Processes of historical reinvention tend to accompany moments of great economic and social transformation, such as the one that we’re living through at the moment. They produce a new historical consciousness that has to take account of the transformative experiences that human populations live through. The era of abolition was one such period in West Africa, where the power of old elites collapsed, and new political centres arose. And yet this was also a moment that saw the expansion of poverty and coerced labour, an increase in slavery, and paved the way for the triumph of colonial power at the end of the 19th century.
Thus, in West Africa, the 19th-century abolition era was one of economic crisis, a consequent widespread impoverishment, and also of historical reinvention. It is an important moment to consider as the world enters another such period in the wake of COVID-19.