The Fall Of The West African Empires

Essay, Research Paper

The Fall of the West African Empires

Between 300 and 1600 AD three west African empires Ghana, Mali, and Sanghai came

into power. The wealth of these empires came from the trading of gold and salt. These

empires controlled at least at least two thirds of the world gold trade and taxed the traders

heavily. Despite the splendor and wealth of these empires each one eventually lost power.

The first empire to rise to power was Ghana. At the time, the main gold and salt trade

routes passed through Ghana and they taxed traders heavily. The price of gold was kept

high by outlawing anyone except the king to own gold nuggets. By the year 700 the

empire of Ghana had grown very powerful.

Unfortunately for Ghana, in the year 1076, its northern borders were over run by Muslim

Berbers. Ghana eventually drove out the Berbers but the gold and salt trade, which it

depended on, had been irrevocably damaged. Because traders no longer trusted Ghana s

trade routes and because supplies of gold near the coast ran out, the trade routes moved

further east were miners had found new deposits of gold. By the year 1200 Ghana had

lost control of it s precious trade routes which were now controlled by the more eastern

empire of Mali. Mali, like Ghana, taxed the traders and local chiefs heavily.

The Mali empire was very short lived. By the late 1300s Mali was experiencing the same

gold shortages Ghana had. Again, new mines were discovered eastward and the Mali

trade routes were replaced by the Sanghai. On top of this, the founder of the Sanghai,

Sunni Ali, attacked and looted the Melain trade centers of Timbuktu and Jenne, and then

extended his rule to the outlying savanna and rain forest.

Under the rule of Sunni Ali s successor, Askia Muhammad, Sanghai prospered. He

divided the huge empire into provinces ruled by governors and setup an efficient tax

system. The formerly Malian city of Timbuktu did especially well. A famous university

there attracted Muslims from all over .

Despite it s prosperity, just as the empires of Ghana and Mali had fallen, so did Sanghai.

This time however, it was for different reasons. Instead of falling victim to dwindling

resources, the Sanghai empire was destroyed by a Moroccan sultan by the name of El

Mansur who led 4000 men armed with cannons into Sanghai. Although three fourths of

them died crossing the Sahara, the Sanghai were devastated by the Moroccan s cannons.

With only swords and spears, Sanghai s 27,000 person army was helpless. The

Moroccans destroyed the Sanghai empire, thus ending the zenith of the West African



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