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Songhai or Songhay (both: sŏng´gī´), largest of the former empires in the western Sudan region of N Africa. The state was founded (c.700) by Berbers on the Middle Niger, in what is now central Mali. The rulers accepted Islam c.1000. Its power was much increased by Sonni Ali (1464–92), who occupied Timbuktu in 1468. Songhai reached its greatest extent under Askia Muhammad I (c.1493–1528). He was deposed by his son, and in the subsequent conflicts among his successors the empire slowly began to decline. The breakup of the state was accelerated by a Moroccan invasion in 1591.

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Songhai West African empire, founded 700. In 1468, Sonni Ali captured the market city of Timbuktu, and the Songhai Empire acquired control of most of the trade in w Africa. Askia Muhammad I succeeded Sonni, and further increased the stranglehold on trade routes. The Empire began to disintegrate because of factional in-fighting. The Songhai peoples still control much of the trans-Saharan trade.