Songhai was another great African kingdom of ancient times. It lay on the middle Niger. The first great king of Songhai was Sonni Ali, who ruled from 1464 to 1493. He built a strong army and boats to carry his army up and down the river, for he knew that his army must be able to move about quickly.

When Sonni Ali died, he was succeeded first by his son and then by his general, Askia Mohammed. However, Askia Mohammed conquered more lands. In 1501, he conquered the kingdom of old Mali and took the members of the loyal family prisoner. Now the kingdom of Songhai stretched from northern Nigeria to the Senegal. Askia Mohammed is known as Askia the great. He ruled Songhai for 36 years.

Songhai Under Askia The Great:

Askia the great planned the government of Songhai well. He divided the kingdom into four districts. There was a governor in each district. These governors were able and governed their district well.

Askia the great brought peace to the kingdom, and established law and order. Songhai traded with North Africa, and many goods from Europe were brought to Songhai from North Africa.


Askia founded a university at Sankore in Timbuctu which became a great citadel of learning. However, scholars came from different lands to Timbuctu.

When Askia the great went on pilgrimage to Mecca in 1495, he took with him learned men. These men gathered knowledge from the eastern country they visited.

The Fall Of Songhai:

After the death of Askia the Great, his sons could not rule the kingdom, for they quarrelled among themselves. The Sultan Of Morocco wanted to have the rich salt mines of Tanzaga and the gold mines of Wangara. And so in 1591, the Sultan's army conquered Songhai Gao and Timbuctu, the chief cities, were taken. Songhai was defeated.

But the Sultan was not strong enough to rule Songhai. He withdrew his soldiers from the country in 1618. Songhai was no longer a rich state. It was poor and weakened by wars within the country.

Although it had once been strong and powerful, it was no longer one of the great states of West Africa. And other states of West Africa became great and powerful too.

These were the Oyo, Benin And Fulani states. The Oyo and Benin grew powerful because of the slave trade. The men of Oyo and Benin fought and captured the men of other tribes and sold these captives as slaves to the European.

Through these slave wars, Oyo and Benin were able to conquer more territories. The third state, the Fulani state grew important because of religion of Islam.

Many Muslims in the Fulani state fought to defend their religion. Through such wars the Fulani state became bigger and more powerful. They defeated first, the Hausa nations, then the Southern people.