It would be absolutely untrue to assert that these traditional communities and kingdoms all existed together in peace and togetherness, as there are accounts of various wars fought between them. In fact, the indigenous African societies helped the growth of the slave trade by selling off Africans for mirrors, gun powder and other items, and there were African slaves within Africa, owned by Africans.
But it is important to examine the rationale behind, as well as the differences between the European slave trade and the African slave trade.
The European slave trade began during the Renaissance period, when Europeans began to come in contact with inhabitants of other continents and noted that the systems and levels of development were different and “unequal” with Africa being at a disadvantage in everything, including physical features.
The eventual abolition of the slave trade gave rise to a saviour complex felt by the Europeans, and this, in turn, boosted the advent of imperialism as they forced their systems on the indigenous communities with little or no regard for the existing structures. Essentially, all European activities in Africa at that time were either actively or passively fuelled by racism.
In Africa, prior to the advent of Europeans, there were wars, and there were slaves. But it is important to note that unlike the Europeans, the victorious kingdoms hardly had any organically racist tendencies. Most of the wars were fought on the basis of Ethnocentrism and not racism. Ethnocentrism represents the view that one’s culture is natural or correct.
Unlike racism, ethnocentrism can be transient. Ethnocentrism believes that skin colour, nose shape and other physical features are irrelevant as long as a person is a member of the culture, but racism holds strongly that irrespective of behavioural or cultural similarities, a member of an inferior race (and this inferiority is determined by physical appearance) is never to be accepted.
This is why an African person originally of Yoruba descent but settled and acculturated into the Bini way of life can do such things as own land (a right typically exclusive to Bini indigenes).
Ethnocentrism played a huge part in African history, and continues to occupy a prominent role in affairs across the continent. This is not to say that Africa has never had any wars or conflicts fuelled by racism. The Rwandan genocide in which the Tutsis were killed due to the fact that the colonists favoured them over others comes to mind, the terrible South African system of Apartheid comes to mind.
It is, however, important to note that the foundations of these events are not originally African, but European. The concept of racism, as we know it, does not have its origins in Africa and as such, it is foreign to us.