The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Ethiopia of the West

A brief alternate history of a surviving Songhai Empire. It's not related to the AHN Universe.

Ethiopia of the West

Lost Army

The death of Emperor Askia Daoud left the Songhai Empire weak, divided by civil war. It was at this time, in the 1590s, that the Saadi Dynasty of Morocco saw an opportunity to conquer the Empire, and gain control over its salt, gold and slave. Morocco dispatched an army under the command of Judar Pasha. Caravans cross the vast expanse of the Sahara routinely, and the Sultans of Morocco were convinced that an army could do the same. Supported by a train of eight thousand camels, the Moroccan Army of fifteen hundred cavalry and three thousand foot soldiers, most armed with arquebuses, set out across the desert in October of 1590.

From the beginning, the army was plagued by inconveniences. A dust storm blew up in November, Separating parts of the supply train from the army. Without supplies, and unable to find oases, many of the Moroccan soldiers died of exposure to the desert. The supply train managed to cross the desert largely intact, but the army was not so fortunate. The Moroccan general succumbed to thirst in January. Of the six cannon brought with them, only two survived the crossing. The sands of the desert clogged many of the Moroccans’ firearms, rendering some useless.

By February of 1591, only a third of the Moroccan Army reached Taghaza, home to salt mines. The town was captured more by surprise than force of arms. The Moroccans paused after this quick conquest, to organize their scattered forces and to recuperate after a traumatic crossing. The army was so exhausted, that it failed to capture all the messengers who fled Taghaza, and word of the invasion was brought to Emperor Askia Ishaq II in the capital at Goa. The Emperor immediately called forth a force of twenty thousand foot soldiers and fourteen thousand cavalry. The army might seem overkill for such a rag-tag remnant, but the surviving Moroccan firearms more than made up for shortage of men.

Many Songhai charges were broken by these thundering lances, but the Moroccans lacked numbers and strength to turn the tide of battle. By nightfall of March 2, the surviving Moroccans surrendered. More than five hundred survivors were taken by the army and sold into slavery throughout the Songhai Empire. The biggest prize of the Battle of Taghaza was that of the Moroccans’ supply train, along with the hundreds of craftsmen brought to support the army. The Emperor took these into personal captivity, employing them in service to the state.

News slowly trickled back to Moroccan, where news of the defeat was met with shock. Immediate fear of a Songhai invasion swept across the nation. Sultan Ahmed al-Mansur found his own position weakened by such a loss. It was not so much the loss of soldiers as prestige of being defeated by what was perceived as a more primitive civilization. Emperor Askia Ishaq II did order a Songhai expedition across the desert, but it was far smaller in scope. Where the Moroccans sought to conquer, the Songhai had only punitive measures in response to the sacking of Taghaza. Aside from immediate embargo on salt to Morocco, the Songhai captured the town of Sijilmasa, a key city on the trans-Saharan trading network. The city was sacked, with its wealth and half its population shipped back to the Empire. Morocco’s position in trading across the desert declined afterwards, where Algeria’s, along with the Ottoman Empire’s, commercial star began to ascend.

God, Gold and Guns

Following the defeat of the Moroccans, the Emperor sought new trade routes for the Songhai. Morocco had been the largest of the trade partners for centuries, until contact with the Portuguese during the early Sixteen Century. Contact was sporadic with the coastal traders, since Songhai had no port upon the sea. Its largest and most famous port sat upon the Niger River, Timbuktu. Aside from also housing merchants, it housed scholars across the Empire and was the Songhai’s most learned city. Portuguese visiting the city were few and far between until the Seventeenth Century, but even then the Portuguese preferred to trade with nations along the coast.

What the Portuguese, and other Europeans sought the most were the Africans themselves. Endemic warfare between various tribes and kingdoms netted many prisoners, who were either sold into slavery in markets across the Empire, or to the Europeans for weapons such as firearms, or trade good such as cloth and even caskets of rum. Upon the capture of surviving Moroccans, the Emperor attempted to have the blacksmith clans copy the primitive firearms. The results tended to be inferior quality; a big a danger to the user as the target. The production of gunpowder proved far more successful, and before his death in 1602, Askia Ishaq II ordered alchemists and savants across the Empire to begin producing the magic powder.

