Trade routes in North West Africa By: McKenzie Branting

Location, Location, Location

The city of Timbuktu

Trade routes didn't just go straight through countries non stop. In the middle of trade routes there were cities known as trading centers. Some of the popular trade stops in North West Africa were Timbuktu, Djenne, Mauritania, Gambia, Nigeria, Guinea, Mali, Senegal, and Burkina Faso. If you were to travel the a trade route in North West Africa from West to East you would stop at these cities in this order; Mauritania, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea, Timbuktu, Djenne, Burkina Faso, Nigeria , and lastly Cairo. In the article "Mali and African empires"(The Mali Empire) it explains how the Mali empire covers the countries Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mauritania.(ReadWorks) Out of all those cities the most known is Timbuktu. It is a major trade stop and is known for the spread of Islam religion.

Physical features

A boat on the Niger river
The Sahara desert

The Sahara desert, Niger river, and forests were located in North West Africa. The Sahara desert was a barren landscape, with a searing sun killing off most of the vegetation. With Arid climate conditions the Sahara desert is always in a drought with limited source of water. With these conditions no one could walk through the desert straight through. The Sahara desert probably had an odd path through it so people don't over heat and die. The Niger river also made it hard before the invention of the boat. Travelers would half to walk around the river in order to cross it. When people think of Africa they think of hot Savannah's and hot grasslands. But many people don't realize that there is a forest out there. On the website ""(WWF) It describes the destination of the Mediterranean woodland forest and how it spreads across the countries Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.(WWF) Many travelers would have not try to go through the forest but instead try and go around it.

Traded goods

Salt was in high demand in many places

Many items were traded on West African trade routes. Many products were in high demand like salt, gold and slaves. It may seem weird that salt was in high demand, because you find it everywhere really cheap. But back then salt was in high demand because salt was low in supply and high demand making the "price" or trade more expensive. Salt was used to season food or perverse the food while traveling on a trade route. Slaves was another "product" in demand because people (mainly the Europeans) needed man labor to carry items while traveling trade routes. In North West Africa many people traded slaves for guns. The leaders of the villages would trade their people for guns for protection because back then African tribes fought with bow an arrows and spears. On the website the guardian it describes how African chiefs would "sell" or "trade" their people for guns to protect against enemies villages.(Slaves and Guns) In Cairo the price of gold dropped after Mansa Musa came on his pilgrimage. He gave out so much gold to poor people it affected the supply and demand that once all the gold was given out that it was not so much in demand anymore decreasing its value. In the article "The visit to Cairo in 1324 by the king of Mali"(Al-Umari) it describes that since Mansa Musa gave out so much gold, that it decreased its value because their is more of it out their.(Al-Umari) Some other product that were sold but not as popular were horses, ivory, cloth, African crafts, sugar, cotton, spices, minerals, sugar, glassware, copper, Kola nuts, and agriculture products.

The picture shows the main slave trading routes. Many slaves from Africa were traded to the new Americas and Europe.
The map shows North West Africa where most of the trade routes like the Silk Road went through.

Price of certain products/supply and demand

The price of certain products depended on the availability. Availability is basically how much was there in the world of a certain product. It is basically known as supply and demand. Supply and demand is if there are more of a certain product the less of demand(how much a person wants it). It works in the opposite way too. The less of the product the more demand for that product. Supply and demand made trading very interesting. Back than salt and gold were practically the same price, because there were less of those products and more demand. Now we consider gold priceless and salt as a food seasoning worth about 50 cents. If you were to trade salt for gold now, that would be a ripoff.

A gold coin


  1. "African Trading Kingdoms." N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2016
  2. 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., Jan. 2009. Web. 01 Dec. 2016.
  3. Author: Department of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas,. "The Trans-Saharan Gold Trade (Seventh–Fourteenth Centuries) | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Met, Dec. 2000. Web. 02 Dec. 2016
  4. "Trading Gold for Salt." What Is Currency? Essay Part 2. Smithsonian Museum, n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016.
  5. " | Mali & African Empires - The Mali Empire." N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2016
  6. @JulianAbagond. "Songhay Empire." Abagond. Wordpress, 25 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 Dec. 2016


Created with images by Yoni Lerner - "serengeti" • emilio labrador - "Timbuktu preferred method of transport, Mali, W. Africa" • clairetardy - "niger africa river" • DanielWanke - "sand sahara traces" • SoraZG - "Salt_B130604" • portableantiquities - "Bitterley Hoard - Coins - Reverse James I Gold Britain Crown"

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