Causes Of The Fall Of Songhai Empire



The great empire created by Sunni Ali and Askia Mohammed had completely collapsed by the end of the 16th century. Both internal and factors led to the collapse of Songhai. The fall of Songhai was a great turning point in the history of Western Sudan, so both the causes and the result of the fall need to be thoroughly understood.


1. Political Instability Or Success Rivalry: This is one of the facilitators of the Fall of Songhai empire. Political instability being one of the internal factors which can also be seen as success rivalry. It is important to note that despite the achievements of Askia Mohammed, the Empire began to have problems during his life time. Even when he had become old and blind, he refused to hand over power, and in 1528 he was deposed by some of his sons. There ensured a period of royal Instability, depositions and assassination among his descendants who were constantly vying for the throne. As with Mali, this sparked a period of decline.

2. War: In 1528, the division in the Empire between Muslims and traditionalists manifested in the civil war over the struggle for the throne between Askiyalshaq II, who was supported by the traditionalists, and Sadiq, who was supported by the Muslims. Although Ishaq II emerged victorious, the Empire came out from the war considerably weakened and divided.

3. Difficulties Of Ruling Such A Huge Area: Songhai grew so large that it was almost impossible, without swift means of communication to efficiently control distant provinces from the center. Many of the vassal states (E.g Hausa states) were ready to rebel whenever weakness at the Centre gave them an opportunity.

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4. Attack From Neighbors: Frequent attacks along the Empire long border from hostile neighbors (e.g. Mossi, Kuareg)

5. Moroccan Inversion Of 1591: the immediate and the most important cause of the fall of Songhai was the Moroccan Inversion of 1591. The rulers of Morocco had long been jealous of Songhai’s wealth derived from its control of salt mines at Taghaza and gold-bearing areas of the Sudan. Sultan Mulay Al Mansur of Morocco, anxious to increase his participation in Trans-Saharan trade by controlling the salt mines, sent a Moroccan army against Songhai in 1590. This army with superior weapon heavily defeated Songhai army at the battle of Tondibi in 1591.

Songhai Empire remained the most prominent and powerful state in the western Sudan. It was founded by Sunni Ali while the usurper like Askia consolidated the growth and development of the Empire. In his period, he strengthened Islam, and religious diplomacy played a significant role in the economical and political development of the Empire.

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