Dark Crescent - A Timeline of the Mande Empire

Table Of Contents
  • Dark Crescent
    - A Timeline of the Mande Empire -


    Mali Flag_refined.jpeg



    Table of contents

    Prologue - Death of a King
    Chapter I - The Plot
    Chapter II - The Long Game
    Chapter III - A Reminiscence

    Chapter IV - War
    Chapter V - The Old Man Speaking
    Chapter VI - Last Glance

    Chapter VII - End of an Era

    *****
    How does that work (aka POD)? In OTL Mali had one King that was no member of the Keita clan by birth, Sakura. While he was generally considered of the realm's best ever, after his death the title of Mansa reverted back to the Keita Clan - and his succesors were generally not up to the task with the notable exceptions of Mansa Musa, the one Mansa everyone knows.
    In this Timeline, Sakura meets a scholar in Makkah. I loosely based him on IbnChaldun, namesake of this account and on of the brightest mind in the entire Muslim World. This companionship leads to the Son of Sakura taking the throne instead of it reverting to the Keitas.

    Here my story begins, it is by AH. com standards rather fictionalized and rooted a bit less in reality than many other Tls on this forum. Still, the assumptions are entirely logic and, I assure, realistic.


    *****

    When I first joined AH.com I started this Timeline. Quite soon I became unhappy with it and put it on hiatus. So, recently I have started working on another Timeline and I happened to read this one here again. And well, honestly I quite liked it.

    So I will restart working on it. Still, it most certainly will play the second fiddle to Three Sisters' Brother, the TL I'm writing currently and receive less frequent updates. The more prosaic writing style I employ here is just more time consuming to write - and let's face it: My knowledge of this time and place is not up to the one I have on French Canada.
    *****
    Thanks for reading :)
     
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    0. Prologue
  • Prologue: Death of a King

    Everyone dies the same. As does the farmer on his soil, as does the merchant along his wealth – and so does the King. The certainty of death means loneliness. Lost in the knowledge of a certain fate there is nothing left to hope for in this world.

    This man was no different. Lying on the encrusted earth burned by the sun he knew it was all over. Bloodied by the Spear in his side, face distorted in agony, the great Mansa Sakura knew he would die.

    It seemed impossible. The emperor of the Mande Empire, commander of more than 100.000 warriors killed by a some rogue bandits in desire of his gold. But here somewhere by the shores of the bab el-mandeb he was no more than every traveler.
    A slave at birth, he had earned everything the hard way. From servitude to freedom, from freedom to the leadership of an army. Yet the lineage of the Keita were not content with their privileges. The sons of Sunjata were no lions like their father anymore. They had turned into fat, malicious cats squabbling over every mouse unlucky enough to cross their path.
    So when Sunjata died all of them wanted everything. The throne, the goldfields of Bure, control over the biggest army south of the great desert. As thousands and thousands died for their greed, the land descended into anarchy.
    One by one Sakura and his army sent these wannabe kings into the nothingness they deserved. And after the last was gone, there was a kingdom with no king – and one man with an army.
    What had the ordinary men cheered when he took the throne. For their good he had taken it, not for his own. And no way it was allowed go back to those Keita vermin.

    Mukhtar”, he uttered. “Mukhtar, I must ask a last favor!” The tall, bearded man already knelt beside his dying companion, trying to cast a little shadow on Sakura. “I beg you”, the dying king continued, “to keep teaching. Tell my son everything you told me. Teach Ouali to be a worthy heir of mine.

    Mukhtar immediately understood what this would mean for him. This was a lifetime appointment. Never again would he return to his small hometown just outside Garnatah, never again would he see his family. Giving up his entire life for a man he only knew for a few months? On the other side, never before had he seen someone so interested in his ideas. Most scholars in the madrasat of Makkah had outright laughed at his ideas on society or the importance of such mundane subjects as economics.

    But when this foreign king heard him argue, he listened. He not only listened, he also wanted to learn. “Mukhtar”, Sakura spoke again, “Mukhtar, I want to write”. The Andalusian stood up to fetch paper and quill.
    When he came back, he had made up his mind. “My king, let me write. My hand has much more experience with it” Sakura was barely literate, he remembered. And so the dying king began to speak:

    My beloved son Ouali….”

     

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    1. The Plot
  • Chapter 1 — The Plot

    When Mukhtar finally entered Gao he was disappointed. A dried out town built from nothing more than mud. No sight to behold for a man used to the elaborate architecture of Andalusia.
    Even less intrigued he was when he finally saw his future student, Ouali. A young man, not older than 25 was sitting by a lonely tree. The prince was certainly not an impressive sight. He looked so fragile, so short and slim. The only thing big about his, Mukthar thought with a certain amusement, was his oversized head.

    As the young man was about to greet them, Mukhtars companion blurted out: “My Prince, your father has been killed”. For a moment Mukhtar was speechless about the insolence to interrupt a sovereign-to-be. Then he remembered that Salif Traoré had been Sakura's closest friend and most accomplished general.

    The young man did not say a word. He sat there, back against his tree and starred into the distance. His mind seemed far away. Just to break the silence, Mukhar handed him the letter, not even knowing if he could read.

    Ouali broke the seal and started to study the paper. After a remarkably short time, he put it aside. “Please sit down”, he said. Mukhtar was convinced: No way Ouali was literate, no way he had the capabilities to govern a kingdom. But the young man kept speaking: “Our Problem is called Qu[1] Keita. Hes a direct descendant of Sunjata. My rule would never be beyond question, if he lives. Some clans in the Gbara [2] will support him – if not today than later. We can not have another civil war!”.

