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A History of Borno: Trans-Saharan African Empire to Failing Nigerian State.

Hiribarren, Vincent. A History of Borno: Trans-Saharan African Empire to Failing Nigerian State. London: Hurst Publishers, 2017.

A History of Borno: Trans-Saharan African Empire to Failing Nigerian State is essentially a biography of the borders of an African kingdom, Borno, located today in Nigeria. Like all good biographies, the author traces the earliest contours and contortions of this border before adding contemporary twists and turns. The book is also about the transformations of the citizens who lived within the borders of Borno, including subjects of Sayfawa dynasty monarchs from the 1300s to 1890, as protected persons of the British rulers until 1960, and as part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Following a lengthy introduction, eight chapters, and a concise conclusion, Vincent Hiribarren, who teaches history at King's College, addresses the little-studied issue of colonial borders, continuity, and change in Borno.

In chapter 1, Hiribarren asserts that Borno had "territorial singularity" in that its borders were "codified" and well established (p. 14). Borno had well-defined space that her vassals, neighbors, and even the Ottoman Empire recognized. The author explains that this point merits attention because it "differs from the traditional viewpoint of African polities being ill-defined" (p. 42). Here the author insists that this territorial resilience is an aspect of African agency that earlier scholars denied states such as Borno. In the next chapter, the author explores the end of Borno's independence at the hands of European imperialists. Although Borno's military was too weak to resist foreign invaders, the borders remained intact. Indeed, all invading powers based their strategic calculations on the original borders of Borno. Conquerors came and went, but the Borno space remained unchanged. In chapters three and four, the author discusses the period of colonial rule. The polity became a testing ground for all the possible colonial experiments available at the time in Africa. The French, the Germans, and the British all laid claim to parts of the Borno spatial framework and used their control as bargaining chips for future colonial conquests (p. 72).

Chapter 5 addresses a new paradigm in border studies in Africa: the phenomena of how the intellectual writings and musings of British colonial officers helped lend credence to the idea of Borno as a space and a continuum. Through their studies of Borno, the colonial scholar-officers were able to construct their own understanding of it. They needed such in-depth knowledge because without it the British would not be able to rule the newly conquered territory. In other words, colonial hegemony and colonial ignorance were mutually exclusive; a proper understanding was needed to foster colonial control over Borno. The author provides concrete examples of scholar-administrators, such as Lugard, Palmer, and Hewby, who "produced history as a way to assert their own power" (p. 129). Here the author could have gone a notch higher in his interpretation to indicate how such a selfish scholarly endeavor was not singular to Borno but was in fact a recurring tactic of British rule in West Africa.

The desire of the British to extend their control over the whole of Borno is highlighted in chapter 6, which explores the fate of the little-known German enclave of Dikwa from when it was seized from the Germans as one of the first of Germany's African territories to become a "spoil of war" (p. 131) after its defeat in World War I. The British, who wanted to have the older borders of Borno under their control, brought about a reunion of the Dikwa enclave with British Northern Nigeria in 1959. In this chapter and in chapter 7, one sees how Borno's Dikwa Emirate came under the tutelage of another form of foreign rule: as a League of Nations mandate and later as a United Nations Trusteeship. To sort out the panoply of centrifugal powers calling the shots within Borno, two referenda were called in 1959 and 1961. According to the author, these referenda brought to light the desire of the British to include Borno in Nigeria. For this reason, British colonial agents overseeing the referenda worked very hard to rig them in favor of Borno voting to join Nigeria in 1961.

Readers intrigued by the rise of the terror group Boko Haram, which operates in the exact space of Borno, will be disappointed: there is little mention of the group in this book. While it is clear that the author did not intend to write a book about Boko Haram, a thorough reading of the book will give a glimpse of how Boko Haram arose in the wild sands of Borno. Borno's borders have remained resilient over the centuries, but they have also remained latitudes of contestations. Just as the British wanted to maintain the integrity of Borno's borders, the miserable terrorists too have come to reclaim what they see as the religious heritage of Borno. Hiribarren has written a useful book that will enrich the literature on border studies.


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Title Annotation:AFRICA
Author:Ceesay, Hassoum
Publication:Journal of Global South Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2019
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