To acquire a sufficiently larger supply of European guns, Emperor Askia Mohammad Gao began to sell criminals to the Portuguese. The practice in Songhai before the Imperial Age was to use indentured servitude as punishment to various crimes. Property crimes resulted in the convicted being sentenced to a length of slavery to those he offended. Slavery in the Songhai Empire was benign by many comparisons, and often the slaves married into the families that were their masters. What awaited the condemned on the sugar plantations of Brazil and the Caribbean Islands was far beyond their wildest nightmares. When the jails failed to satisfy the Portuguese or net sufficient weapons, the Emperor began to order the villages within the empire to supply its own criminals. When that failed, the Songhai began to wage war upon its neighbors, and occasionally rebellious tribes, depopulating entire villages.

The Portuguese brought more than weapons and goods for the Songhai. They also brought Christianity. Between 1603 to 1643, Jesuits Missionaries converted tens of thousands within the southern reaches of the Empire, almost all among the pagan population. Songhai Muslims who converted ran the severe risk of being punished as apostates, captures, and sold into slavery. The Emperor attempted to stop the missions and conversions through force, but even a small number of Portuguese soldiers with cannon could hold off a much larger native army. One Songhai attack resulted in a temporary halt in trade with Portugal, as the Europeans turned to alternative, that being neighboring kingdoms, for their demand of slaves, gold and ivory. To these neighbors, recent victims of the Songhai, went weapons and powder.

To the relief of Askia Mohammad, Portugal during its period of union with Spain, was in fierce competition with the rising Dutch Republic. The Dutch had recently allied itself with the Kingdom of Kandy and expelled the Portuguese from Ceylon. Much to Askia Mohammad’s delight, he was told by his scholars that, not only did the Portuguese attempt to enforce their ways upon the Kandyans, but the infidels in Kandy aligned themselves with the Dutch infidels, because they were not interested in subverting them to Christianity, but only in trade. In 1643, the aging Emperor entered into a commercial and military alliance with the recently formed West-Afrikaansche Compagnie, and proceeded to push back Portuguese influence.

Gunpowder Empire

Over the course of a twenty year period, between 1650 and 1670, the Songhai Empire fought a series of short, successful wars, reducing neighbors to the west and south to mere tributary states. According to WAC figures, the number of prisoners purchased from the Songhai numbers over a hundred thousand during this era. The Dutch had their own problems during this period, facing off against the English in its own wars. Supplies of firearms slowed as Europeans used their own weapons against their own.

An innovation during this period allowed for the Songhai to no longer be dependant upon Europe for its own firearms. The flintlock mechanism proved far easier for Songhai smiths to replicate than earlier models. Songhai made muskets proved to be of lower quality, but the sheer number produced for Imperial infantry, and short barrel models for cavalry, outweighed any and all rivals. With the Dutch naval presence reduced, the English began to force their way into the Gulf of Guinea and the African slave trade.

A homegrown arms industry did not halt the slave trade. English demands were as high as the Dutch, and to feed the trade, Emperor Askia Oman ordered the invasion of the Gambia in 1673. The invasion proved a disaster. Portugal’s continued presence in the Gambia supplied the tribes and nations of the Gambia River with their own weapons. During the rainy season of 1673, Songhai muskets proved to have the edge, as smiths designed their weapons with the heavy rains in mind. After initial gains, Songhai’s army found itself soundly defeated at the confluence of the Gambia and Sandougou Rivers.

