Some factors usually work together to lead to the rise or expansion of empires in history. The following factors were responsible for the rise of the Old Ghana Empire reaching its peak of power and glory around the 11th century in the Western Sudan. Many neighbouring groups looked up to Old Ghana Empire for protection and paid tributes to the king. These factors included:
- Fertile land for Agriculture: Like in most West African areas, the land of Ghana Empire was fertile for agricultural activities. The people engaged in farming for consumption and trade. This contributed to their economic development. They exchanged agricultural products for other products.
- Presence of natural resources like Gold and Salt: The Old Ghana Empire had natural resources in very large amount. Gold was one of the major natural resources that made Old Ghana Empire wealthy and famous. Several visitors and North African traders testified to the rich deposits of gold in the area. Gold ornaments were produced as articles of trade and royal regalia.
- Trade and commercial relations with her neighbours: The people of Old Ghana engaged in long distance trade with her neighbours in Western Sudan and North Africa such as Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. This trade became more important with the natural resources like gold, which was highly demanded by the North Africans and societies across the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
- Strength of the army and territorial expansion: The Old Ghana Empire developed a very strong army, which ensured its defence and protection of its territorial integrity as well as conquering other neighbouring states; horses were imported from North Africa for the army.
- Able leadership: The Old Ghana Empire had strong rulers who were able to maintain peace and stability of the empire. The rulers established well planned cities. They accommodated Muslim scholars who provided essential services in the administration of the empire. Muslim scholars were employed as judges, treasurers and record keepers.
- Rulers of Ghana Empire incorporated its neighbours by its natural resources (gold) which had markets in the Mediterranean region. They constructed a separate city, reserved for use by foreign traders, in the well-organised and successful trade.
- To the south, Ghana Empire extended to as far as the upper reaches of the Niger and Senegal; to the north, it extended into the desert; while to the east, it reached the Niger bend.
- Ghana’s large military which was responsible for safeguarding and controlling trade made it possible for the king to levy and receive gifts from the subordinate chiefs of surrounding lands.
- The use of iron to make tools and weapons of war helped the empire to expand its control over neighbouring kingdoms.
- The use of camels and horses in the empire helped the rulers of the empire by promoting trans-Saharan trade, which contributed to the economic prosperity of Ghana.
- Leaders of Ghana made it possible for the empire to control both the regional trade and trade across the Sahara desert, thereby giving the empire strong commercial base.
- The rulers of the empire established a system in which foreign merchants were taxed to enter or leave the empire.
- The territories conquered by Ghana Empire, paid tributes which contributed to its political and economic prosperity.
The brisk trade in gold, ivory and slaves with European traders, contributed to the large economic stability of Ghana Empire.
- The location of the empire contributed to its becoming a wealthy empire. It was located along the important trade routes between gold and ivory producing areas in the south and salt mining areas in the Sahara desert to the north.
- Trade in salt, which was a scarce commodity in the region of West Africa at that point in time, opened a new window of opportunity for the empire to earn more revenue.
- Ghana’s control of the sources of gold which was traded for other commodities had placed it at an advantaged position in the commercial network of the time.