A History of Borno

Trans-Saharan African Empire to Failing Nigerian State

February 2017 9781849044745 320pp


Borno (in northeast Nigeria) is notorious today as the home of an Islamist terrorist group, Boko Haram, whose insurgency is a major security threat, but it was once the heartland of the Kanuri-speaking royal empire of Kanem-Borno, renowned throughout Africa and beyond, which in its later incarnation, the Bornu Empire, lasted from 1380 to 1893. This book offers the reader the first modern history of Borno, drawing upon sources in London, Berlin, Paris, Kaduna and Maiduguri and recently released ‘migrated archives’.

As its longevity suggests, what is particularly remarkable about Borno is the permanence of its boundaries—its territorial integrity—which dates back centuries, and the political and social identities that such borders framed in the minds of its inhabitants.

Table of contents


  1. The Territory of Borno in the Nineteenth Century (1810-1893)
  2. All Paths Lead to Borno
  3. The Quest for a Territorial Framework
  4. The Resurrection of Borno (1902-1960)
  5. The Reunion of Dikwa and Borno (1916-1959)
  6. The Two Plebiscites of 1959 and 1961
  7. Postcolonial Borno



‘This is an important book for all those interested in pre-colonial African history. It provides new insight in the history of the ancient empire of Borno. More generally, its emphasis on Borno’s unchanging territorial identity calls into question received notions on the nature and sources of political power in Africa, in the past and present.’ — Klaas van Walraven, Senior researcher, African Studies Centre, Leiden

‘This timely book is first and foremost a historical and geopolitical story of borders. And it is a must for readers willing to understand the legacy of the Borno Empire and the role of porous (yet not-so artificial) borders in the framing of the narratives of Boko Haram’s contemporary jihad.’ — Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, Associate Fellow, Africa Programme, Chatham House

‘A first-rate analysis of the history of one of Africa’s most important political and geographical entities over two centuries of transformation under external and internal actors. Hugely significant, superbly written, and profoundly interesting from start to finish. Vincent Hiribarren has written a definitive history of Borno since the nineteenth century.’ — Saheed Aderinto, author of When Sex Threatened the State: Illicit Sexuality, Nationalism, and Politics in Colonial Nigeria, 1900-1958

’Time and again, defying all logic, colonial administrators, scholars, developers and politicians have considered Africa as the only continent with no significant past. In contrast, Vincent Hiribarren shows how modern Nigeria borders or the Boko Haram guerrilla cannot be grasped without a deep understanding of eighteenth or nineteenth century dynamics.’ — Henri Médard, Professor, Université Aix-Marseille


Vincent Hiribarren is Lecturer in Modern African History at King’s College London.

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