Demise of the Songhai Empire | European Rivalry for Positions and Trade along the Atlantic Coast of Africa, 1600-45 | Queen Nzinga and the Portuguese | The Kingdoms of Oyo, Dahomey and Asante | The Slave Trade into the 1700s | The Dutch in South Africa, to 1774 | African Rivalries and Racial Diffusions on Africa's Eastern Seaboard
The Songhai lived around Gao, on the Niger River, and they had built an empire that included Timbuktu and trade routes in the Sahara region. But after the mid-1500s they had weakened themselves in a common manner: dynastic succession disputes and, in the 1580s, by civil war. Also, Songhai's agricultural economy had suffered from draught and disease. The Songhai lost control over their long-distance trading networks. The center for trading across the Saharan desert moved eastward to the kingdoms in and around Hausaland, between the Niger River and Lake Chad.
In 1590, the sultan of Morocco, Ahmad al-Mansur, sent troops with muzzle loading rifles, to seize control of the trans-Saharan trade in gold. They took the Songhai by surprise, and Moroccan guns threw the Songhai army into confusion. The Moroccans defeated the Songhai near Gao and went on to capture Timbuktu and Jenne. The Songhai empire broke into several independent states. Some Moroccans settled around the northern portion of the Niger River, and they began marrying local women. A sense of independence from Morocco developed among their descendants, the sultans of Morocco having their names dropped from Friday prayers in the mosque at Timbuktu. And gold was being diverted for trade with Europeans on the coast.
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