Caravans plied the deserts of North Africa and linked early peoples to the Mediterranean basin.
Camels were introduced into the Sahara between the 1st and 5th centuries AD. These animals had greatly improved the possibilities of trade, but they could not live in the humid forest zones because of disease.
Kanem Empire is a rival
Mansa Musa's pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 brought the attention of the Muslim world to Mali. Mali's contact with the outer world brought change and innovation.
Founded probably in the 3rd century AD, Ghana rose to power by taxing the salt and gold exchanged within its borders.
By the 10th century, Ghana's rulers had converted to Islam, and Ghana was nearing the height of its power.
Ghana reaches the height of its power.
Almoravid armies invaded Ghana from North Africa. Ghana survived, but lost much power.
During the early 13th century, new states had risen in the savanna to take Ghana's place of leadership.
Life in the Songhay Empire followed many of the patterns established in the previous savanna states. The fusion of Islamic and pagan population and traditions continued.
Dominated by Mali for a while, by the 1370s Songhay had established its independence again and began to thrive as new sources of gold from the west African forests began to pass through its territory.
As the power of Mali began to wane, a successor state from within the old empire, Songhay, was already beginning to emerge.
Under a dynamic leader, Sunni Ali, the empire of Songhay was forged. Sunnia Ali was a great tactical commander and a ruthless leader. His cavalry expanded the borders and seized the traditional trading cities of Timbuktu and Jenne. The middle Niger valley fell under his control, and he developed a system of provincial administration to mobilize recruits for the army and rule the far-flung conquests.
In 1591, a Muslim army from Morocco crossed the Sahara and defeated the vastly larger forces of Songhay