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The First World War from Tripoli to Addis Ababa (1911-1924)

 | 
Shiferaw Bekele
, 
Uoldelul Chelati Dirar
, 
Alessandro Volterra
, 
et al.

Local Agencies and the War

Our delight is for the amir of the English”: a Bornoan history of the First World War (North-Eastern Nigeria)

Rémi Dewière et Vincent Hiribarren

Résumé

On 18 November 1914, Abubakar Garbai, the Shehu of Borno, sent a letter to Frederick Lugard, the Governor General of Nigeria, announcing that the Bornoans would fight alongside the British despite the fact that they were fighting against the Ottomans. This article uses the letter sent by Shehu Garbai to analyse the global, trans-Saharan and trans-Sahelian layers of conflicts in the Lake Chad region at the beginning of the First World War. This document is a perfect illustration of the pragmatic alliance formed by the British colonial officers and the elite of Borno (Nigeria) to defeat the German troops in Northern Cameroon. This article concludes that it is impossible to write the history of the First World War in central Africa without understanding the long term and localised conflicts in the Lake Chad area.

Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 Letter from Emir of Bornu to His Excellency the Governor General of Nigeria,’ 18 Nov. 1914, MSS. B (...)
  • 2 In this chapter, we will use the name Garbai. For a biography of Garbai, see Tukur 1989, 43-80 or T (...)
  • 3 On the Kanemi dynasty, see Brenner 1973.
  • 4 France and the United Kingdom declared war to the Ottoman Empire on 5 Nov. 1914.
  • 5 See the text and its translation below.

1In the second half of November 1914, Frederick Lugard, Governor-General of the newly formed Nigeria, received an Arabic letter1 from šayḫ Abū Bakr Ġarbai b. Ibrāhīm al-Kānimī, known as Shehu Abubakar Garbai b. Ibrahim,2 from the Kanemi (or El-Kanemi) dynasty (1809-present day).3 This letter was written a few days after the Ottoman Empire declared war on the United Kingdom, France and Russia in the context of the First World War.4 In this letter, the Sahelian ruler renewed his fealty to the British crown and refused to join the German and Ottoman side.5 Hence, unlike what happened in Italian Libya (Fezzan, Cyrenaica) or in French Africa (Aïr, Wadai), and despite the deep political, religious and economic links between the two shores of the Sahara, the Muslim authorities of British Borno refused to challenge their colonial overlord in the name of a pan-Islamic coalition led by the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, the support of Garbai to the British secured the north-east of Nigeria when the British and the French forces were engaged in the military conquest of German Kamerun (1914-1916) or fighting rebellions in their own colonies.

  • 6 Perham 1960.
  • 7 In 2014, the collections of manuscripts from Rhodes House were transferred to the Weston Library (f (...)
  • 8 Smith and Bull 1991, 1.
  • 9 Ibn Ḥafṣā was not the only scribe of Garbay: another letter, dated 3rd Oct. 1914, was written by Ša (...)
  • 10 This paper was produced in Italy and quite common in West Africa in the nineteenth century. See Blo (...)
  • 11 Bivar 1968, 7 and Bondarev 2006, 120.
  • 12 The dimensions are 3.3x3.2 cm.
  • 13 ما شاء الله كل عبده الشيخ بكر بن الشيخ إبراهيم الكانم السلطان عام 1333
  • 14 The text forms a square of 14.5x14.5 cm.
  • 15 The oldest original letter from Borno still available today is located in the archives of the Unive (...)

2This letter, along with fifty other Arabic letters from the Muslim native authorities of Northern Nigeria dating from 1906 to 1919, was kept in Lugard’s personal archives acquired by the historian Margery Perham in order to write Lugard’s official biography.6 After her death in 1982, the manuscripts were given to Rhodes House Library in Oxford7 with all her archives.8 The letter was written by the wazīr, al-’imām Ibn Ḥafṣā, the “Prime Minister” of Garbai,9 on the first day of the year of 1333 (Hegira Calendar) or on 18 November 1914. The support is a tre lune paper, from Andrea Galvani Pordenone10 and the script is a Borno court hand,11 a handwriting reserved to the administration of Borno. The seal (siǧīl) is a square12 stamped with blue ink on the left, in the space left between the hamdallah and the text. After a short prayer to Allah, the name of Garbai is written in Arabic and the year is written in hijra calendar.13 In addition to the handwriting, the paper and the seal, the layout and the justification14 show that the scribe is a professional who applies norms that are representative of Bornoan letters from the 1820s to the 1930s.15

  • 16 Osuntokun 1979 and Crowder 1987, 307-38.
  • 17 Prescott 1971; Digre 1990; Yearwood 1990, 316-341; Yearwood 1993, 218-244; Yearwood 1994, 36-42.
  • 18 Hiribarren 2017.
  • 19 Hiribarren 2017, 87.

