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...