History Files


African Kingdoms

West Africa




Songhai Empire
c.AD 7th Century - 1901

The Songhai state has existed in Africa in one form or another for over a thousand years. This period covers the first settlement in Gao on the eastern edge of the Mali empire, under which it was a semi-vassal status, through to its continuation in what is now Niger as the Dendi empire.

Situated in modern Mali in an area called Western Sudan (not to be confused with the country of the same name), the Songhai empire was founded as a small state centred on Gao circa 700 by Songhai Berbers on the Middle Niger, but it didn't become an empire until the fifteenth century, and reached the height of its power by around 1500, by which time it was the one of the largest African empires in terms of territory, stretching almost the entire length of the River Niger.

Za Dynasty in Kukiya
c.AD 690 - 800

There were fourteen Za dynasty rulers in the early period of Songhai history, although records are sparse for this early period, especially towards its end.






Takoi / Takay


Akoi / Mata-Kay















780 - 785


786 - 789


791 - 800


800 - c.1010

Unknown number of kings


The empire coverts to Islam. The capital is moved to Gao.

Za Dynasty in Gao
c.AD 1010 - 1275

Za Kusoy was the first Songhai ruler to convert to Islam. He also turned the small kingdom of Gao into a Muslim state. Gao began to attract North African merchants during his reign. Again, towards the end of the dynasty records become sparse.


Kusoy Muslim Dam

















Bisi Baro Ber

c.1150 - 1260

Unknown number of kings

c.1260 - 1275

The Songhai empire is occupied by the Mali empire.

Sunni Dynasty
c.AD 1275 - 1492

The first great king of the Songhai was Sunni Ali. Ali was a Muslim like the Mali kings before him. He was also an efficient warrior who conquered many of the Songhai's neighbours, including what remained of the Mali empire.

Gao fell under the indirect control of the Mali empire during the reign of Sundiata. In around 1275, it seems that a Mali official fled to Gao and established his own dynasty. The kings were called Sunni or Sonni meaning 'replacement' or 'liberator' kings. Gao had to be continuously attacked by Mali to keep the new Sunni dynasty paying tribute.


Sunni Ali Kolon

Sunni Salman Nari

Sunni Ibrahim Kabyao


Sunni Uthman Gifo Kanafa

Sunni Bar-Kayna-Ankabi

Sunni Musa

Sunni Bakr Zanku

Sunni Bakr Dala-Buyunbu

Sunni Mar-Kiray

Sunni Muhammad Da'u


Sunni Muhammad Kukiya

Sunni Muhammad Fari

Sunni Karbifu


The Songhai empire is occupied by the Mali kingdom.

Sunni Mar-Fay-Kuli-Jimu

Sunni Mar-Arkana


Songhai once more becomes independent.

Sunni Mar Arandan

c.1410 - 1440

Sunni Sulayman Dama Dandi

c.1440 - 1464

Sunni Silman Dandi

1464 - 1492

Sunni Ali


With Sonni Ali Ber's accession the Songhai truly start to become empire-builders, eclipsing their former rulers, the Mali empire. Sonny Ali occupies Timbuktu.

1492 - 1493

Sunni Abu-Bakry Baro

Askia Dynasty in Gao
AD 1492 - 1592

Following Sunni Ali's death, Muslim factions rebelled against his successor and installed Askia Muhammad (formerly Muhammad Ture) to be the first and greatest ruler of the Askia Dynasty. Under the Askias, the Songhai empire reached its zenith, Timbuktu and Jenne flourished as centres of Islamic learning, and Islam was actively promoted.

1493 - 1528

Askia Mohammed Ture the Great

1528 - 1531

Askia Musa

1531 - 1537

Askia Mohammad Benkan

1537 - 1539

Askia Isma'il

1539 - 1549

Askia Ishaq I

1549 - 1582

Askia Daoud / Askia Dawud

1582 - 1586

Askia Al-Hajj

1586 - 1588

Askia Mohommed Bana

1588 - 1591

Askia Ishaq II


A Moroccan invasion hastens the decline of the empire. The Songhai forces are routed at the Battle of Tondibi by the Saadi gunpowder weapons despite vastly superior Songhai numbers. Gao, Timbuktu, and Jenne (Djenné), are sacked and the Songhai are destroyed as a regional power. The Saadi Moroccans takes over control of Mali while the Songhai themselves retreat to the Dendi region of what is now Niger and reform a smaller kingdom.