Further campaigns were put on hold, when in May of 1674, the southern reaches of the Songhai Empire rose in revolt. Upon taking the thrown years before, Askia Oman decreed the Sharia to spread across all of the Empire and strongly encouraged all his subject to convert. The Emperor’s attempt to unify his Empire under one religion backfired when the pagans within Mali drove out Songhai garrisons, with apparent Portuguese and even English support. As civil war threatened to break out, Emperor Askia Oman showed too much weakness, where upon his brother, Ismail launched his own coup, becoming Emperor Askia Ismail II. The new Emperor recalled the armies from foreign lands and waged a fierce war upon the pagan rebels within his empire.

Malian Jihad

In December of 1674, Emperor Askia Ismail II went beyond the former Emperor’s ‘strong encouragement’ and simply decreed that all his subjects in all the tribes of the Songhai Empire would convert to the one true faith. His fear was not the pagans of the forest itself, but how susceptible pagans were to the infidels from Portugal and England. The slavers raised an alarm here, since the Emperor also decreed that Muslims could no longer be sold to foreigners. They could still be held in bondage for set amount of times as punishment. His armies turned away from the Gambia and descended upon Mali with 30,000 soldiers, 10,000 cavalry and one hundred heavy guns.

The Malians were not to be preempted. With Portuguese and English weapons, along with Jesuits, the Malians stormed and captured the city of Djenne. Thousands of the Emperor’s loyal subjects fled the city, thousands more were either killed or sold into slavery, destined for the sugar plantations of Brazil. The Malian army marched forth, only to find itself crushed upon the savanna on May 7, 1676, when the Songhai Army, commanded by General Moruk Abdul surrounded the Malians in three great columns. The Malians were nearly killed to the last, with a few captives willing to convert to Islam and throw themselves upon the General’s, and the Emperor’s mercy. No such mercy was shown to the Jesuits, who were summarily executed.

Two weeks after the crushing defeat, Moruk Abdul marched into Djenne, while surviving Malian soldiers did their best to deny him the city. Much of the city was built from stone and brick, but those parts not burned. Upon hearing the news, the Emperor decreed that a new mosque would be built in the city, as great as those in the Arab world or Istanbul. The mosque was dedicated to the unification of all his subjects under Islam. The decree was premature. Upon marching into the southwest of the Empire, the mighty army’s discipline began to wane within the forest.

Worse luck yet, the Songhai found themselves facing European soldiers who fought as allies to the pagan tribes. The Emperor attempted to gain the support of his most valued trading partner, the Dutch Republic, only to learn that the Dutch had been weakened by a series of wars with the English. Despite Moruk Abdul’s able leadership, the enemy had knowledge of the terrain and was more adept at jungle warfare. During the wet season, the Songhai war effort came to a halt, when rain ruined great stocks of gunpowder. The Songhai were reduced to fighting with bladed weapons, and thus traded a great advantage.

After ten years of conflict, the Emperor was forced to face facts. After such a loss of manpower and treasure, the southwest would not remain under his rule. Though there was no formal peace treaty, the revived Portuguese Empire extended a de facto protection to the newly independent Kingdom of Mali. Portuguese presence here, and their moving into the Gambia, cut off Songhai from its western access to the Atlantic. This forced the Songhai to depend solely upon the Niger River and its access to the sea. At one point, the WAC had trading posts and forts along the river delta. With the Dutch in decline, the Emperor decided that he could not rely upon the white man and the Songhai must have their own ocean-going commerce.

Moruk Dynasty

In May of 1670, Emperor Askia Ismail II died, leaving his throne to his son, who was crowned Askia Ismail III. Ismail III blamed Moruk Abdul for the loss of Mali, and threatened him often enough during the previous few years. Should he take the throne, he would avenge the failure. Moruk Abdul was no political inept. He had allies, connections within the court, and loyalty of the soldiers. On July 1, he made the first move. Storming the palace in Gao, Ismail III was removed from the throne, and reported killed during the coup attempt. His death is still mysterious, though it is quite possible he was executed upon capture.