    Qu is a whoring wastrel that would ruin the empire – and everyone knows that”, Salif again blurted out.

    They may know, but they will not care. Those who stand to lose something only act for their own good.”, answered Ouali.

    Mukthar started to realize his first impression of Ouali had been totally wrong. Every word the man said was well thought out. Ouali knew its purpose, its reason and its effect. “We have a little time to think about”, Mukhtar said, obviously not intrigued by the prospect of a politcal murder, “the caravan with the body of your father currently is resting in Kuka[3]. They will be here in at least 6 weeks”.

    The hot-blooded general didn't want to wait. “Qu has to die. The earlier the better. Just send a few bandits to get it done.” Mukhtar was shocked. He had witnessed enough of Salif's temperament on the journey, but stabbing a dagger into someones back? As he was about to break out into a rant, the calm yet scarily cold voice of Ouali interrupted him.
    This would be against the law, against moral and against Islam. A despicable act. On the other hand – if we were to fight a civil war, thousands would be lost. Qu dying could save them all. However no one may ever know. No offense to you, you are a fine soldier but this situation requires more clandestine techniques.” Mukhtar was equally impressed with the clear logic in Ouali’s words as terrified by his cold demeanor. He was talking about murdering someone in the same way as he would talk about the weather.
    The tribes in the north-east”, he continued, “have a very special relationship to their smiths. They venerate them for their profession, yet they fear them for their knowledge of poisons. Salif, I need you to do this personally. Take some men, but don´t let them know anything about your task. Find one of these poisonous smiths, and make him perform his craft. We need something that takes its time. Oh, and after the deed is done. Witnesses are a potential danger, I hope you understand...“

     
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    2. The Long Game
  • Chapter II – The Long Game

    Tragedy struck on a usual morning in 1301 [1]. Servants were running around the residence, desperately trying to find an explanation why their master wasn't awake, not even responding to their calls. Was he still recovering from the feast the evening before? Was he ill? Hours passed before someone entered the chamber. This brave woman, a slave whose name no one remembers, discovered the horrible truth. The prince was dead. It looked like he was just sleeping. “The master is dead”, she informed the others, “Qu has died.”
    The news spread like wildfire. From the capital in Niani to the goldfields of Bure, in Jenne, Timbuktu and Gao, even in the remote western province of Tekrur – soon everyone of importance knew what happened.
    When a week later finally the caravan with the mummy of Mansa Sakura arrived in Gao, there was no one left to challenge the authority of Ouali.
    There was some speculation about Qu's untimely death. The healthy prince had died quite suddenly and a week later the old Mansa's dead body comes into play? It was suspicious enough, but the were no hard proofs for a possible murder.

    ***

    Under these circumstances, the confirmation of Mansa Ouali went smoothly. When the Gbara discussed the successor of Sakura, Ouali pointed to the fact that the Kouroukan Fouga [2] explicitly states primogeniture as the law of succession. Combined with the fact that there were no real claimants, the Gbara voted for him unanimously.

    After his coronation as Mansa Ouali II he wasted no time. He had reforms on his mind. “What are your thoughts on our administration?” has asked Mukhtar. The scholar remembered what he had been told about it.
    First the realm consisted of a dozen provinces and each province chose their own ruler. This ruler subsequently oversaw the local administration. As long as he sent taxes and – in wartime – soldiers, the mansas were content. If a local ruler was to misbehave, the Mansa could order a civil official, called Farba, to either oversee the local government or take away power entirely. When a new region was conquered, a military officer, called Farin, would be appointed. After peace was ensured, power would be handed back to a local ruler. Only territories of integral strategic or economic interest would stay under direct control from Niani. Another really important institution was the ever-present Gbara, the powerful legislative assembly of around 30 clans.
    It is, my King, a rather complex government to run”, he finally concluded, “it is more of a federation than an empire. There is a clear benefit with this. It keeps people from rebelling in good times.
    However – if there is a weak ruler it will crumble. When the oversight of distant territories declines in times of crisis, it will crumble.

    This system works well in good times, but in the hard times, when you need a stable government the most, it will crumble
    .”

    What would you do?” Ouali asked the man who already had become his closest adviser.

    My King, let me introduce you to the concept of ʿAsabiyya [3]. It is the very fabric that holds together everything. Fundamentally, it equals loyalty. It is the bond between a family, the bond between kinsmen. Without this, there can be no society.

    This bond is the stronger, the closer the relationship of those it connects.

    Here lies the root of the issue: When you call upon their loyalty of your subjects, they will instead honor the loyalty to their tribe, to their family and to their clan. This can be a dangerous situation, if your wish goes against the one of the family or tribe
    .”

    I understand. So we have to find a way to impose direct loyalty on provinces and their subjects?

    Indeed. And there is another source of Asabiyya. It it rooted in the religion. Make them owe you loyalty by accepting your religious superiority.”

    And the Gbara? How would they react to such a step? We have to avoid angering them. They already removed a Mansa from the throne before [4].”

    This takes time. Find your strength in religion. And you need a power base that is strictly loyal to you and not to anyone else. A personal army to control the provinces and clans funded by your gold!“

    In the following time, things changed. More and more Jonow [5] were seen carrying weapons around Niani, more and more often province governors were reprimanded for minor infractions of their duties. These reprimands often corresponded with the deployment of a Farba, usually one of the jonow. More and more the real power in the provinces shifted to Ouali's loyalists.