1591 - 1618

Muhammed Gao


Morocco eventually prove to be unable to control such a vast empire across such long distances, and soon relinquishes control of the region, letting it splinter into dozens of smaller kingdoms.

1670 - 1854

Taureg nomads control Mali until a new local power emerges in the form of the Tukulor empire.

Askia Dynasty in Lulami / Dendi Kingdom
AD 1592 - 1901

After the Battle of Tondibi, Moroccan forces destroyed the Songhai empire in Mali. The Askiya dynasty survived, however, and fled to their native Dendi region of Niger. They set up a new capital at Lulami and continued all the traditions of the Songhai empire, although the rule of many is fairly obscure. The gold trade from the region was a source of profit, with some of it reaching Granada in Spain.

1591 - 1598

Askia Nuh I

1598 - ?

Askia al-Mustafa

Askia Muhammad Surku Ilji

Askia Harun Dancette

Askia al-Amin

Reigned for 7 years.

Askia Dawud I

Reigned for 22 years.

Askia Muhammad

Askia Dawud II

Askia Muhammad Bari

Askia Mar Shindin

Askia Nuh II

Askia al-Barak

Askia al-Hajj

Askia Ismail

Askia Dawud III

c.1700 - 1761

Askia Hanga

1761 - 1779

Askia Samsu Beri

1779 - 1793

Askia Hargani


Askia Fodi Mayrumfa

1793 - 1798

Askia Samsu Keyna

1798 - 1805

Askia Fodi Mayrumfa


1805 - 1823

Askia Tomo

1823 - 1842

Askia Bassaru Missi Ize

1842 - 1845

Askia Bumi / Askia Kodama Komi

1845 - 1864

Askia Koyze Baba

1864 - 1865

Askia Koyze Baba Baki

1865 - 1868

Askia Wankoy

1868 - 1882

Askia Bigo Farma

1882 - 1887

Askia Dauda

1887 - 1901

Askia Malla


The French occupy the kingdom.


The kingdom is conquered by the French.


The territory becomes an autonomous republic of the 'French Community' of states.


The region gains independence from France, and becomes part of a modern Niger. One of the new nation state's first acts is to leave the 'French Community'.

Modern Niger
AD 1960 - Present Day

Niger lies on the southern side of the Sahara Desert (known to the locals as the Tenere Desert), and as a result a large proportion of its extended territory is arid. Its capital is Naimey, which is located in the populous south-western corner of the country. A landlocked state, it is neighboured by Algeria and Libya to the north, Chad to the east, Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso to the south-west, and Mali to the west.

The territory which forms modern Niger first emerged into history as the easternmost section of the Songhai empire. This covered only the south-western quarter of what is now Niger, with something of an extension towards the Sahara. The Songhai empire was founded as a small state centred on Gao around AD 700 by Songhai Berbers on the Middle Niger. It evolved slowly, only becoming an empire in the fifteenth century and reaching the height of its power by around 1500. By this time it was the one of the largest African empires in terms of territory, stretching almost the entire length of the River Niger which cuts through a wide swathe of Mali but which barely touches the far south-western corner of Niger. In 1901 the empire's descendant, the Dendi kingdom, was conquered by France. Colonial occupation lasted for fifty-nine years.

Following independence from France in 1960, the new republic of Niger - gaining its name from the river - enjoyed a troubled life. The new parliament elected Hamani Diori as Niger's first president, but straight away it suffered a severe drought, and the instability caused by this resulted in coup after coup. Today the country is prone to frequent droughts, insurgency, and widespread poverty. The struggle to improve the standard of living is an ongoing one in this predominantly Islamic country.

(Additional information from Historical Dictionary of Niger, Samuel Decalo (1979) , and from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and Perspective Monde (French), and Niger News (dead link).)

1960 - 1974

For the first fourteen years of its existence, Niger is governed as a one-party state with President Hamani Diori leading its affairs. This is the country's 'First Republic' period, but that one party system is imposed by Diori almost immediately following independence and does not bode well for the country's future.

