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{{Infobox royalty[1] |title=of the Songhai Empire, 15th ruler of the Sunni dynasty |name=Sunni Ali |succession=King of Songhai |successor=Sunni Baru |reign=1464 – 1492 |succession1=Sunni Dynasty |successor1=Sunni Baru |predecessor1=Sunni Suleiman |reign1=1464 – 1492 |birth_name=Ali Kolon |death_date=1492 |religion=Traditional African
Islam }}

Extent of the Songhai Empire, circa 1500.

Sunni Ali, also known as Sunni Ali Ber, was born in Ali Kolon.[2][3] He reigned from about 1464 to 1492. Sunni Ali was the first king of the Songhai Empire, located in Africa and the 15th ruler of the Sunni dynasty. Under Sunni Ali's infantry and cavalry many cities were captured and then fortified, such as Timbuktu (captured in 1468) and Djenné (captured in 1475). Sunni conducted a repressive policy against the scholars of Timbuktu, especially those of the Sankore region who were associated with the Tuareg whom Ali expelled to gain control of the town.

Sunni Ali organized a fleet to the Niger river. During his reign, Songhai surpassed the height of the Mali Empire, engulfing areas under the Mali Empire (and the Ghana Empire before it). His death, in late 1492, is a matter of conjecture. According to the Tarikh al-Sudan, Ali drowned while crossing the Niger River.[4] Oral tradition believes he was killed by his sister's son, Askia Muhammad Ture.[5][6] He was succeeded by his son, Sunni Baru, who was challenged by Askia because Baru was not seen as a faithful Muslim.[7] Askia succeeded to the throne. According to the Tarikh al-Sudan it is believed that this action caused Sonni Ali's daughters to shout out "A si kiya!" a more modern phrasing would be “A si tiya” or (he shall not be it), at the news of this take over.[8]Ali Kolon walk to the thrown was a long one. In fact, in about 1325 when the most famous kings of Mediaeval times emperor Mansa Kankan Musa of Mali]], defeated Dia Yasiboi the emperor of Songhai in a war, his two sons Suleiman Mar and prince Ali Kolon who later restore the independence of Songhai and became known as Sunni Ali II were held hostages by emperor Musa.

He did this to keep the defeated emperor in check. Taking advantage of the confused situation on Musa’s death in 1337, Ali Kolon escaped home to Songhai, along with his younger brother Suleiman Mar. 
Learning of his father’s death, he proclaimed himself emperor and took the royal title of Sunni Ali II. It was he who established a dynasty in Songhai that became known as the Sunni Kings.

His ruthlessness which was borne out of his fear of subjection made his critics and even the Muslim chroniclers to consider him the most devilish leader in history. The Muslim chroniclers, in fact, drummed the achievements of Mansa Musa who was a faithful Muslim and overlooked his. But in estimating his achievements, one of the writers of the Tarikh al-Sudan (a West African chronicle written in Arabic in around 1655 by Abd al-Sadi) wrote of this astute ruler and conqueror: “He surpassed all the kings his predecessors, in the number and valour of his soldiery. His conquests were many, and his renown extended from the rising to the setting of the sun.”

Sunni Ali ruled over both urban Muslims and rural non-Muslims at a time when the traditional co-existence of different beliefs was being challenged. His adherence to African animism while also professing Islam leads some writers to describe him as outwardly or nominally Muslim.[9]

Preceded by
Silman Dandi
King of Songhai
Succeeded by
Sonni Baru


  1. ^ Emovon, Efosa. Gate of success. Efosa Emovon [] Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 6/10/2019. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help)
  2. ^ Adeleke 1996, p. 16
  3. ^ "Chapter 2: The Origin of the Sonni" (PDF). Sankore Institute of Islamic African Studies International. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  4. ^ Hunwick 1999, p. 100
  5. ^ Hunwick 1999, p. 100n55
  6. ^ Dictionary of African historical biography, Editors Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen, (University of California Press, 1986), 229.
  7. ^ Towards an Understanding of the African Experience from Historical By Festus Ugboaja Ohaegbulam
  8. ^ "African Legends". Retrieved 2015-10-14.
  9. ^ Hunwick 1999, p. xxxix



  • Adeleke, Tunde (1996). Songhay. New York: Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8239-1986-2.
  • Hunwick, John O. (1999). Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire: Al-Sadi's Tarikh al-Sudan down to 1613 and other contemporary documents. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-11207-3.

External linksEdit

  1. ^ a b Cite error: The named reference undefined was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ Emovon, Efosa. Gate of success. Efosa Emovon [] Check |url= value (help). Missing or empty |title= (help)