    ***

    Slowly Ouali decisions changed the realm. It was a slow process, but not as clandestine as the mansa had hoped. While the king was playing his political game, Mukhtar didn't idle either. He traveled around the country and found a still shocking amount of pagans. It was his task to convert them.

    These years he centered his life around the northern city of Timbuktu. At the local mosque he preached and quickly attracted a sizable following. Core of the teachings was a tolerant, yet firm interpretation of Islam. Soon he sent out his most talented students to spread the word of god. At the same time he more and more became occupied again with theology and even wrote a book, later known as the “Treatise on Islam, conversion and peaceful coexistence”. He almost forgot about the outside.

    Ten years had passed since the coronation when Mukhtar received a letter from the mansa. “Urgent”, it read, “I need you in Niani”. When Mukhtar arrived in the capital, he realized that there was something happening. Jonow armed to their teeth were running around and regional levies were camping around the city. In this mess he suddenly heard the voice of Salif. “My friend”, the old general bellowed, “war is brewing”.


    *****


    [1] For the sake of understanding I will use Christian dates.
    [2] Constitution.
    [3] Concept (Wiki) Ibn Chaldun is famous for. The explication given in the text is really, really shortened.
    [4] Mansa Khalifa. The Gbara had him killed and replaced with Abubakari I.
    [5] A particular form of military slaves OTL. They developed kinda similar to the Mamluks OTL. ITTL they have a stronger position are better described as Ouali‘s loyalists than slaves.
     
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    3. A Reminiscence
  • Chapter III — A Reminiscence

    As Salif had become old, so had Mukhtar. The tireless scholar was approaching his 50th year on earth. “The western provinces are mobilizing”, Salif told him on the way to the palace, “and some of the military clans in the Gbara support them. We´re on the brink of civil war”.
    As they made their way to Ouali's palace Mukhtar became aware of an inconvenient truth: This war. It was his fault. His suggestions to centralize the realm had finally provoked the rebellion. How had he gotten to a point where his words caused the death of people? Never had he thought of himself as a warrior, as a killer. He was just a scholar. Thinking and writing about the world was his task, not wielding swords.

    His life prior seemed so far away. What did he miss the calm youth in Andalusia, when he had done little more than reading. The works of Aristotle, Ibn Rushd and – particularly – a controversial Sufi called Ibn Arabi had fascinated him.

    More and more the adolescent had drifted into the mystics. Finally, around his 18th Birthday in the Spring of 1280, he made a decision. No longer would he learn from books, he would look for a master worthy of his mind. So he set sail to Damascus, where Sufi master Fakhr al Din Iraqi taught. Iraqi had been the closest remaining associate of Sadr al-Din Qunawi, most important student of Ibn Arabi himself.


    ***

    The following years he devoted himself to the mystics of Sufism, yet somehow it didn't fully satisfy him. There was so much more in the world than the arcane, hidden secrets his associates were pursuing. No longer were they like Qunawi or Ibn Arabi. They had become detached from the world. Mukhtar himself more and more understood the relevance of mundane subjects like economics or natural sciences.
    But especially he grew interested with history. Everything seemed to repeat itself. There were patterns. The Rise and Fall of civilizations, of dynasties and of societies. Why kept they crumbling? Why could civilized empires not defend themselves against barbarian hordes? This had happened time and time again. Like when the Mongols had ravaged the core of Muslim lands just a few decades earlier?

    Their weapons and tactics, he thought at first. But there were the Berber tribes of North Africa, there were the Bedouin people of Arabia. Both neither were using superior weapons nor superior tactis and still could not be subdued.
    Also – these tribal societies existed for centuries without change. In that time frame most organized empired would have crumbled to dust. What did these archaic people do better?

    By 1287 Mukhtar al-Andalusi, as he had become known, went to study again.
    This time he set out for the Ilkhanate, the Mongolian remnant in Persia. For two years he stayed in their capital of Tabris[1]. Later he traveled into Persia proper and beyond. Among the things he learned there was the legendary rise of the first Mongolian Emperor Çingis hán.
    What especially stuck out to Mukhtar was how he transplanted the extensive loyalty tribal members feel for each other onto a much larger group. His warriors didn't consider themselves members of their own tribes anymore, they considered themselves Mongolians. The great Khan than proceeded to use that loyalty for his massive conquests.
    The connection, this loyalty and solidarity the tribes possessed is what makes them so hard to subjugate. Among settled civilizations, this bond was lost. Luxury and material pleasures inevitable led to a detachment from one's own kin, losing the solidarity.
    This had happened to the Mongolians when they took over the cultures they conquered. And not only them. It kept happening to the Chinese dynasties. And to the ancient Roman empire – even in the Muslim history itself.
    Every society, he concluded, had inherent drive to archive authority. Dynasties would rise, authority be formed, but – in a civilized society – no dynasty could hold on to this authority. The underlying concept of this circle, the vague drivel of loyalty, Mukhtar named Asabiyya.

    In spring 1299 he reached Arabia to study the Bedouin people after visiting Makkah and completing the Hajj.
    There, in the holy city he finally would meet the man that would change his life. Mansa Sakura. Initially he only wanted to travel with him for a while, but it all had come different.

    ***

    Back in the present Salif and Mukhtar had arrived at Ouali’s palace. What Mukhtar saw inside infuriated him. The young man had turned into a full-grown despot. The highest nobles in the realm were crawling like maggots in his presence. Never even lifting their eyes to look at him they kept scattering dust on their heads [3].

