Paper Example on African States of Ghana, Mali and Songhai

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1885 Words
Date:  2022-06-16


Africa shares a history of social, political and economic formations witnessed in others continents as decentralized and stateless units. The existence of successful empires reveals that political systems were an exotic philosophy. Firstly, Songhai state was a great economically active territory of West Africa around the 15th and 16th century (Conrad 114). The state was located around the Niger River, present-day central Mali, extending to the West Atlantic coast and eastern region of Nigeria and Niger. Secondly, Ghana refers to a state named after the medieval empire of Ghana in the West African region (Cohen 4). It was known initially as Wagadugu (Abbou 4). Ghana, which it would later be named, was the title for the kings who ruled the empire. It occupied the areas around Niger and River Senegal. The empire was controlled by Sundiata in the 1240 AD (Wolny 28). Thirdly, the state of Mali was once the home of several empires in the pre-colonial period. The country is situated in the arid West African region and hosted the city of Timbuktu which was the largest trading town and the Islamic cultural center in the West African region (Davidson 27). This paper compares and contrasts the distinctive African states of Mali, Ghana, and Songhay through a detailed examination of the economic, political and social aspects.

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Social Organization


The state of Mali has initially been a stable empire with an active social organization (Davidson 29). At the top was the Mansa who controlled the people and was followed by the priests. Below the priests were the griots who served as historians as well as storytellers (Drame and Othman 201). The empire had slaves mostly women experienced increased mental and physical abuse. Sundiata assigned roles to particular kin and organized the people much like the caste system (Drame and Othman 205). With such an arrangement, their destiny was decided. Therefore, if one were born in a warrior family, they would end up as warriors. The same also applied to the ruling family. As such, if one were lucky to be born in the Mansa family, they would they would become a part of the ruling dynasty.

Religiously, Mali under the Mansa Musa and Sundiata Keita embraced Islamic religion (Davidson 169). The Islam led to the establishment of universities as well as military forces. The Islam was integrated with the traditional faith in Mali. They practiced an integrated Islam with native religions which included the performance of rituals which enhanced their ties keeping them so united. The government established also listened to people's views ensured a harmonious living.


The state of Ghana on the other end was socially divided into three classes. Dougnon, explains, at the very top of the pyramid was the king who ruled the empire and was rich (177). The King would allow the people to voice their complaints which he would hear out and deliberate upon them to find solutions. The next class was the royals who comprised the advisors and nobles to the king. The families of nobles did not receive preferential treatments. There were also peasants who comprised middle-class workers who led quiet lives and majorly took part in farming and fishing. However at the very bottom were the slaves who lived in abject poverty and engaged in hard labor. The slaves were traded across classes and having many slaves was deemed a sign of wealth. Although it was not easy for a peasant to move up the level, they were subjected to fundamental rights to trial which made the society much livable.

Ghana people believed in a supernatural being and had their spiritual beliefs about it. According to Ame, they believed the plants, as well as animals in the world, had spirits which co-existed (243). As such, they also worshiped the spirits of their ancestors which they feared if they stopped would bring them bad luck. Consequently, they offered sacrifices to the ancestors and the spirits whenever something terrible happened. However, by the ninth century, the Islamic religion was introduced to Ghana by traders (Lapidus 454). Towards the end of the Ghanaian empire, half the population was Muslims while the other half practiced native religion.


The Songhai people had a caste system with the emperor presiding over social matters as well as political and religious issues (Dougnon 177). Individuals linked to the empirical family were the considered leaders I various fields such as agriculture, education, and trade. The elite class had a massive influence in government affairs. The citizen caste comprised individuals working in the agricultural sector and the military. People had options of changing their social class through training and apprenticeship (Dougnon 177). Slaves were at the lowest and worked on farms and often traded across classes.

Religiously, Songhai state was an active Muslim society between the fourteenth and sixteenth century. They became converts during as the Muslims moved to the region (Cristofori and Ferrari 40). As such, the upper echelon was converted to Islam religion although some ethnic-based religions were also practiced in the area (Pella 58). The ethnic-based religion involved worshiping ancestors and other creation of gods. They had other deities associated with war, fertility and among others.

Political Organization


The Mali Empire was very strong and prosperous owing to a healthy and robust political structure (Heisbourg 7). Despite covering a large area, the Mansa ensured a sense of unity that saw the state survive as a strongly united empire (Davidson 42). The Mansa ensured all taxes were paid and rules of the land obeyed to foster unity and a sense of belonging. The Mansa also assigned administrators with oversight roles at various levels which including villages, towns, cities, provinces, and country (Davidson 43). They were all overseen by the Mansa. Everyone enjoyed fundamental freedoms within the kingdom provided they obeyed the laws of the land. The imperial powers were in Timbuktu, Djenne, and Gao cities (Adebayo and Ajao 243). It started as a small breakaway kingdom in the upper territory of Niger River and later extended during the reign of Malinke ruler Sundiata Keita (Adebayo and Ajao 243). The empire would later reach its pinnacle in the fourteenth century covering an extensive area to become a vast kingdom with several provinces. The most famous ruler of Mali state was the Mansa Kankan Musa I who ruled between 1312 and1337 (Davidson 43).


