- Social factors: Despite its acclaimed greatness, Mali Empire declined.
- Internal disputes resulted to wars within the empire.
- The declaration of war by the Bamana of Djenne weakened the empire.
- The empire encountered external attacks which led to the capture of Timbuktu and burning it down by invaders.
- Songhai led the city of Gao to revolt against Mali empire. By the 16th century, the rebels and invaders had reduced the empire to its original size where the Malinke people lived before.
- The empire experienced gradual loss of its northern and eastern vassal states to the rising Songhai Empire; this affected its revenue and supply of slaves.
- There was loss of the battle of supremacy in the north and north-east and later Mema, one of Mali’s oldest vassal states along with Timbuktu were seized by the Songhai Empire.
- The loss of valuable vassal states significantly contributed to the fall of Mali Empire.
- Political factors: Several political factors led to the fall of Mali Empire.
- There was political instability created by the emergence of bad leaders whose reigns were usually short. This was after the reign of Mansa Musa.
- There was inconsistency in the ruling system as the throne was dominated by several members of the ruling family and outsiders. For example, Mansa Mahmud was not from Mali or part of the ruling family, his reign generated crisis.
- Some of the rulers like Mansa Mari Djata II exercised despotic rule and this gradually led to the collapse of the empire.
- In addition, the weakness in Mansa Musa’s dynasty contributed to the drastic decline of Mali Empire. For example, Mali Empire outgrew its own military and political strength. This led to the revolts of cities; and vassal states. It was easy for other kingdoms, like Songhai to conquer important areas of the empire.
- There was power struggle among the three sons of Mansa Mahmud IV after his death, which contributed to the fall of the empire.
- The empire was divided into three different parts. These parts did not cooperate with one another during attacks. This hindered the political stability of the empire thereby resulting in its fall.
- Rulers like Mansa Wate was said to have spent the empire’s income lavishly and ruled the people cruelly leading to loss of wealth and eventual bankruptcy of the empire.
- The empire lost some of its vassal states because of oppressive reign of some of the kings. This weakened the empire.
- The influence of Kankoro-Sigui Mari Djata who had no relation with the Keita clan misdirected theruler during the period.
All factors contributed to the fall of the empire.
- Economic factors: The capture and destruction of Timbuktu, an important commercial centre in Mali Empire reduced the income of the empire and weakened it.
- The rebellion of vassal states led to reduction in the collection of taxes and tributes.
- Mali Empire lost its control over the trans-Saharan trade, which had been a major source of revenue.
- The wasteful and lavish spending of some of the rulers like Mansa Maghan I and Mansa Wati led to financial decline of the empire and weakened it.
- The gold trade that was the basis of Mali’s wealth shifted eastwards as new gold fields was developed elsewhere.
MALI’S RELATIONS WITH HER NEIGHBOURS
Mali Empire evolved from the conquest and unification of several smaller states which surrounded her. At its peak, Mali covered very large area which incorporated together with many groups of hunters, herders, nomads, merchants and farmers from many different languages under her control. The empire had twelve gates which symbolized the coalition of conquered and allied territories to it. These territories had sworn allegiance to Sundiata, the founder of the empire. This shows that the empire’s relationship with her neighbours evolved at its inception as an empire. Some of these neighbours were conquered and made subjects, while others joined by swearing allegiance to the ruler of the empire.
The neighbours, who swore allegiance to the empire through its ruler, Sundiata, were well looked after and given lands cultivate. However, the empire fixed tax for all products and commodities of exchange. The rise of the Mali Empire was not as a result of conquest of foreign people, but rather, it was through a process of integrating Mande or Mande-dominated neighbours into a Muslim community.
Neighbouring kingdoms of the empire were at a later date annexed through conquest and were well administered as part of Mali. Apart from conquest and annexation of some neighbouring states, the Empire allowed her other neighbour’s free access to display and exchange their goods, with limited taxes placed on such goods by the empire.
Although Mali Empire accepted Islam through its leaders, these leaders still fulfilled many of the traditional religious functions expected of rulers among traditional West African societies. Mali Empire influenced the culture of many West African states through the spread of its language, laws and customs.
Mali’s relationship with her neighbours was based on issues relating to conquest, annexation, trade, to mention a few. The empire had specific objectives in its relationship with others, developing into a very strong and prosperous empire.