What Caused the Rise and Fall of the West African Kingdoms?

For the medieval West African kingdoms of Mali and Songhai, the rise and fall of power involved conquest, warfare and patterns of trade. Competition for wealth and the desire for independence from more powerful kingdoms shaped West African societies.

The empire of Mali endured from the early 13th century to the late 15th century. Once a state inside of the Ghanaian empire, Mali rose to power when Ghana collapsed due to invading forces and internal conflicts. When Mali began to wane in power, one of its trade centers, Songhai, established its independence and soon rose to power in its place, becoming the largest kingdom in medieval West Africa, according to Annenberg Learner. Songhai collapsed at the end of the 16th century when Moroccan invaders were drawn by the riches in gold and salt and conquered Timbuktu.

Trade heavily influenced the development of West African kingdoms. Long-distance trade increased wealth, which was used to build bigger kingdoms. To protect these kingdoms, bigger armies were amassed. In Songhai, under some rulers the armies were composed of slaves. According to South African History Online, the slave trade, both within Africa and with the Portuguese, played an important role in building kingdoms, as slave labor was relied upon to perform most of the heavy work and to provide agricultural labor that helped feed the growing populations.