Moruk Abdul attempted to make his coup quickly and quietly. With the palace in hand, he went one step further and ordered the execution of all male members of the Askia family. With their head killed, he wanted to make sure none would live to swear vengeance. All but one, Askia Ibrahim, were killed in short order. Ibrahim escaped Gao and fled towards Djenne. Not all soldiers were loyal to their general, nor some of the loyal ones pleased as to what happened to the Emperor. Ibrahim gathered loyal soldiers to his own cause and campaigned to take back his throne.

What followed was fifteen years of civil war. The civil war cost Songhai dearly. Aside from the destruction of villages and deaths of thousands of soldiers, neighboring tribes took advantage of the chaos and launched their own raids into the Empire. These tribes, as well as the Mali nation, were ample supplied by European powers, who traded weapons and ammunition for captives. Portugal expanded its own influence in the region, allying with more tribes and taking their captives to the sugar fields of Brazil.

Many prisoners were taken by the Songhai, but the general refused to sell any of them. Soldiers in arms against him were either absorbed into his army, or executed as traitors. Shortly after the war began, Moruk Abdul moved south to seize the vital port, and center of learning, Timbuktu. Throughout 1672-75, fighting in the north was intense enough to turn marginal agricultural lands into desert. Famine remained a growing concern in the northern provinces even after the civil war was ended. Ismail III held out in the west until 1683, when it appeared he would gain a reprieve in the death of Moruk Abdul. Shortly after the general died, his own son, Moruk Salem, took up the sword and continued to lead the army. Fortunately for him, he was as capable as his father.

The Askia Dynasty was effectively defeated some twenty kilometers northwest of Djenne in December of 1684. Askia Ismail III was killed in battle, shot from his horse by an anonymous musketeer. His head was placed upon a pike and marched back to Gao. Upon returning to the capital, General Moruk Salem declared himself Emperor Salem I, and the start of the Moruk Dynasty. One of his first acts as Emperor was to send diplomatic missions down the Niger and out to sea. Songhai’s ships were little more than coastal vessels, but were more than able to reach the European rivals of Portugal. Learning from the infidels would not make the new Emperor popular, but it would be the first of many reforms.

Foreign Affairs

The Songhai empire sent out a serious of diplomatic missions during the 1720s to other civilizations in Europe and the Mediterranean. The first mission reached Morocco in 1721. The voyage was across land, retracing the same route as the Moroccan Army of centuries past. What they found in Morocco did not impress the emissary or the Emperor. Their technology and techniques were not perceived as new as European ways. The second diplomatic mission reached Istanbul, heart of the greatest Muslim civilization in the world. Negotiations in trading goods for ideas broke down when Emperor Moruk Salem refused to recognize the Sultan as the new Caliph.

Initial overturns to Europe were also met with disappointment. Catholic southern Europe, mainly Spain, France and Venice, rejected Songhai outright, despite the prices the Emperor offered. Songhai’s treatment of missionaries discovered within its territory spoiled any possible relations with these powers. Northern Europe was more receptive. For a large sum of gold and ivory, the Emperor was able to bribe the leaders of the Dutch Republic to send shipwrights to Songhai, and the leaders of various German States to send carpenters, smiths, drill instructors and even mercenaries to the African nation. From the British they learned of textiles, however wool proved most unreasonable in the tropical sun.

These foreign experts were shipped back to Songhai, where their arts and crafts were taught to natives. What else was brought back was the knowledge that Europeans craved sugar and spices almost as much as gold. The Emperor ordered these crops to be planted in suitable areas of the Empire. Spices, such as clove and cinnamon, were not so easily obtained. However, sugar was another matter. Sugar was known to the Songhai. The Emperor decrees that vast tracks of land be given over to cultivation of sugar. Much of this was sold to Europe, but some was fermented into rum, and traded with heathen nations around Songhai, and, despite the Islamic ban on alcohol, consumed by the locals.

