At one time a satellite state of the Mali Empire, Songhai asserted its independence in 1340 and became one of the key trading partners in the Trans-Saharan trade. In 1464, Sonni Ali declared himself emperor and went on to conquer much of the former Mali Empire, including the key trading city Timbuktu. From this position, Ali and his successors were ideally situated to begin redirecting trade away from Muslim partners to the Portuguese and other Europeans who offered greater profits by using much easier and speedier sea routes.

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