Home Book Review BOOK REVIEW: A History of BORNO-Trans-Saharan African Empire to Failing Nigerian State

BOOK REVIEW: A History of BORNO-Trans-Saharan African Empire to Failing Nigerian State


By Shamsudeen Sani

Author: Vincent Hiribarren
Date of Publication 2017
Number of pages 310
Publisher Hurst & Company, London

If you knew very little about the territorial framework of Borno empire before now, then reading this book might likely shatter some previously held notions about the region. Borno has in recent years, notoriously gained a renewed academic attention as a result of the Boko Haram insurgency. Spoiler alert: this book isn’t about the origin of Kanuri or other inhabitants.

Although Borno empire finds its roots in 8th century, this book covered only the past 200 years of the kingdom’s existence. Therefore, the 8 chapters of the book started at the beginning of the 19th century down to around 2014 when the research for its publication was concluded. The author was very mindful of the political significance of Borno empire following the Fulani jihad even if the invasion had a different outcome but that’s another topic entirely.

Earlier section of the book highlighted the spatial continuity of the territorial framework of Borno which argued that fairly stable structural borders existed well before the colonial times. This was a pivotal juncture, as discussed later in the book, for the ‘scramble for Borno’ where the 19th century spatial frameworks were used to legitimise conquest by foreign invaders. It proved important even in the European colonial competition against each other.

Later on, the book explored how essentially, the British and the Germans recycled the Borno region within their colonial spatial framework with additional detailed perspective of the Indirect rule. It didn’t stop there, it goes on to analyse how, in reality, the colonial administration of Borno during the early colonial period played a decisive role in the preservation of its territorial continuity.

Navigating this book, you need to have an incredible tolerance for some nitty gritty details. The writing style is aggressively academic and it is filled with flayed raw materials to inspire further reading. It is definitely not a very easy to read book but rather a slice of rock hard brain playground! It’s very clear from the book, that the author is a cartography freak.

The book itself must have been inspired by the thesis undertaken by the author while pursuing a PhD at University of Leeds in the UK with the title “From a kingdom to a Nigerian state: the territory and boundaries of Borno 1810-2010”. The author teaches African History at King’s college London.


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