The Empire of Songhay (see Chapter 7) had reached the height of its power in the early sixteenth century under the rule of Muhammad Ture. During his reign, Islam became more widely entrenched, trans-Saharan trade flourished and the Saharan salt mines of Taghaza were brought within the boundaries of the empire. During the course of the sixteenth century, however, this position of strength gradually declined. The power of the Askiya was weakened by a succession of short reigns and dynastic disputes, which erupted into full-blown civil war in the 1580s. At the same time, the general population and agricultural basis of the economy were weakened by drought and disease. There was a loosening of Songhay’s control over long-distance trading networks. In the east, the growth of Hausa states, Borno and the Tuareg Sultanate of Aïr, was drawing trans-Saharan trade away from Songhay and the western routes. And from the south, the supply of gold declined as the chiefdoms of the Akan forest diverted some of their trade to the newly arrived European traders on the coast.
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