Abdul Reformation

During the reign of Emperor Moruk Abdul II (1730-43) the Songhai Empire underwent a series of reformations. Many of these reforms were partly due to what was learned from the Europeans, and partly to increase the power of the ruling dynasty. The first of these reforms was to centralize the system of indentured servitude. Instead of the old system, where the condemned were turned over to the victims, they were now indentured to the state for a set period. Most of these new slaves were sentenced to long years toiling in the sugar cane fields. In most cases, the sentences were for life, as work on sugar plantations was brutal. Not all were sentenced to Imperial plantations; a number found themselves working provincial fields along the Niger River.

The second act of his reign was not so much reformation as it was classic conquest. To gain more land within the rain-soaked area around the Gulf of Guinea, the Songhai invaded and conquered Benin during a three year long war. The land was parcelled between trusted Imperial officials, officers in the conquering army, and even common soldiers. The inhabitants of the land, who were heathen anyway, were placed in a status of perpetual servitude, bound to the lands on which they were born. In effect, the people of Benin were reduced to serfdom. Many of the new slaves taken by the Empire were put to work building the city of Moruk near the mouth of the Niger, opening the Empire more directly to oceanic commerce.

Though the Songhai found cocoa rather distasteful, the white man loved it. The plant also grew well in the southern portions of the Empire and was imported widely during the last few years of Abdul II’s reign. The boom in commercial trade in the Gulf also saw the rise of piracy. Most of these pirates were dissatisfied sailors from the European nations, but not all. Bands of escaped Beninese, the Malians, and even Songhai deserters, made names for themselves in pillaging the spice trade. Most of the deserters came from the new system of levees enacted by the Emperor, were each of the Provinces had annual quotas to fill for the Imperial Army.

Supply and Demand

In the 1750s, Songhai sugar and cocoa production took off. These commodities were in such high demand in Europe, that it drove the industry to new heights. With the expansion of Songhai’s plantations came a new demand in labor. This was met, obviously, by captives of neighboring tribes as well as criminal, both civil and political, within the Empire as a whole. For the first time in the 18th Century, the largest purchaser of African slaves were Africans. Songhai’s new elite class purchased more slaves than almost the combined European effort.

With more and more of the supply of slaves pouring into Songhai, the price of slaves in the New World shot upwards, tripling over a four year period. Slaves were in such high demand in Europe’s own sugar colonies, that they were forced to pay abhorrent prices for them. Songhai, and its tributary tribes soon accepted nothing but quality manufactured goods upon learning how desperate the British, French and Dutch were. Transportation costs were not a factor for the Songhai, for they had far shorter distances to travel. Their rum was far cheaper and got non-Muslims just as drunk as that produced overseas. Larger slaver companies began to force the smaller ones, as well as independent captains, out of business.

To alleviate the supply problems for Brazil, the Portuguese armed the Mali, as well as other tribes who have sworn vendettas against Songhai, and sent them to attack their enemies. More often than not, tribes fought each other, but the net results were the same. Portugal kept its supply lines open, though without the high profit of earlier years. Other European powers aimed to emulate the Portuguese, with limited success. Every tribe that failed against the Songhai soon found themselves working the fields. The weakest of tribes were utterly consumed by Songhai. They were not kept together as whole tribes, but sold off at auctions. This breaking up was followed by assimilation into their new society. African cultures faced extinction not at the hands of the white man, but of their own cousins.

The price in slaves also drove up the price in sugar, as plantations in the New World charged more to offset the cost of labor. This was another benefit for Songhai. Not only were their plantations thriving, a good portion of the time, Songhai did not have to pay for slaves, but simply raided neighboring states. To complicate matters for Europe, Emperor Moruk Salem II decreed that no Muslim would be exported. Furthermore, all slaves of the Songhai were forced to convert to Islam. As their economic power grew, fewer and fewer Africans would challenge their own homegrown Empire.

Enlightened Age

1790 saw the beginning of the end for the slave trade in Africa. Following their own revolution, the French outlawed the importation of slaves, and emancipated most of their slaves, save for those on Hispaniola. Britain followed suit in 1796, the Dutch in 1798 and the Danes in 1803, the Spanish Empire lost much of its slavery when its colonies ejected it from the Americas, and the United States was the last of the Atlantic powers to outlaw the slave trade, in 1808. A new wave of enlightenment swept across Europe, and one of its finer points was that slavery was wrong. This moralism did not prevent the European masses from purchasing sugar grown either in the Caribbean, which was subsidized by their own governments, or from Songhai. They deplored slavery yet coveted the fruits of their labor.