    At the same time, Ouali was sitting on his golden Throne, wearing his golden robes and looking pretentiously over his underlings. He felt like a god – and what was worse, his subjects did so too. As soon as Mukhtar happened to be alone with the Mansa in his private gardens, he could not hold his breath anymore:

    Ouali”, he started with an insolence that surprised himself, “what are you doing? Are you preposterous enough to believe that you are god himself?

    There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God“, the furious king replied. If anyone else than Mukhtar would have said that it would have been his death sentence.

    But you are behaving like one! Your people are afraid of you. They do not even dare to look at you. The scatter dust upon their heads! How do you want to inspire loyalty in people that follow you out of fear?”

    Ouali was still raging at Mukhtars insolence, but he could not deny the logic. The only men that thoroughly followed him out of respect were the Jonow he put into influential positions. And those men that would be nothing without him.

    Remember the concept I told you a decade ago?” Mukhtar continued, “Asabiyya? It is lost through luxury and decadence! The more you and your descendants devote yourself to gold and idleness, the earlier your dynasty will fall.”

    The mansa pondered what he just heard. It was his right as a king. Every Mansa since Sundjata had been venerated as he himself commanded it. But on the other hand, Mukhtar also had a point. He had lost contact to his people and his land. When he thought back how he earned the respect of his soldiers, of the Mande, Tuareg and Songhai alike in his time as Commander of Gao, it became clear: The throne had changed him – and not for good. “My friend, once more you save me from from myself”, he finally said, “What do you propose?”

    Remember, Religion is a source of the Asabiyya.”, the scholar responded, "Your People practice a special form of Islam. It is dotted with remains of their old ancestral religions. There is a mystic branch of Islam I followed myself. Sufism. This teaching really spoke to a lot of the people I met here. Maybe because it can allow converts can express some forms of their old religions in it. After we win the war, I think we should found a Sufi order with you as its head. This step – however – would change a lot for you: You would be expected to ditch your live in abundant luxury. Devote a large part of your wealth to the poor. Live by the commandments of the Quran. You must be an example. “

    Ouali thought about it. Surely he was not too fond of giving up his life in wealth. But in the end he decided, he had to agree. For the good of the realm and for Islam.

    ***

    When finally the army was assembled some weeks later and they were ready to set off, Ouali had changed. This change was already visible from the outside. No longer was he wearing golden robes dotted with gemstones while riding a horse close to collapse from the weight. When he rode past his men, he only wore a plain white, woolen djellaba and a white turban. No longer were his men groveling before him.
    So he led his men west for the remote provinces of Tekrur and Jolof. There, the rebels under general Musa Keita, who did style himself as Mansa Musa [5], were fielding their troops.


    *****

    [1] in North-West Iran
    [2] Mongols sometimes were quite suspicious of Islam, but usually accepted Sufism.
    [3] General Practice in OTL Mali
    [4] number taken from the time of OTL Musa's reign
    [5]chain-mail was imported so we can not say for sure how many of the cavalry actually used it. We only know that it was present at the Time
    [6] Yes, the beloved Mansa Musa is just a claimant here.




     
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    4. War
  • Chapter IV — War

    As the Army was shipping down the Bakoye [1], more and more petty chiefs saw its strength and decided to join ranks in order to prevent any later repercussion. Soon Oualis scouts returned and reported that Musa's troops were marching up the same river – right towards the royal army. Around 50,000 men, predominatly infantry, they estimated.
    This army was no match for what Ouali had. While his footmen numbered around the same, they generally had better training. And – he controlled the Imperial Mandekalu Cavalry. Ten thousand men with lance, sword and many even with armor [2]. South of the desert, these horsemen had no one to fear in open terrain.

    They can not win” Ouali said to Mukhtar and Salif after hearing the news, “their troops are not organized, they are tired from marching and they have nothing to counter our cavalry”.
    They will scatter like chicken” Salif agreed.
    Musa Keita, as a surviving officer of his’ later told Mukhtar, knew where his opponents were, but yet marched straight for them. Mukhtar theorized that the rebellion was primarily led by group of tribal leaders from the west and that Musa only was their puppet.

    The battle itself, on a plain near the Bakoye, went as expected. The cavalry made quick work of the unorganized rebel army. Without any resources left, the remaining renegade nobles including Musa were fleeing west.

    ***

    With the Civil War ended before it really began, Ouali could deal with the real danger to the realm. Messengers had been coming from Timbuktu for quite a while. Mossi Bands kept crossing into the Malian territory. They were assaulting caravans, burning down villages and abducting the inhabitants. While the big cities like Gao or Timbuktu were well protected by their garrisons, smaller places were under serious threat. The garrisons could not do a lot to defend them, it was a cat-and mouse game the Mande generally lost. When the garrisons arrived at the place of a raid., the Mossi already were gone again.
    If that was not enough, the Songhai in the Bend [4] were close to rebellion, supported by groups further from the East. Apparently, these foreign rulers were not even able to protect their people. So why should they live under the Mande's rule?

    When Ouali arrived in Gao with his cavalry, the first thing he did was to call a meeting with the leading Songhai nobles. Since he still enjoyed a certain degree of respect among them due to his just and merciful rule, when he was Governor of Gao back then, they actually came.
    “You believe in God – and we do. The Mossi do not. We have to stand together against the pagans
    ”, was his core argument. The leader of the Songhai, Sunni Ali Kolun, still wanted his own kingdom, but realized that he could not compete against the garrisons still present and the royal cavalry. So the meeting fulfilled its purpose to calm the Songhai.

