Till today, West Africa is home to some of the poorest countries in the world. But far back as of the 8th century to the 16th, things were very different as they are today. The kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Singhai were dazzling pinnacles of riches and culture.
The Kingdom of Ghana flourished in what is now Mali and Mauritania (far north of modern Ghana) and consisted mainly of the Mande people. The Sahel, sub-saharan region, now mainly dry plains, was once a fertile savannah suitable for agriculture and cattle breeding, which made Ghana prosperous.
When Ghana finally fell into disrepair, the Empire of Mali took its place. Perhaps its greatest ruler, the famous wealthy Mansa (Emperor) Musa I, completed a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1325 AD. While traveling through Egypt, it was said that he gave so much gold that its value dropped significantly in Cairo.
Sonni Ali of Sunghai was a skilful commander known for his expert horsemen and amphibious attacks through canoes. His well-known aggressive policies led to a period of expansion, particularly the conquest of Timbuktu, West Africa’s most important intellectual city. His successor Askia Mohammad Toure brought Singhai to its peak. Toure, a pious Muslim, would also complete the Hajj and even be proclaimed Caliph of all of Sudan.
Expeditions from Morocco would finally arrive in search of land and wealth. The once proud halls of the Mande and Soninku peoples have been destroyed, the gallant warriors have no match against the tide of imperialism.
Memorials such as the mosque of Djenne and the libraries of Timbuktu now serve as a reminder of the faded glory of West Africa. Through centuries of civil war, slavery and war, the region has become what it is today.
It is a humble thought that when Europe experienced some of its darkest years, it was in West Africa where the light shone brightest.