When slavery was finally phased out in the 1820s and 1830s, a new source of labor for the sugar fields was required. Europeans, both in Europe and the colonies, refused to do such labor, as it was seen as the work of slaves for over a century. The British solved the problem by taking the institution of indentured servitude from Europe to India. Hundreds of thousands of Indians were transported half-a-world away from their homelands, bound to five to ten years of service before they were free again. The Dutch used Javanese peasants and what was left of the Spanish Empire imported its laborers from the Philippines, though not as willingly as the other European powers. Even the United States brought in indentured servants for its cotton and tobacco fields. With Songhai sucking up all the slaves during the last half of the 18th Century, the southern States of America were starving for cheap labor, importing servants from Ireland, the German states and even Morocco.

Portugal continued its own importation of slaves to Brazil. Instead of West Africa, they shifted their slaving to Angola, pushing deeper and deeper into southern Africa. They were the only colonial power to continue this practice. Even after Brazilian independence, Portugal pushed deeper and deeper, until finally linking up with their colony of Mozambique. Brazil took over the slave trade from Angola, and imported them only to its own plantations. The Transatlantic slave trade slowly withered on the vine.

In 1817, Emperor Moruk Mohammed II outlawed all exportation of slaves from Songhai. This was more a gesture, for in reality Songhai had not exported Muslims for decades, and all slaves upon purchase or capture were converted. Importation of slaves persisted for years, slowly dying out as natural population increase fed demand. Slavery itself did not die out, but rather evolved. Remaining slaves in Songhai, no longer able to be sold, reverted to what Europeans would call serfdom in southern Songhai, where the demand for labor was highest. Across the rest of the Empire, were only a handful of slaves were owned by any one family, the remaining slaves were either freed upon the end of their sentence or adopted into the families holding them in bondage.

Age of Empires

As the 19th Century slowly passed, the European powers began to gradually encroach upon traditional Songhai territories. It started with colonial outposts, same as it did over most of the planet, along the Gambia for the British, and the Niger for the French. French traders moved into Songhai territory as if it were their Gods given right to set up shop. Portugal established its own protectorate over Mali, before outright annexing the breakaway Kingdom. France also purchases an ever increasing percentage of Songhai’s sugar, cocoa and even salt. After they lost Hispanolia, France began to invest heavy in Songhai sugar and deny their former slaves in Haiti a market.

Not all colonial ventures were as benign as sugar traders. As colonies grew, the Europeans began to collide with the borders of Songhai. In the south especially, warfare broke out between the Empire and independent tribes and states, as well as white adventurers. Jungle fighting was the worse, for the rains would always sour the powder. In 1851, Songhai introduced its own self-contained brass cartridge for its own breach-loading rifles. These weapons were inferior to weapons produced by the likes of the German states or Austria, but more than a match for the muzzle-loaders their neighbors were still using.

Warfare began to break in the west as British and other treasure hunters sought out the gold veins of the Gambia River. New fortifications were erected in the west, draining Songhai’s coffers as expenses mounted for the defense of their own nation. What was worse than gold-seekers were the missionaries of Europe. Jesuits from Mali, which had gradually been transformed into a Catholic state by Portugal, as well as various Protestants from Britain, Germany and even from across the Atlantic, found their ways into the Empire, despite not being welcomed. They found their greatest source of converts amongst the serfs of southern Songhai– called “Nigeria” by Europeans. As was such with Songhai law, apostates were treated severely.