    When the infantry finally arrived, the momentum changed. The Ouali the Mossi were about to face different than the Ouali the West had seen. Too long the Mossi chiefs had haunted the royal caravans. Trade was the fabric the empire was built on, and everyone endangering it would find no mercy. Ouali took his massed forces, a little above 60.000 infantry and close to 10.000 horsemen south into their territory. Thee Mossi were not a unified state, rather their petty kingdoms were squabbling among themselves. Split into several columns the Mande forces passed the borderlands and systematically annihilated every village and every town they came across. Everything that moved was either killed or captured and enslaved. On some occasions local Mossi coalitions tried to make a stand. Fighting was fierce, but not even once they came close to being a danger. Ouali quickly figured out how to counter their cavalry with disciplined spear formations.

    When the Mansa personally left command by the end of 1313 many Mossi groups had fled far to the east to evade the Mansa’s bloody wrath. Those who were foolish enough to stay would soon follow their brethren into slavery.

    ***
    As Mukhtar and Salif arrived in Tekrur, there was little to do except mopping up a few local rebel strongholds left, assuming control over a few major villages and searching for the fugitive Musa. The latter was rather easy though. Soon after they arrived in the region, most of Musa's remaining officers approached the army and handed Salif – the official commander – a blood soaked bag. Inside, there was Musa's severed head. The men knew everything was lost and tried to save their life, Salif concluded.

    Unfortunately for them, he was a soldier through and through and despised nothing more than disloyalty: They were executed for treason. With these officers, the last influential members of the Keita clan had died.
    The remaining campaign went swift and in the summer of 1313 the army took the last settlement and afterwards many of the army's soldiers where settled in Tekrur, both to strengthen the royal influence and to promote Islam in the majority pagan province. Mukhtar also decided to send some of his best students there in order to help with the conversion of the locals. All these steps led to a closer oversight of the region by the mansa.

    With the provinces directly under the control of Ouali and his loyalists, he and Mukhtar finally could implement all their reforms.

    *****

    [1] Senegal River, gonna use Manding names from now on when appropriate.
    [2] Around the town of Bakel IoTL
    [4]Niger Bend
    [5] Niger River. Again in Manding

    I still really don't like writing about war. :D
     
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    5. The Old Man Speaking
  • Chapter V The Old Man Speaking

    Two years later the two men met again in the royal gardens. Ouali was overjoyed to tell his mentor that at last every obstacle between them and their sweeping plans were no more. However, Mukhtar was furious. He had heard of the cruelty in the East. “They may be heathens, but they are sill human beings”, the usually calm-mannered scholar roared, “Do I really have wasted so many years on you?”.

    Something had to be done. Any weakness and the Songhai would have taken up their arms, too.”, the enraged Mansa replied. For almost an hour the two men would scream at each other. Only would they finally see reason, when Ouali's son Mukhter tucked his fathers’ shirt. “father, what is so came by. “Father”, the six-year old price asked, what is so interesting about water?”. Ouali followed the boy’s outstretched arm with his eyes and saw his younger son, Abubakari, staring at the little pool in the garden. “He is doing that for over an hour now,” Mukhter explained.

    Seeing his little boys, he realized that he should rather honor his adviser than beat up the elderly man. Without Mukhtar's his wisdom, advise and knowledge he probably would never even have been Mansa. Even his fist born, the heir to the Empire had he named after him.
    After the little boy had rushed off to confront his brother directly, Ouali sincerely apologized to Mukhtar. The Andalusian accepted, yet could not not forget the events entirely. Anyway he was ready to lay out the plan for reform he had worked on for the past years. So he began to speak.

    ***
    Our loyalists effectively control ever more provinces. Especially, in the West the old has been totally replaced. In the East, the military is generally under our command while civil administration still lies with the local nobles. Most commoners like this change, I hear. While the former governors had usually ruled to the advantage of their own tribe and kin, the loyalists are more impartial. As foreigners, they do not have an affiliation to any group. Also they are much less corrupt, I hear, simply because they have less kinsmen to embezzle for. As a result, the commoner’s tax burden actually decreased while our finances to no hit. Even in the eastern provinces, the governor are behaving better. The presence of the Jonow and the example of the wester provinces, seems...to have been effective.

    I however think, there might be a dreading consequence to that. With the military firmly under our control of the Mansa, the local elite might feel oppressed and become rebellious. I think, you might want to give the Gbara more rights. This will appease the local elite, help to preserve internal peace and promote your legitimacy.Let me propose the following the 30 clans will keep their seats, but now each province will contribute a further two members[1]. Together, this assembly will be the sole body of legislature in the realm. This includes oversight over taxation and the budgeting of the resulting revenue. To pay for the Jonow, you will however keep all revenue from the gold trade.”


    Saying this words, Mukhtar was not totally honest. In fact, he wanted this change primarily to have a counterweight to the power of the Mansa. With the Gbara being more and more marginalized by the military dominance of the sovereign, there would be no possibility to stop a tyrant ruler. And after the massacre in the East, he had realized that rulers like Ouali would require some institution to reign them in.

