Trade in West Africa By:Karina Fedorowicz

Trading Locations

In Ancient times, West Africa had a lot of active trade. There were many trade routes associated with West Africa. Ancient African empires such as Ghana, Mali, and Songhai traded with countries in the Middle East, such as Sijilmasa, Awdaghust, Ghadames, Gao, Afghanistan, and Iran, but Africa didn't just trade with the Middle East. They also traded with France and Britain in Europe, and countries in the Mediterranean. Regions traded goods and commodities along these trade routes such as minerals, copper, animals, and food. Although many of these goods were traded quite frequently, gold and salt were the most popular. According to "Trading Gold for Salt", it states, "But what if you could not easily get salt, and without it you could not survive? In fact, throughout history salt has been very difficult to obtain in many parts of the world, and people feared a lack of salt the way we in the industrialized world fear a shortage of fuel oil." (Smithsonian Education). This piece of text says that without salt, people would not be able to survive, and people would travel far to obtain this mineral. Modern day people losing fossil fuels, such as gas and oil, would be the same as people in the Ancient days lose salt. West African Trade routes are very similar to the Silk Road. The Silk road traded with countries such as China, Greece, and Rome, and they traded goods and commodities such as silk, tea, spices, and porcelain.

Trade Routes in West Africa

Topography with trading

The shape and type of the land can impact how people could have traded. For instance, forest zones. According to "The Spread of Islam In West Africa", it says, “Muslim communities in the forest zones were minority communities often linked to trading Diasporas.” (Hill) This piece of text says that many forest zones connected to groups of people, so that they would be able to trade. Also, these people in forest zones can cause cultural diffusion. The text says that some Muslim communities stayed in forest zones. While they were trading, they might have spread the word of the Muslim religion, which may have made people convert to the Muslim religion. People could also get through the Saharan desert, which was flat and easy to get across. Although many trading routes were easy and fast to get across, some had terrains that was a challenge for traders to get across. Many areas had a rugged terrain, with mountains and high hills. Topography also had a significant role in modern day goods. If there is a product coming from China to the United States. China would have to send their source of transportation (plane, boat, etc.) across China's mountains and across the Atlantic ocean to get to the United States.

Thematic Map of West Africa
The Saharan Desert

Supply And demand of goods

When people traded, the price of the good was determined by the supply and demand of the item. Supply and demand was huge in the market economy. If the supply of an item was high, the demand of the product was low. However, if the supply of an item was low, the demand of the product would be high. For instance, during the ancient days, people had an eye for gold and salt. In many areas, salt was a necessity of life, and many people could not live without it. In many parts of the world, salt would be difficult to obtain. To solve this problem, countries with a lot of salt would trade with countries that could not get salt, but they had gold. Since the supply of salt was so low, salt would have been as equally valuable as gold. For instance, if someone were to trade 1 pound of salt for gold, they would have to give 1 pound of gold in return. Nowadays, there is a surplus of salt, so it is very cheap.

The supply is low, so the demand is high

Barter of goods

People didn't just trade with money, but they also bartered. Barter is the exchange if goods and services without using money. For example, someone could trade a goat for agricultural products. Also, according to "Songhai Empire", it states, "“It traded gold, ivory, spices, kola nuts, slaves and cotton goods for salt, cloth, arms, horses, copper, glassware, sugar and North African crafts.” (Abagond) This piece of text says there would be endless goods from different cultures to trade with.


  • Hill, Margari. "The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century." FSI | SPICE - The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century. N.p., 2003. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
  • "Trading Gold for Salt." What Is Currency? Essay Part 2. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
  • Watskins, Jeffery. "African Trading Kingdoms." N.p., 1999. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.


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