Trade across the Sahara goes back at least one thousand years before the beginning of our period- perhaps many thousands of years. People often speak and write of ‘Africa South of the Sahara’ as if the Sahara was a frontier that divided Africa. On the contrary, the Sahara, at all periods, has provided highways for Africans to cross; it is more of a bridge than a barrier, even though there is a sharp drop both in altitude and life-supporting conditions from the Atlas into the Sahara desert itself, which is one of the most arid and least hospitable climates on earth. Trans-Sahara trade refer to the trade between North Africa and Western Sudan across the Sahara desert. The trade requires travel across the Sahara to reach Sub-Saharan Africa from the North Africa Coast, Europe or the Levant. While the trade existed from pre-historic times, the peak of the trade extended from the eighth century until the late sixteenth century. Although there were relatively few necessities of life which the early West African descent groups could not provide for themselves in their own environment, a significant exception was salt which could not be easily obtained except by the peoples living near the sea. The Saharan salt mines were controlled by the Berbers of North Africa who in turn were willing to trade salt for West African Gold which was in high demand in the Magrib. This early trade in salt and Gold was to serve as the foundation for a more elaborate and flourishing trade between the two regions that was to have far reaching effects on the political and social histories of the people who inhabited the two regions. Moreover, the notion that Africans have been nothing but passive objects in their encounter with other civilizations, ‘’having no interest to explore the world outside their own home village,’’ is both oversimplified and fallacious. The establishment and success of regular Trans-Sahara trade for instance, was not possible without the active participation of West Africans who understood perfectly well how to utilize the new opportunities offered by the commercial contacts to the Islamic world. When and how the very first contacts took place is still obscure, although their origins can be traced already to the pre-historic times. That is to say, long distance trade, mostly in luxury goods for the wealthy or non perishable bulk items has formed a significant component of the world’s economic system from the earliest times and West Africa had flourished in such economic activities from that earliest times. Early Muslim Writers confirmed that the people of West Africa operated a sophisticated networks of trade usually under the authority of a monarch who levied taxes and provided bureaucratic and military support to his Kingdom. Sophisticated mechanism for the economic and political development of the involved African areas was in place in West Africa. The capital, court and trade of the region found mentioned in the works of scholar Abu’Ubayd’ Abd Allah al Bakri, further affirmed that the main stay of Trans-Sahara trade was Gold and Salt. Moreover, the Trans-Sahara trade routes enhance the spread of religion, trade and technology and also, it has been said to be vital to the growth of urban civilization. The extent of development of cities, and the level of their integration in to a larger world system, has often been attributed to their position in various active transport networks of the Trans-Saharan trade. THE TRANS-SAHARAN TRADE NETWORKS AND ITS IMPACTS ON WESTERN SUDAN The great development of the Trans-Saharan trade of the Western Sudan began after the Muslim Arab invasion of North Africa in the seventh century. By this time, Camel transport had made the desert crossing easier and increased the freight loads that trading Caravans could bring. Then also began the larger-scale export of Gold. Moreover, export trade over long distance required specialized traders who were occupied solely with transporting...
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