European powers reacted sharply when, in 1857, the Songhai Emperor expelled all missions from his soil, and had any such trespassers executed. Britain, the Netherlands, and other northern European states enacted an embargo against Songhai, as did Portugal and Spain. The French government, with its own new Emperor in power, ignored it business interests as Napoleon III declared a crusade to end slavery. In truth, chattel slavery had been extinct for decades, but as far as the French were concerned, serfdom and slavery were one-in-the-same. It was a noble excuse, but an excuse nonetheless, for France to expand its colonial domains from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Guinea.

Rush for Africa

The European powers divided Africa amongst themselves in Berlin, without even the slightest consent of the natives. France expanded its influence across the Niger Delta, and in 1889, France invaded the Songhai Empire. They did not, however, come from the south, where their Sphere of Influence was already established. Instead, they made the same mistake as Morocco centuries before; they came from the North. A French Army numbering some 40,000, marched south from Algeria, across the desert. They planned to take Songhai by surprise, and were disappointed.

The war was long, some seven years, and in the end, France was defeated. Though victorious, the Songhai Empire lost its primitive fleet to the steel of the French Navy, nor could it expel the French from Nigeria. Without the sugar and cocoa producing regions, the economy of Songhai suffered. The French merely lost prestige, as well as the protectorate of Morocco to the Germans, but the Songhai lost more. They were now a landlocked nation, with no access to the world’s highways of their own. To make matters worse for Songhai, the French freed all the serfs in Nigeria, and seized the plantations, turning them over to their fellow Franks.

With Portugal ruling over Mali, the only hope of access to the world’s markets was though a sliver of British ruled West Africa. The British were not about to allow free access. Though they could not rule Songhai, they would force their influence upon them. Both the British Empire and the United States put considerable pressure upon the Songhai Empire for political reforms. Emperor Salim V enacted a parliament, whose upper house comprised of Senators appointed by the Emperor. The lower house consisted of elected officials. Only the landed elite of the Empire could vote for such delegates. It was just enough start at democracy to appease the British, and allow commerce to flow, after a ten percent tariff.

Behind the Times

Songhai entered the 20th Century slowly and reluctantly. There was some hope in the second decade, when the nations of Europe warred with each other. Despite German promises of regaining Nigeria, Songhai remained neutral throughout the World War. The Emperor saw no reason for his people to die in a “White man’s war”. As it turned out, the Germans lost that war along with their control over Morocco. Had Songhai entered on the side of the Central Powers, no doubt the Empire would have lost a great deal as well.

As the nation grew poor over the course of the 19th Century, the first factories only appeared in the 1920s, in Timbuktu and Djenne, as well as small towns along the Niger River. Tributaries of the river were dammed to power these new factories. Electricity appeared in Songhai homes starting in 1928, with precious few electrical appliances in the country, a generation passed before electricity was considered common. In 1936, the first state-owned radio station opened its doors in Gao, followed by a second in Timbuktu.

Modern warfare showed its ugly face in 1938, when France attempted a second invasion of Songhai. The pretense for the invasion was the execution of French nationals the previous year, including a French priest, for the crime of instigating apostasy. In Europe, such a crime was long since gone and the French were the most secular of all white men. Just what a French priest was doing in Songhai had never been adequately explained. Nevertheless, it was the perfect excuse to extend their colonial empire from sea to sea. The invasion was a disaster. It was no years-long war as the previous invasion, but a pitched battle along the Songhai-Nigerian border, and was the debut for the Imperial Songhai Air Force.

Quiet returned to the country following the peace treaty, a disappointing status quo ante bellum, as Songhai turned in upon itself for the next decade. Another world war flared around it, but Songhai kept out of that “White man’s war”, even if it were not entirely that. The disquiet caused by World War II in the European’s colonial empire was, in fact, over the utmost interest to the Emperor.


The end of the Great White War saw Europe’s power and influence within its African colonies begin to wane. In the 1950s, a serious of uprisings in French held possessions met with a heavy-handed response from France, starting in Algeria. The Emperor saw this as a chance to pay back France for its interference within his empire. Songhai small arms and munitions spread across West Africa in short order. In 1959, the last French forces departed from Nigeria, as the former Songhai lands were granted their independence. Emperor Ismail V pushed for reunification as soon as possible. When this failed, he simply invaded.