    ***

    “Now on to religion”, Mukhtar continued, “To keep tribalism down and forge a truly united empire, there has to be an alternate pillar of loyalty for commoners and nobles alike. We should found a new Sufi tariqa with you at its head, call it Oualiyya. It shall give all Muslims south of the great desert a home to protect them and their interests. Because of that, we should make sure to have as inclusive and accepting teachings as possible. Yes, the conservative scholars in Arabia might call for our heads, but what shall they do?
    This will also help to convert the commoners. Many of them still cling to the old ways – especially in the west.
    I will have my students found lesser centers of learning devoted to the new Tariqa in the major cities. Using the decentralized organization of Sufi orders, the local centers will take root and establish minor branches in the rural regions surrounding the centers.

    Also a minor, yet noticeable Jizya [2] shall we introduce, to give the more prosperous individuals a financial incentive to convert.
    And finally, all the major families should send their sons to be educated in Timbuktu. You should make a start with your two boys. We will create a consitent number of literate future civil servants, well educated in logic, sciences and the Arabic script. Theology may have its place, but it should not rule supreme.


    ***

    What we always should do as well, is write down what we discover. There is nothing worse than a discovery dying with its discoverer. As many people as possible should be able to read and write. I think we should try to formalize how to write Maninka. I am most certain the Djeli will be most helpful.

    Remember, Ouali, I come from Andalusia. Compared to Garnatah, this land is backwards. Our economy is nothing. We don’t even have a currency! Or people are trading on gold dust, copper and salt. Nothing is standardized and the economy severely hindered by that. Let’s build a mint and establish a currency.
    And we should do more to strengthen our economy. When we reduce the taxes, our peoplle will have more of an incentive to invest in their businesses. When we charge less today, we will earn more tomorrow.
    Another thing we should work on is Communication. In Persia, I saw a technique that could work brilliantly here. It consisted of stations on the routes between administrative centers lined up in regular distances. These stations are equipped with messengers, horses and supply goods. One messenger would always carry a letter only to the next station. This is not cheap, but this the speed at which we can communicate through it, is unprecedented. This can help our adminsitration, but whenever possible our merchants should be as well allowed to use the system for a fee.

    And my last proposal, it is maybe the most important. We have to lure knowledgeable individuals from all over the world here to help develop the country. We need capable administrators to teach us government, we need miners for all the gold and copper we have, we need shipwrights to make our rivers the roads of commerce they should be, we need architects to build building worthy of our might.
    What we also need are water management experts. I have seen them work in Persia. With their help we can tame the seasonal rainfalls."


    ***

    When Mukhtar ended his speech, he was fatigued. He was well into his fifties and had aged fast. Both his hair and his beard were white already. Yet finally he would be able to implement his ideas about society and politics. His last years would his most busy, he realized. When other men would retire, his work would only begin. And rightfully so - this ideas, this realm would be his legacy. Never had he married, not fathered any children. His ideas, he was sure, were the only things anyone the world would remember him for.


    *****

    1] 15 Provinces at the time, putting the Gbara at 60 members.
    [2] special Tax for non-Muslims
    [3] Also known as the Griots. Pretty important guys at this time and place. (Wiki)


     
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    6. The Last Glance
  • Chapter VI – The Last Glance

    The summer of 1333 was particularly hot and long, even by the standards of Timbuktu. The water level of the Joliba [1] was one of the lowest in recent memory and the realm was on the brink of a serious drought. The heat was even noticeable in the usually cool study of Mukhtar, where the old scholar had lived the past years. His body had continuously gotten weaker, but his mind had stayed astute as always. While leaving his chamber had already been a rare effort in the last months, even now he could have quoted entire chapters of Aristotle or Ibn Arabi from his mind. Now however, he was bound to his bed and convinced he had not much time left. “Do want some water?”, he heard Mukhter, the crown price, say. Lost in his thoughts he only nodded.

    ***

    Now an adult the young crown prince had become the scholar's closest associate. Not only did the two men share a name, they seemed to share a mind. Gifted with an even higher intellect than his father, he lacked almost all of his vices. No cruelty whatsoever, no selfish desire for wealth. Yet still Mukhtar was afraid the young man wasn’t suited to become a ruler. While he possibly was one of the brightest minds in the known world, he lacked dedication. He could just disappear in his thoughts for a few days. Also he clearly was not strong willed or decisive. He could argue for an entire hour over which dinner he preferred. By the time he decided, his brother would already have eaten all of it, Mukhtar thought.

    Abu, as Abubakari usually had his name shortened, was quite the opposite. A strong, quick-tempered rascal of mediocre intellect, the old scholar hadn’t really appreciated his presence in Timbuktu. Fortunately, he had gotten close to a shipwright Ouali had brought in from Andalusia. In the end, he married his daughter and went to the West with his new family, nominally overseeing the development of Malian vessels for river and sea travel. This marriage, however made him widely unpopular with the nobility and the influential clans. Subsequently, Prince Mukhter could not proceed with his initial plan to succeed his namesake in Timbuktu and have his brother take the throne.

    ***

    While the fleet project Abu was overseeing may have been revolutionary south of the desert, it only had a minor impact on the reforms. By now, the Mande nobility considered themselves equal to the great dynasties of the Muslim world and their land kept evolving rapidly. It all really began after Ouali went on the Hajj in 1317. With thousands of men and hundreds of camels in his caravan he had traversed the great desert and taken the locals by shock due to his wealth. The resulting expenditure was a lot even by Ouali's standards, but he deliberately choose his appearance for propagandist reasons: Tales about his power, wealth and generosity spread and put Mali on the maps of Muslim states as a power equal to the mightiest of them.
    Among the fame he spread were also the books and ideas of Mukhtar. Especially the “Treatise on Islam, conversion and peaceful coexistence” made quite a few eyebrows rise. Conservatives demonized it and called for the head of the author, while the most progressive scholars called it the biggest theological revelation since Ibn Arabi. Before he even reached Makkah, the book was one of the most important talking points in the local Madrasahs.

