The old Ghana Empire was one of the vibrant empires in the Western Sudan or West Africa. The empire existed between 400A.D and 1200A.D. It was located strategically between the Sahara and Senegal and Niger River. This area now comprised the modern day Mauritania and Mali. The capital of the old Ghana Empire was Koumbi Saleh. Gold and salt productions were popular in the empire.

The introduction of camels for transport gave old Ghana Empire more leverage in the trans-Saharan trade in gold and salt. The wealth from these resources made the empire rich, powerful and great.

The area named Koumni Saleh, the capital of the empire, represented the location of the old Ghana on the map of Africa.



The old or ancient Ghana Empire, as it is popularly called, was the first empire to be founded in the Sudanese area of West Africa. It was founded in about 400A.D by a group of Soninke people. The word Ghana is a Soninke word meaning the King. The capital of the old Ghana Empire was Koumbi Saleh.

The old Ghana Empire was bounded in the west by the Atlantic Ocean, in the south by the forest region, in the east by the Mali Empire and to the north by the Sahara desert which separated the people of West Africa from North Africa. Old Ghana Empire rose to its peak of power, glory and fame by 1050A.D.

That the land was fertile for agricultural purposes, that mineral resources like gold and salt were available, made old Ghana grow to be an empire. There were large deposits of gold in Wangara, salt in Taghaza. There were other mineral resources in Takkedi and Taodeni.

Old Ghana practiced a monarchial system of government. Originally, the people practiced their traditional religion. But following their interactions with the Berbers of North Africa through the trans-Saharan trade, the religion of Islam spread to Ghana Empire from the eleventh century AD. Awdaghost in Ghana was the first place where Islam was first practiced before spreading to other areas.



  1. Social structure: Koumbi Saleh, the capital of old Ghana was actually a twin city of about ten kilometres long. In the middle of the two cities were numerous inhabitants. Therefore, the capital city appeared as if it was only one. The central part of the city was named El-Ghaba where the king resided. It was protected by stone wall. The city served political and spiritual purposes. It had sacred grove of trees used by the Soninke people of old Ghana for religious rites. The priest also lived in the capital city. The place was well decorated. It had a mosque for Muslim officials, visitors and traders. The second city was inhabited mainly by Muslims. It had twelve mosques. One of the mosques was used for Friday prayers. The city was full of Muslim scholars, jurists and traders. The Muslim traders included the Wangarawa who are also known as Dyula and Jakhanke.
  2. Political structure: The old Ghana Empire was a centralised state. It was headed by a king whose title was called Ghana. The king had several palace officials with whom he carried out day to day political affairs of the empire. There was palace guards who held shields and swords decorated with gold. His sons, the princes, were decorated with splendid garments and gold plaited hair. The empire had vassal states, usually called Kafu in Madinka language. The vassal states were governed by kings. The king of Ghana employed Muslim scholars in the administration of the empire. They served as treasurers, interpreters and judges.
  3. Economic structure: The old Ghana Empire had mineral resources, especially gold and salt, which were valuable articles of trade across the Sahara. Foreign merchants paid one gold dinar tax on salt imported. They paid two gold dinars on the export of salt. Old Ghana Empire imported products such as textiles, ornaments and leather goods from Morocco. Koumbi Saleh, the capital, also served as the major commercial centre. The king controlled the trade in gold nuggets and only allowed people to trade in gold dust. The king collected tributes from the vassal states as a source of revenue. Camel was introduced to facilitate long distance trade across the Sahara.