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African states were sometimes very effective actors in the 19th century through capitalising on economic possibilities

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  1. The illegal slave trade that occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century, up to the 1860s
  2. The transition period from the slave trade to the legitimate commerce

The nineteenth century has been a turning point in the West African economic history. Indeed, the transition from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century marked the intensification of commerce and the progressive switch from slave trade to agricultural resources trade; as a result of the industrial revolution which took place in Europe, especially in Britain; 'the demand for new products in industrial processes and consumption increased and some of these could be found readily in Africa'. Thus, raw materials were imported by Europeans from Africa, in exchange for manufactured products such as clothes, firearms, gunpowder and spirituous liquors. The middlemen between the African producers and the European capitalists formed a specific class of indigenous merchants which grew from the 1830s to the 1850s, and after a decline of their prosperity during the 1860s, they flourished again from the 1870s to the 1890s. Most of the time, the merchants who dominated in crop produce where 'the same large-scale merchants who had controlled the slave trade'.

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