borno empire

The decline in socio-economic and political activities of Borno empire in the late 18th century and the subsequent invasion of the empire in 1808 by the Fulani jihadists headed by Gwoni Mukhtar set in motion the emergence of Shehu El-Kanemi and the subsequent collapse of the Seifawa dynasty.

Mohammed al-amin-al-Kanemi who is generally referred to as Shehu al-Kanemi was a Kanembu mallam. He was born at about 1775/76 and settled at Ngala in 1799 as a preacher and teacher of Islamic religion amongst the Shua Arabs and the Kanembu.

When the Felata jihadists were influenced by the jihadist movement in Sokoto, they received a flag from Shehu Usman dan-Fodio to wage a jihad against Borno. The hijra performed by the Fulani (felata) jihadists in 1807 to Gujba and the declaration of a holy war on Borno empire by Gwoni Mukhtar (the jihad leader in Borno) forced the Mai to invite Shehu El-Kanemi to save Borno from the hands of the jihadists.


  • He successfully saved Borno in two occasional attacks from the hands of the jihadists. After his initial help, El-Kanemi was rewarded with gifts of money, cattle and slaves, but following the second help, he requested and obtained a gift of land and a field around Ngurno and this eventually became the main center of political activity in Borno.

  • He religiously reformed the empire by writing books and pamphlet to scholars and rulers, urging them to practice a pure form of Islam and teaching their subjects to do same.

  • He succeeded in reforming the judicial set up of Borno by administering the empire based on Islamic law (Sharia). He also remained the Chief Justice of the Borno empire. Shehu El-Kanemi also succeeded in liberating the diverse ethnic groups in Borno. For instance, there existed the policy of intermarriage among the peoples of the empire.

  • El-Kanemi also succeeded in providing security of lives and property for the people through his standing army. This created an enabling environment for trading activities between the empire and their neighbors.

  • Another great achievement was the transfer of the Borno capital from Ngazargamu to Kukawa.

  • Shehu El-Kanemi succeeded in recapturing the vassal states such as Hadejia, Missau, etc. that asserted their independence. He also embarked on war of expansion by capturing neighboring states into the empire purposely for tribute purposes. States like Katagun, Damagaram, Munijo and Gumel among others in order to ensure and maintain continued healthy commercial interaction. This achievement paved way for a successful long distance trade between Kanem-Borno empire and their long distance neighbors.

  • Shehu El-Kanemi also established a strong relationship between his empire and the Sokoto caliphate with a view of preventing further Fulani invasion. He also provided Borno with a ruling dynasty by replacing the Seifawa with his Shehu ruling family.

  • Lastly, by allowing commoners to partake in government by merit, the empire witnessed great success in all spheres of life.


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