The Songhai state originated from current West Nigeria expanding gradually towards river Niger in the eighth century (Adebayo and Ajao 247). For many centuries, the Songhai grew by gaining control of the neighboring states which they later subjected to their rule. It acquired its independence from Mali empire in the fourteenth century. The Songhai state realized tremendous expansion under the leadership of Askia Muhammad as he sought to establish Askia Dynasty between 1492 and1592 (Adebayo and Ajao 245). Records detail up to fourteen dynasties in Songhai during the early periods.


Very powerful kingdoms governed the state of Ghana. The name "Ghana" was a title used to refer to kings while the territory was called Wagadugu (Abbou 4). "Ghana" was tasked with leading an entire empire and the people were referred to as the Sonike. When they faced their King, they knelt down to show respect to the king. Additionally, they showered dust over their hands. The King also headed the army which comprised up to 200,000 trained men (Abbou 9). The political system also comprised a council of ministers assisting the King with decision making (Abbou 5). Nonetheless, the King's decision was absolute. The council consisted of Judges, counselors, and governors. There were always court hearings on a daily basis in which the King would listen and give an opinion (Abbou 5). The king's views were not questionable. The political process becomes even more involved with the growth in the empire. The Kings would have to assign other lesser kings to man certain territories for ease of administration (Abbou 5). The king was also thought to have divine powers.

Economic Structure


The Songhai was an economically vibrant state with its capital known as Gao fenced with a stone wall (Ebo 1). They sold kola nuts, gold, slaves alongside ivory and palm oil (Ebo 2). Some long-distance traders came to exchange goods and helped the economy of Songhai Empire grow (Pella 60). The long-distance traders often traveled between direct towns across the Sahara with products. King Askia Mohammed introduced the weight and measures in the markets to enable standardization of trade (Stanton, Ramsamy and Elliott 198). Additionally, he added inspectors for the good that were traded in the markets in Songhai territory. Some of the most commonly sold well were gold and salt (Gearon 6). Similarly, the Songhai Empire was famous for the production of religious artifacts which were used as treasures. Within the Songhai Empire, each tribe had an occupation and contributed to the trade through their respective occupations (Gearon 6).


Ghana's economic structure also made the territory rich especially between the ninth and eleventh century (McIntosh 13). During that period, the kingdom enjoyed enormous wealth with horses reported to sleep on plush carpets and the used silken rope halters. The animal luxuries alone could indicate the productive economy of Ghana (McIntosh 11). They engaged in the international trade with its king promoting the trade in Gold and ivory across the Atlantic (McIntosh 11). Other commodities included clothes, salt, horses, and slaves. They had craftspeople who engaged in the production of metal works as well as pottery for trade. Craftworks were good commodities traded and earned people a lot of money (McIntosh 17). Slaves were also traded to work for richer people in the society. Other trade commodities included textiles and beards.


Mali state enjoyed an abundance of crops making it a prosperous state in agriculture and commerce (Abbou 7). The state had a very fertile soil in their territory leading to mass production of crops (Abbou 4). They included sorghum, sesame, and cotton. Cotton was a very critical crop in that era with demand extending to other continents. They span it and used it for weaving clothes (Drame and Othman 206). They also engaged in the sale of iron and iron tools for protection and hunting. They had skilled blacksmiths who made materials from the iron and sold in the markets. Blacksmiths were a critical people in Mande society among the Mali people. They thus passed their skills down to their children. The same was true for weavers and farmers who passed down such skills to other generations. The empire also controlled the trade of gold and salt (Abbou 9). Both salt and gold were mined in Mali becoming the source of its enormous wealth. The gold was used by Mali and other Muslim worlds to make trading coins. It became raw material for making other currencies. Hence the world depended on Mali's mineral (Abbou 9).


The three states of Songhai, Mali, and Ghana show well organized political systems. The state of Mali was initially been a stable empire with an active social organization under the Mansa who controlled the people and was followed by the priests. Ghana state was governed by very powerful kingdoms with the name "Ghana" is a title used to refer kings while the territory was called Wagadugu. The Songhai state originated from current West Nigeria expanding gradually towards river Niger in the eighth century. The three states all took part in the trade to build their economies and were socially structured into three. At the top were the kings, followed by the middle class and then the peasants. However, they all had slaves who we...

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