    All along the way through the Maghreb, Egypt and Arabia proper Ouali and his emissaries actively recruited local talent. Promising Individuals, for example Administrators, scholars of all kinds, architects, shipwrights and especially water experts were targeted and lured into joining the caravan either by the desire to get to know Mukhtar, the perspective of a state actively supporting their studies or simply gold.

    Ouali even went further. He sent emissaries to most of the important Muslim courts further spreading the word and clandestinely recruiting talent. They traveled to Andalusia, Anatolia, the Levant, Oman and Jemen. Some even went all the way to India. These emissaries were the apex alumni of the Timbuktuan academy. Aged around 25 to 30, they were perfect in Arabic, had knowledge of theology and science alike and excessive diplomatic and rhetoric training. Training and supporting them had cost a fortune but the gold of Bambuk had paid for it and the results were staggering. Within a few years, Mali was semi-legendary among the educated classes of the Muslim world and a steady influx of further talent would result, putting a growing number of specialists at the disposal of Ouali.

    ***

    Both incoming theologians and Sufis and scientists reinforced the Academy of Timbuktu further, increasing the discourse and broaden the ideas available in the realm. By 1333 it had turned into one of the most prominent places of learning in the entire Muslim world. However, with the influx of different people new challenges arose. Confessional differences rivalries between the Sunni majority and the few Shia and Ibadi scholars occasionally arose and sometimes conservative elements criticized the liberal manners in wide parts of the realm.

    However, these liberal manners were a huge part of the success Islam had in the region. Allowing some syncretic elements through the mystic tendencies of the Oualiyya eased former pagans into the religion for example. In effect, the Oualiyya more and more equaled Islam in the realm. And already had it spread beyond its borders: It had a sizable number of followers among the independent Songhai clans and some preachers were going south into the forests. Islamisation had been rapid and most of the Northern and Western provinces were dominated by Muslims already. Major pagan inlets were only still present in the Western coastal provinces and the rainforests south of Niani.

    ***

    With the spread of literacy the demand of paper increased and its own industry slowly established itself on the outskirts of Timbuktu. In result to falling price due to increased production, paper became more affordable. Already written communication was the sole form of administrative communication and also become steadily more poular with the upper classes and the merchants. The written form of Maninka became the lingua franca of the realm.

    In general it was also the upper class to benefit from the economic policies: Both the new currency and the messenger system helped them the most. Also they received most of the tax breaks and the new education options were primarily open to them.

    In contrast, many of the rural peasants were not off any better. Quite the contrary, tensions started to spring up because of the growing inequality. The elite's way of life – including the members of the Gbara – kept diverging more and more from the rural peasant’s. It did not help this matter that most of the arriving specialists were used in the centers of the realm. For example, most water experts were deployed in the Macina region [2]. While their presence and innovations boosted the agricultural output of the region, many other regions stayed backwaters. Where the knowledge of specialists was deployed however, it had the power to transform the local economy. Where geological factors allowed it, caverns were dug out and water was stored during the rainy season only to use it for irrigation later. This greatly increased the arable land along the Niger and especially the Macina region. The population grew and with it the labor force – and as well the tax base. In many ways the axis from Niani to Timbuktu and Gao became the center of the realm.

    To counter the inequality at least partly, Mukhtar had implemented a policy to train apprentices from all regions of the realm. Aim was to have them spread technology to their home once regions they had learned their craft. It was a slow process at best and not adapt to combat short-term inequalities, but better than nothing.

    ***

    The maybe most underdeveloped region were the Western provinces. Yet especially the course of the Bakoye was considered strategically important. It connected the West to the Eastern core of the realm. To strengthen control over the region Ouali and Mukhtar had realized that it needed a center of sorts to attract loyal subjects from the East. Abu, while generally not considered the brightest fish in the pond, had become really fond of all things involving ships and water and proposed a naval academy. In the end, this idea had seemed rather good to Mukhtar and Ouali. However, the far west was still almost was a blank sheet in terms of infrastructure. There were no cities comparable to the Timbuku or Gao on the coastline, so Ouali finally decided they had to build one from scratch. This new city was set to be founded on an Island near the mouth of the Senegal. The island was chosen for two reasons: first, it was easily defended in case the West would ever rise again and secondly, the entire life of the residents should be centered around water in order to generate a tradition of seafaring.
    So in 1320 the island was settled by around 3000 hand-picked men from all around the realm and their families. The settlement itself was built under the guidance of Egyptian architect as-Sahili, while Abubakari nominally oversaw the entire project. His father-in-law, an Andalusian shipwright by the name of Sa’ad al-Ahmer, would be in charge of the shipyard.

    By 1333 the growing city known as Ndar in local Wolof had already developed to a local center of commerce and education. Building and using ships, however had proven much more tedious. Soon as-Sahili, al-Ahmer and Abu had realized that every single craft had to be taught from scratch first. At first the carpenters had no idea how to sow planks for a hull and finally, even after a ship was built, there were no sailors to sail it. Another issue was the shortage of trees in the region. While the city was located perfectly for communication and general strategic purposes, it did not have enough timber for a steady production. All these issues made the project lag behind other measures, while not yielding any major gains...
    This naval experiment, Mukhtar concluded, might very well be the weakest part of the grand reform scheme.

