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The Kong Empire (1710-1895), also known as the Wattara Empire or Ouattara Empire for its founder, was a pre-colonial African state centered in north eastern Cote d'Ivoiremarker that also encompassed much of present-day Burkina Fasomarker.

Origin

The region that would become the heart of the Kong Empire was originally settled by the Senufo people who fled to the area to escape the religious persecution of the Mandinka to the north. The Senufo followed traditional African faiths, while many of the Mandinka were becoming fervent Muslims. The Senufo were soon followed by the Dyula or Jula, a Mandinka merchant class prominent throughout West Africa. The Dioula, as they are called in Cote d'Ivoire, reached and settled the city of Kong in the 12th century. Despite being outnumbered by the Senufo, they prospered as traders and advisors in much of the region.

Early Period

The first semblance of a true centralized state emerged under the Taraweré clan or jamuu of Jula whom combined Jula and Senufo traditions to extended their authority over the surrounding region. Thanks to their Islamic literate tradition and trading experience, they turned Kong into an international market for the exchange of northern desert goods (salt and cloth) and southern forest exports (cola nuts, gold, and slaves).

Wattara Period

Kong's attractiveness invited invaders. In around 1710 a Jula warrior known as Sekou Umar of the Ouattara or Wattara jammu invaded the area and conquered the city using cavalry. He established himself as fama (king) and turned Kong into the center of an empire with regional influence. He imposed Jula as the official language and Islam as the state religion. He utilized slaves to work in the manufacture of cloth and cultivation of rice, millet, sorghum, and cotton. He also improved security along trading routes with the same cavalry methods used by the Mali Empire three hundred years earlier. The empire spread northward with the help of Maghan (prince) Famara Wattara, brother of Seku Wattara, in 1714. He captured the city of Bobo Dioulassomarker and much of present day Burkina Faso. Famara made Bobo Dioulasso capital of the Gwiriko region, which would become its own kingdom later on.

Height of Power

By the 1730s, the Kong Empire was the largest state in West Africa south of the Niger River. It stretched hundreds of miles west and north and included large numbers of different Islamic and non-Islamic ethnic groups. When Sekou Wattara died in 1745 and was succeeded by capable famas, the first being Koumbi Wattara. Under their rule, Kong remained a commercial center and also became a center of Islamic study. The Kong Friday Mosque, which predated the Wattara dynasty in Kong by a century, drew Islamic scholars from all over the Sahel. Mori Maghari was crowned fama after Koumbi and also governed with success.

Kong traded with other states in Cote d'Ivoire, most notably the Abron kingdom of Gyaaman. Along with a never ending supply of traders, Kong sent advisors and diviners that were crucial to the running of the Abron royal court. Their merchants were able to trade without any taxes on their products. Kong also supplied troops to Gyamman to fend off the Asante Confederacymarker to the east.

Decline and Downfall

After the death of Fama Maghari in 1800, successive famas would struggle with growing resistance from the empire's diverse ethnic and religious groups. In 1895, Samory Touré invaded and destroyed the city of Kong after its rulers resisted his rule and refused to aid him in his campaign against the Frenchmarker. After Samory's defeat, Kong regained its independence for a brief period then fell under French colonial rule in 1898. Kong was divided between two colonies - Côte d'Ivoire and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). The city of Kong became merely a small town after the French government routed the nearest rail line 70 km (45 mil) to the west.

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