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Sunni Ali Ber

Songhai emperor
Born: 1464

FSunni Ali Ber was the first great leader of Africa’s Songhai Empire. Like other Songhais, as a young man Sunni Ali had been enlisted in the army of the Malian Empire, which then controlled Songhai areas around the Niger River. Sunni Ali organized an uprising against Malian rule and succeeded in capturing Djenne, Timbuktu, and other market centers. The Malians were driven out swiftly and a new empire was born.

The success of the Songhai Empire was due to not just military might but a centralized power structure, headed first by Sunni Ali, that governed the vast empire. Sunni Ali remains a controversial figure. Although many regard him as a hero of his people, his military zeal and anti-Muslim rhetoric led others to call him a tyrant.

Died: 1492

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