Kanem Borno Empire 1500 – 1900 A.D


The centuries between 1500 – 1900 A.D. represents another period in the history of Kanem Borno Empire. The period emerged after the collapse of the first phase of Kanem Borno Empire, under the leadership of the Saifawa dynasty that continued to rule in the second phase of the history of the territory. The first period was characterized by different uprisings and invasions from outside the Empire.

The crises that characterized the first period which eventually led to the collapse of the first empire were the prevalence of a great deal of dynasty rivalry and intrigues, coupled with the fact that the empire had expanded more than the king could effectively control for  the center so powerful had to be delegated to provincial governors, who subsequently bagan to challenge the supremacy of the Mai in the control of the Empire. There were many civil wars of which the principal and most devastating one was concerned with the act of irreligion committed by Dunama Dibbalemi II, which divided the empire into the broad groups of those who were still loyal to him and those who were not.

The rivalries and intrigues, as well as the Civil wars, which they caused, enabled the vassal state to regain their sovereignity. The central authority for weak. The Mais who ruled after Dunama II were not powerful and they could not organize an effective army to suppress internal revolt and ward off external attacks. External influences helped to precipate the demise of the first kingdom, foremost among which were the incessant and devastating attacks of the So and Bulala peoples who were among the core ethnic groups that made up the kingdom of Kanem. As if these were not enough problems for the troubled kingdom, attacks came from the marauding groups in the desert, as well as from the numerous vassal states that sought the least opportunity to revolt against constituted authority in the polity.

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Having highlighted the causes of the collapse of the first Kanuri Empire, the second period represented a time of political reforms made by different Mais who ruled Kanem Borno during the period. Some of these Mais whose reigns were very remarkable during this period of study were Mai Ali Ghaji, Idris Katakarmabe and Idris Alooma. However, there were other Mais whose reign was remarkable but of all the Mais of the period of study the three aforementioned Mais made a remarkable difference in their political administration of the Kanem Borno Empire.

One of the foremost events that determined political development in Kanem Borno was the establishment of a new capital at Birni Ngazargamu, a rich pastoral area in Borno west of the lake of Chad. It was Mai Ali Ghaji that built this new capital. The capital provided the Kanuri with a settled administrative center, a strongly fortified place of refuge and a secure Markey to which North African merchants were soon attracted.

The re-establishment and the revival if the Saifawa dynasty was one of the major political reforms made by Mai Ali Ghaji in Kanem Borno Empire. He accurately diagnized the causes of Kanuri misfortunes and provided remedies one of which was the restoration of the discredited authority of the Mai over his councilors, a significant political development. He enforced unity of the ruling classes, superimposed the authority of the Mai and reconstructed the base of Kanuri power in Borno. The restoration of Kanuri unity brought considered military success.

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The ability of Kanem Borno to repel formidable attacks by the Bulala and the Jukun was one event that determined political development. One of the causes of the fall of the first Kanuri Empire was the incessant attacks from the Bulala. The ability subdue them brought considerable peace and stability in Kanem – Borno during the period of study. Mai Ali Ghaji was instrumental in repulsing three attacks. Another Mai who subdued them was Idris Katakarmabe who subjugated the Bulala people and re-entered the capital of Kanem, Njimi, after it had been abandoned about one hundred and twenty-two years by his predecessors. The Mai also forced them to acknowledge of Borno while Mai Mohammed also crushed their dangerous attempt to regain their independence. Mai Idris Alooma took skilful strategy to also subjugate the Bulala.



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