African HistoryMaliWest Africa

Mali Empire – The Rise and Downfall of the Malian Empire

The Mali Empire was one of the biggest empires in the history of West Africa. The empire stretched from the Atlantic coast to the Sahara Desert.
The Malian Empire, founded by King Sundiata in 1235 AD and reigned till early 1600 AD.
Arab scholars believe that Sundiata ruled for about 25 years and died in 1255.
The most well known ruler of the Empire was Mansa Musa.
When he went to Mecca for a pilgrimage, he distributed so much gold that it caused a great price that lasted for ten years.
The Mali Empire emerged from the unification of several small Malinke kingdoms in Ghana.
A king named Sumanguru Kanté ruled the Susu kingdom, which defeated the Malinké people in the early 13th century.
The king known as Sundiata coordinated the Malinke resistance against the Susu kingdom.
Many historians believe King Sundiata founded the Mali Empire when he defeated Sumanguru Kanté in 1235.
The transformation of the mali empire began in its capital city of Niani, which was also the birthplace of King Sundiata.
The Malian empire was so huge that it stretched from the Atlantic coast south of the Senegal River to Goa east of the Middle Niger Loop.

Economy, Society and Mali Empire Religion

The Mali Empire consisted of isolated regions and small kingdoms. All these kingdoms pledged to support Mali by providing annual tribute in the form of rice, millet, spears and treasures.

 Mali thrived from the taxes collected from its citizens.
All goods entering and leaving the Empire were taxed and all gold belonging to the king.
In spite of this, gold dust can be exchanged, and sometimes gold dust was utilized as money along with salt and clothes.
Indian sea cowries were later utilized as currency in Western Sahara.
Islam was imthe major religion in the Mali Empire. The Mansas/Kings, converted to Islam, but did not force the malian people to convert to islam. Most malians practiced the combination of local traditions alongside Islamic beliefs.
The City of Timbuktu
Timbuktu is famous as a center of learning and beautiful structures such as the Madrassa of Sankara and the University of Sankoré.
These two learning centers continue to produce a large number of stargazers, researchers, and specialists long after the end of the Mali Empire.

7French Occupation

French frontier occupation is considered to have added to the College’s decline in the quality of teaching at the University.
When Mali was ruled by the Mansa or Nnaukwu, most of the powers of the state were in the hands of the court officials.
This meant that the Empire could survive many periods of instability and bad regimes.
The Mali Empire is also a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual empire, with Islam as the dominant religion.
While Mali was a government managed by the Mansa, a significant part of the state power was in the possession of court authorities.
This implied that the empire could endure a few times of instability and terrible rulers.
The Mali Empire was likewise a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual empire, and Islam was the prevailing religion.


The Mali authorities adopted the name “Mansa”.
Despite the vast territory of the Mali Empire, it is often troubled/tormented by bad leadership.
But Sundiata’s son, Mansa Wali, who became the next king, is considered one of the most powerful rulers of Mali.
Mansa Wali, in turn, was to succeed his brother Wati, who was succeeded by his brother Kahlifa.
Kahlifa was viewed as an especially terrible ruler, and a few writers depict how he would use bows and bolts to kill people for fun.
As a result of his mismanagement, Kahlifa was removed and replaced by a grandkid of Sundiata named Abu Bakr.
Abu Bakr adopted Sundiata as a son, although he was the grandson and son of Sundiata’s daughter, who would have had a claim to the throne.
The leadership crisis in the Mali Empire would continue after Abu Bakr ascended the throne.
Abu Bakr was removed in an overthrow by a man named Sakura, who was either a slave or a commander.

The Reign Sakura

In spite of this, Sakura’s also had problems on the throne.
After converting to Islam, Sakura made a pilgrimage to Mecca but was killed by the Danakil during his return journey while in the city of Tadjoura.
It is questioned why Sakura was in Tadjoura, because it was not a natural route to take when returning from Mecca to Mali, and why he was killed.
Some recommend that he was killed on the grounds that the Danakil needed to take his gold.
Sakura’s rise to power also shows us that the ruling family, the Mansa, had little power in the Mali Empire.
The court officials had a lot of power in comparison.
The Mali kingdom was coordinated into territories with a strict administrative structure in which each region had a governor, and each village had a mayor.
A large army was deployed to suppress any rebellion in the small kingdom and to protect the many trade routes.
The decentralization of power and a strong organizational structure made the malian empire stable despite many bad regimes.
Despite the conflict within the ruling family, the transfer of state power through land tenure meant that the Empire could function .
At the time of the good rulers, the Empire was expanding its territory, making it one of the largest empires in the history of West Africa.

The Renowned Mansa Musa of Mali Empire

It was at this point that the most well known ruler of the Mali Empire, Mansa Musa, ascended the throne.
Historians debate whether Mansa Musa was the grandson of one of Sundiata’s brothers.
Thus making him Sundiata’s nephew, or whether he was the grandson of Abu Bakr.
What is known is that Mansa Musa converted to Islam and made a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, joined by 60,000 people and a large amount of gold.
It is said that his generosity was so great that when he left Makkah, he used every bit of gold he took to borrow money for the return journey.
Mansa Musa was known to be a wise and efficient ruler, and one of his prominient achievements was the commission he gave to some of the great buildings of Timbuktu.

The Great Mosque of Timbuktu

In 1327, the Great Mosque of Timbuktu was built and Timbuktu would later turn into a focal point of learning.
Towards the end of Mansa Musa’s reign, he had built and supported Madrassa Sankara.
The madrassa became one of the biggest and best centers of learning in the Islamic world and the best library in Africa at the time.
The Sankara Madrassa is said to have housed between 250 000 and 700 000 manuscripts.
Making it the biggest library in Africa since the Great Library of Alexandria.
A few sources say that during his reign, Mansa Musa conquered 24 cities along with the surrounding lands, thus expanding the empire. Mansa Musa died in 1337 and passed the name Mansa Mansa Maghan to his son.

The downfall of the Mali Empire and Why did the Mali Empire Fall

1360 – 1390 was a period of turmoil for the Mali Empire. The Empire suffered under many bad rulers with short rules.
The throne changed hands between a few individuals of the ruling family and was at one point seized by a man named Mahmud.
Mahmud was not from Mali or part of the ruling family .
Finally, Mansa Mari Djata II figured out how to recapture the throne of the dynasty, but his dictatorial rule destroyed the Malian empire.
In earlier years, it was the court officials who brought the Empire back after a progression of terrible rulers.
Mari Djarta, a “wazir” (minister), seized power and ruled, making him a ruler, from King Mansa Musa II.
During the rule of Mari Djarta the Mali Empire would regain some of the power it had lost.
Mansa Musa II died in 1387 and was succeeded by his sibling Mansa Magha II, who would become a puppet of the powerful courtiers.
A year later,Mansa Musa II was killed, ending the line of kings from Mansa Musa I.
This led to the collapse of the Mali Empire and in 1433 the Malian empire was conquered by the Tuareg nomads.
Over the next 100 years, the Empire would give way to the Songhay empire from the east, and by the 1500s there was only the capital Malinké


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