Hamani Diori
Hamani Diori ruled Niger from the beginning of independence until he was deposed by a military coup during a deeply unsettled period of the new country's modern history

1968 - 1974

Severe drought between 1968 and 1973 devastates Niger's livestock and crop production. This causes Niger to experience increasing destabilisation, which is exacerbated by accusations of out-of-control corruption in government. The situation reaches boiling point when President Hamani Diori is overthrown by a military coup which is led by Lieutenant-Colonel Seyni Kountché. Niger now experiences its first taste of government by military junta. Several minor counter-coups are attempted and are crushed (in 1975, 1976, and 1983).

1974 - 1987

Seyni Kountché

Military dictator. Died.


With Seyni Kountché dying of a brain tumour, he is succeeded by Ali Seybou, the chief of staff of the armed forces. Seybou immediately introduces political reforms to help improve conditions in the country.

1987 - 1991

Ali Seybou / Saibou

Military dictator. Replaced by transitional government.

1989 - 1993

A new constitution in 1989 brings Niger back to civilian rule, heralding the start of the country's 'Second Republic', but again under a one-party system. Seybou is re-'elected' as president. In the following year a Tuareg rebellion starts up in northern Niger (not ended until a ceasefire agreement in 1995). This only adds to the country's political unrest, with a wave of strikes and demonstrations already having led to opposition political parties being legalised.

In 1991, A constitutional conference strips Seybou of his powers and sets up a transitional government under Andre Salifou. This leads to a new constitution in 1992 and presidential elections in 1993. Mahamane Ousmane is elected president at the start of the 'Third Republic'.


The democratic peace lasts a remarkably short time. President Ousmane is ousted in a coup led by Colonel Ibrahim Maïnassara, who then bans all political parties. In May a new constitution which gives him increased powers is approved in a referendum and the ban on political parties is lifted. In July, Mainassara 'wins' presidential elections, beginning the 'Fourth Republic'.

1996 - 1999

Ibrahim Maïnassara

Military dictator. Assassinated.


Ibrahim Maïnassara is assassinated by his own bodyguards. Major Daouda Wanké assumes power in his place, and in August a new constitution is introduced which reverses the 1996 increase of the presidency's powers. Elections are held in October-November, and Mamadou Tandja wins them with a majority of seats in parliament. Wanké stands down and the 'Fifth Republic' begins. Tandja manages to hold office for a full decade, remaining in place for a third term even though the limit is two.

2000 - 2010

Mamadou Tandja

President for a decade. Ousted by the military.


Remarkably late by the world's political standards, slavery is banned in Niger. Even so it continues to pose a problem in a country in which the rule of law can sometimes be seen as a flexible process. Several prosecutions for slavery follow.


The increasingly-power hungry President Mamadou Tandja is ousted by the army in February following a decade in power, a term which he has shown every sign of extending with the enforcement of a new constitution and the start of the brief 'Sixth Republic' between 2009-2010. The military vow to oversee free democratic elections. Press freedom begins to see considerable improvement even before then.

Mamadou Tandja
After attempting to secure an illegal and unconstitutional third term in office by changing the constitution, President Mamadou Tandja (seen here in white, voting in 2009) was removed from office by the military

2010 - 2011

Salou Djibo

Military head of state.


Veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou becomes president in March 2011 during free and fair elections. This ends a year of benevolent control by the military junta which has already heralded the start of the 'Seventh Republic'. The election has aimed to return the country to democracy after Tandja's expulsion by the military, with a remarkably quick turnaround, taking Niger from yet another would-be dictatorship under Tandja to fresh democratic elections in this year.

2014 - 2015

In August 2014, Islamist separatists in Nigeria, Boko Haram, proclaim a caliphate in the territory which it controls in the north-east of the country, and in November the group launches a series of attacks in north-eastern Nigeria, capturing several towns near Lake Chad and running raids into neighbouring Chad and Cameroon in early 2015. This forces Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon, and Niger to form a military coalition against Boko Haram, which claims successes in pushing it back in all of these countries. The Nigerian army captures Gwoza, which it believes is Boko Haram's main stronghold, in late March 2015, leaving the armed group with only two towns under its control.