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