The Ghana Empire

The Ghana Empire, which is more accurately called Wagadu (the name it was called by its rulers) existed from around the 7th to the 13th century and was located between present-day southeastern Mauritania and western Mali. The term “Ghana” which means “Warrior King” was the title of the leaders of this kingdom. However, the Arabs who wrote about the kingdom erroneously called it Ghana, which is how it widely came to be known by that name.

The Ghana Empire was formed by the coming together of Soninke clans, a Mande-speaking people. The Empire rose to ascendance because it controlled the trade of gold in the West African region, and appropriated more cities and gold-producing lands as its power increased. The traders in the empire sourced gold from the south, which they sold to Berbers who carried it on camels across the Sahara to North Africa and the Middle East. In addition, the Ghana Empire sold hand-crafted leather goods, kolanuts, and ivory, while importing textiles, ornaments, salt, swords, books, horses, etc. The capital of the Empire is believed to have been Koumbi Saleh.

Being the envy of its neighbors, the Ghana Empire was subject to repeated attacks. The decline of the Ghana Empire occurred when the Sanhaja and other Amazigh groups of the Sahara formed a coalition called the Almoravids to invade the kingdom in the eleventh century. Weakened by this invasion, the empire began to break up and was eventually absorbed into the nearby Mali Empire in 1240. Although the Ghana Empire shares no territorial overlap with the present-day Republic of Ghana, the people of Ghana adopted the name of this ancient empire for their country upon their independence from Britain in 1957, inspired by the kingdom’s great history.

By Iyeyinka Kusi-Mensah


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