    "Your water", the crown prince said as he came back. Mukhtar thankfully drank some and then said: "I have to write. One more letter to your father"

    Not long after he wrote the last word, the tireless scholar closed his eyes – to never open them again.


     
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    7. End of an Era
  • Chapter VII – End of an Era

    When Mukhtar died, Timbuktu went into shock. This man was the reason the very city existed in the way it did. Never again may we all see such a man, scholars and commoners agreed.
    As Ouali received the news through the new relay system he swung on his horse, took his guard with him and rode off to Timbuktu with greatest haste. He had to make in time for the burial. But shortly beyond Jenne another disaster happened. The Mansa’s priceless Arabian Stallion stumbled over a mere stone and Ouali fell. He was dead in an instant.
    In the matter of a week, the Empire’s leadership had been decapitated. Now a 24 year old was in control of the most powerful realm south of the great desert.

    Only after the burial, the young crown prince realized this fact in its totality. He was overwhelmed. There was the grief for his father obviously, but there also was the weight on his shoulders stemming from the responsibility of his task. While it had been obvious that this day would come, he had not expected it to be so early.

    As the new Mansa was thinking what to do now, he remembered the letter the old scholar had just written before his death. He had a servant bring it and, to his astonishment, it was unopened. His father had not even broken the seal. Extremely curious he began to read.


    Mukhter,

    I vividly picture your surprise when you read this. As these words’ ink is drying you just left my chamber. For you, this already might be a dusted memory far in the back of your head. From Years ago. Or even decades.
    To explain your obvious question: I asked your father to have this handed to you upon your ascension to the throne. It is, so to speak, the last reminder of my lessons. Why you receive this and not your father?
    Well, he is a most glorious man and I could not hoped for a better vehicle of my ideas. Yet, your father’s ruthlessness always scared me. No one will ever tell you, but do you know how he even came to rule? Inquire into the name of Qu Keita. Do you know what happened during the Mossi war? Why there is this no man’s land in the East?
    Do never forget. Beneath the great desert there is no man to rival you except yourself. But also do not forget something else: The Asabiyya. You are the third in a line of great rulers. You might very well be the last man of your dynasty before the inevitable downfall begins.
    Our all time is finite. Use it wisely. Tread the path of virtue. Of humility, peace and logic. Do not fall for the preposterous arrogance you will feel develop deep inside.

    May you ever remember these words,


    Mukhtar al-Andalusi

    ***

    Pondering this, he only realized the growth his land had enjoyed under his father and his teacher. Every year the taxes were growing, the reports of the governors were becoming ever more positive. The land was peaceful internally and the people prospered. And externally there was no state even close to a being a danger.
    He had learned from Mukhtar about the rest of the world north of the desert. Even there, he concluded, countries with the potential of his’ did not exist in abundance. Clearly, none of the Maghrebi dynasties, which seemed to perfectly rise and fall in a way Mukhtar would predict.
    Lucky for these dynasties that the desert was there, Mukhter thought with a sudden, overbearing combination of amusement and regret. Or else, he or some other Mansa might develop a certain desire.
    Here he caught his own mind however. The old man was writing about peace and humility. And here he was, only a few minutes after reading it, speculating about leading an army through the great desert and attacking fellow Muslims just for their trade routes and land. This arrogance his teacher had warned him of clearly seemed to grow fast.
    Also – the Northern armies quite likely were superior to his. And how would he even project force beyond the desert. Maybe the ships his brother was developing could help. Why not just sail up the coast? No, he concluded, another foolish idea. He should really not have these thoughts.

    Still he could not stop thinking about his military. Quite surprisingly, because before he had taken the throne he never wasted a thought on such matters. What was the use of his infantry? Their bows were weak, their spears short. Everything they were capable of was looting and poisoning with their arrows, it seemed. How often had his father told him about the glory of the Imperial Cavalry and never the footsoldiers had seemed to have any part his victories? If it came to a serious battle, he would not even trust them to guard the baggage. Surely there had to be a way to make these hordes of men more useful. [1]

    At this point Mukhter had to laugh out loud. What was going on in his head? He should not think on how to conquer foreign lands. His focus should be on advancing the realm. There were so many aspects it which it was a backwater.
    But once an idea had taken root, he knew that much, it was hard to uproot again.

    Anyway, there were more pressing needs. Where his Father and Mukhtar were buried, he wanted an elaborate Dargah [2] to be built over the grave where they lay side by side. Devoted to the very principles of knowledge, tolerance and moral he wished the Oualiyya he controlled now to express. His Andalusian architects should build it in their native style, he quickly decided. Not only was that more aesthetically pleasing than the local architecture, also there was another reason. He really wanted to copy the Architecture of the North. These mud brick cities, they just did not seem fitting for such a great realm. And designing, what he wanted to become the holiest site in the entire realm, like in that very style should clearly influence his wealthy subjects.
    Here again he had to laugh. “Oh no. I’m starting to think like my father”, he told himself.

    *****

    [1] Remember, our Mansa has only a bit little bit more military knowledge than yours truly. But actually I just want to show here how rarely even the most intelligent, the most self-reflective individual could resist the incredible might our young mansa just inherited.
    [2] Shrine; quite a usual thing to happen with the graves of Sufi saints.


     
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