional information: © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of American Society for Legal History. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Keywords: abolition, History, Law, slavery
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of History
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10189196
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