In historical movement, empires and kingdoms usually rose to their peaks and then began to experience decline or fall no matter how highly developed the empire or kingdom had been. This was the case of the Old Ghana Empire which rose to its peak in 11th century, wielded a lot of influence and authority in the Western Sudan, and expanded its territories to neighbouring areas. The empire began to fall in the early 13th century until it finally collapsed in 1240A.D. The following factors were responsible for the fall or decline of the Old Ghana Empire.
- Vastness of the empire: The Old Ghana Empire, with the help of its strong army, embarked on territorial expansion, conquering many states and expanded her political influence. The empire became too large that it became impossible to effectively administer or rule over the conquered areas. This created weakness and loopholes and the central authority became weak.
- The geography of Ghana: Geographically, Ghana Empire was exposed and unprotected particularly at its northern frontier where it was opened to grassland. This made it a lot easier for attacks from enemies from the north. Such attacks came from the Almoravids and the Sosso. The Almoravids attacked Old Ghana in 1076-77. By the end of the century, the vast territory of Old Ghana had been incorporated with the Mali Empire.
- Attacks from envious enemies: Ghana’s gold and other natural resources attracted a lot of attention. This led to several wars and the empire could not recover.
- Decline in trade and agriculture: Ghana’s trade in gold and agricultural products declined. This greatly affected the economy and the wealth with which Old Ghana prospered and flourished.
Political factors that contributed to the fall of Ghana Empire were many:
- The invasion and attack of the Almoravids which was a militant confederation of Muslim forces attacked and conquered the empire.
- The constant threat of foreign invasion which later weakened the political and economic systems of the empire played a decisive role in the decline.
- Similarly, continuous raids by nomads of the desert, mostly Berbers and Arabs, Afro-Berbers, and other Africans who had been converted to Islam played major role in its decline.
- The enormous powers of the central government undermined the constituent parts; this resulted to internal dispute and instability.
- The desire for independence by member states, and the search for security in an alliance with other rising powers such as Mali, was a strong factor.
- The failure of Ghana Empire to capture the Wangara gold mines left it in a precarious position of a dependent middleman.
- Civil strife over succession within the empire, which came about as a result of the conversion of the ruling class to Islam, and which introduced revolutionary changes in the traditional constitutional practice of the people had weakened the polity.
- The emergence of successive weak leaders also contributed to its fall.
- There were religious differences and conflicts between the African Muslim ruling class and the African masses that had strong belief in their traditional deities and refused to accept Islam. The conflicts made many groups of people migrate from the empire to other peaceful places.
- Similarly, struggles with the powerful Sanhaja groups of the Western Sahara which made many citizens of the empire to migrate to more prosperous areas, thereby rendering the empire weaker before its decline.
The economic factors that led to the fall of Ghana Empire were many.
- Drought leading to famine was becoming more regular and farming, as an occupation, became difficult to sustain livelihood.
- There was also decline in trade of the empire as a result of the Arab-Berber raids on caravan which was the economic lifeline of the empire. This led to decline in fortunes.
- Increased deforestation, erosion, reduced rainfall and uninhibited southward movement of the Sahara led to desertification, making farming a difficult occupation for the people, thereby hindering a means of survival for the people.
- The invasion of the Almoravids destabilized trade and therefore, hurting the empires’s sources of income.
- Ghana Empire was cut off from the international trade of salt, gold and other important commodities, and so the empire became vulnerable and unable to prevent defeat.
- As a result of the decreased gold mines in the empire, trade also declined and there was no sufficient income to sustain the economic base of the state.
- Competitors in the gold mining industry did all they could to undermine and overcome Ghana in wealth and power. This had also accelerated the process of decline in the empire.
GHANA’S RELATIONS WITH HER NEIGHBOURS
Ghana Empire was surrounded by the Akan and non-Akan neighbours. To its west were Brong people who were politically united with the Dormaas, Suma and Takyiman. To the north of the empire, were the Gonja and the Dagonba, while in the south was the Guang people and the Ga, who were non-Akan. In the southwest were the Assin and Nzima, and in the southeast were the Kwahu, Akim, Akwamu, Akwapim, Ga and Ada. All these were old kingdoms along with the Ashante, before it became an empire.
There were trade relations between Ghana Empire and the neighbouring kingdoms. Kola and slaves were the major commodities of exchange. Trade networks were a major factor in the evolution of Ghana Empire. It also dominated her neighbours except those in the southern parts, which proved difficult for the empire to subdue politically.
The empire incorporated its neighbours by linking its gold resources with the vital markets in the Mediterranean region. This made the empire to witness rapid development. Initially, the surrounding cities were competing with Ghana Empire in gold trade, before it ultimately monopolized it.
In the tributary states, the empire’s ties were nurtured and maintained by threat of force by its military might. For example, Dagomba and Gonja were levied and, in return, were given Ghana’s guarantee to participate in joint commercial activities with them, without interference in their political affairs.