In 1962, the full might of the Songhai Army crossed the border into Nigeria. Muslims rejoiced at the return of the Empire, but many Nigerians resisted. These were not just the ones assimilated by France, but also by the descendants of hundreds of thousands of bound laborers. With most of the army fighting in Nigeria, trying to rejoin its lost territory, there was little to keep the peace along the other borders. Withdrawal of European control left dozens of tribes to take up old animosities. Chaos reigned across Songhai’s western frontier. In order to keep some order, the Emperor decreed martial law in a nation that had few freedoms to begin with.

Seven years of war abroad and oppression at home took their toll upon the empire. By 1969, there were rumblings of mutiny within the army. Though most of the generals within the army were home educated, others studied abroad. Aside from fancy education, they also brought back foreign ideas. The most common in the European schools of decades past was the ideology of Marx. In 1970, generals and other elites staged a coup against the last of the Songhai emperors. Ismail V was killed in a firefight within his own palace.

Generals moved quickly to round up and execute the remainder of the House of Moruk, and to brush aside the obsolete concepts of aristocracy and absolutism that have reigned for centuries. Though millions of farmers, workers and the downtrodden took the street in support of tearing down the old regime, not all the Songhai were overjoyed at the prospect of equality and classlessness that was thrust upon them. Resistance to the coup was not a unified front, for the loyalist generals garnered less than a third of those opposed to the Marxists. The rest rallied around the mullahs, for the only enemy the Marxists feared more than the tyrants upon the throne was Islam itself. The 1970s would be a decade of brutal civil war.

Peace-loving Peasants and Workers....

By 1981, the communists were clearly and completely in control of the People’s Republic of Songhai. Only after a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands ended did the real blood letting begin. Purges raged across the 1980s, claiming over a million lives as the People’s Courts weeded out all the enemies of the peace-loving peasants and workers of Songhai. The fact that the Party considered most of its population merely peasants spoke volumes on how much they truly believed in equality and classlessness.

Various programs of collectivization and modernization seriously disrupted the lives of the Songhai in ways civil wars failed. Between 1982 and 1984, the forced collectivization and state-running of the farms across the country resulted in famine that claimed an estimated two million. To compound the disaster, drought rocked the Sahel, and the Sahara slowly began to creep southward, consuming already marginal farmland. Decades of irrigation, along with what the Party perceived as modern ideas, began to slowly drain away Lake Chad on Songhai’s eastern border. Foreign aid groups were refused entry into the country, being seen by the new regime as tools of the imperialists.

Instead of feeding the people that he claimed to be fighting for, Chairman Brigi Bokasa inaugurated his own cult of personality. Statues of him were on the corners of nearly every street in the major cities, and pictures of him adorned the tenants of the people. He elevated himself to a status higher than even the deposed Emperors, almost making himself second only to Mohammad. His fiercely loyal secret police sought out even the tiniest hint of dissent and purged it relentlessly. Funds that should have gone to running the state were instead funneled into building elaborate “People’s Palaces” in Gao and other major cities.

Revolutionary fever spread out from Songhai during the 1980s. The first of the newly independent West African states to fall was that of Nigeria. Nigeria’s own Party was as vicious as its relations in the north. A referendum passed overwhelmingly in 1986, calling for reunification with Songhai. The results were dubious, since not only were international inspectors barred from it, but so were all non-Party members. Even those that did vote were watched carefully. Mali and Ghana also fell to communist expansionism, becoming puppets of Songhai in 1989 and 1991 respectively.

Other nations in the area began to turn outward for assistance, running to the United States and France for aid in combating Marxists insurgents within their own borders. Bokasa condemned this as a new wave of imperialism. In response to aggression abroad and oppression at home, the international community slapped an embargo upon Songhai, forcing the oldest state in the region into a new age of isolationism spanning into the 21st Century.