3This letter is one of the very few documents still available which were not produced by the colonial administration, be it French, British or German. It is an exceptional source for our understanding of the involvement of an African political and religious authority during the First World War, at a local, national and international level. In fact, despite few initiatives,16 the conquest of Kamerun and its repartition between France and the United Kingdom has been mainly studied from the coloniser’s perspective, without listening to the voice of local actors.17 These works mainly focused on the territorial exchanges which took place after the First World War. More recently, Vincent Hiribarren, the co-author of the present article, demonstrated that there was a continuity in spatial and political dynamics in Borno before and after the colonisation,18 opening the way to a reconsideration of African actors during the first half of the twentieth century and inviting to comparisons in the longue durée. As such, he used Garbai’s correspondance with Lord Lugard19 in order to show the existence of a common interest between the British and the Bornoan elite. However, his analysis remained, to a certain extent, linked to the colonial power or the vision of the elites. It did not explore the roots of a conflict that was, in the end, local and which we can trace back to the arrival of the Ottomans in Africa, in the sixteenth century; such a reflexion, common in other parts of the world, has never been undertaken in the Lake Chad area.

  • 20أنا أمير برنوا وقد إعطاني السلطان إنقليز حكماً’ (I am ’amīr of Barnūwā and the Sultan of Inqlīz (E (...)

4As specialists of early modern and modern Borno, we aim to use Garbai’s letter under a different angle in order to show that behind the “European war in Africa,” other rivalries were at stake: Ottomans against Borno, Malikism against Hanafism, Sanūsiya against Tiğānīya or Šāḏilīya, or centre against periphery. A better understanding of earlier periods could help historians of the First World War and vice-versa. Of course, this chapter does not intend to state that Garbai’s power was superior, equal or independent to that of the British. Shehu Garbai directly expressed in a previous letter his allegiance to the King of England.20 However, it is clear that African political elites, even if colonised, had a large autonomy and that personal alliances or oppositions did influence the course of the war in the region.

  • 21 Minawi 2016.

5This paper examines the Kamerun campaigns through the lens of three chronological and spatial layers that interacted between each other. The first layer is linked to the European scramble for Africa: the First World War was the final step of a thirty-year enterprise where France, the United Kingdom, Germany and to a certain extent the Ottoman Empire21 tried to conquer Borno. The second layer considers the ambiguous relations between the Borno sultanate and the Ottoman Empire and its impact on trans-Saharan and trans-Sahelian networks. The third layer is local, and explores the socio-religious transformations and the articulation between centre and peripheries in the longue durée, which influenced the course of the First World War in the Lake Chad basin.

Text

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم والحمد لله الكريم والصلاة والسلام
على رسول الله
[SEAL]
من عبد الله تعالي الشيخ غربي ابن الشيخ إبر اهيم ابن الشيخ عمر
ابن الشيخ الأمين الكانميّ أنا كبير برنوا إلى غمنه لغات
وكيل الأمير أطال الله عمره وإن رزدنت قال لنا أن أمير إسطنبول
قد أخذ الصلاح على كبيره أمير إنغليز لما قال له جامن
وأننا رحمنا أنفسنا لسماع هذا الخبر وأننا سألناك بأن
تعرض له بأن قلوبنا قد أتبعته وأننا فرحنا في أمير إنغليز
وليس فرحنا في أمير جافن. وبعد ذلك لأننا كنا على طريقة
الإمام مالك رحمه الله ولأننا كنا على أصل دين الإسلام لا على
الكفر وأننا عرفنا أنّ أرضنا تموت في دين الإسلام ولا تموت
في دين الكفر ولإننا كنا لله تعالي نصلّى على وجه حرّيتنا
ليس أحد يضيو في ديننا ولذالك نصلى لله وإننا نسئل الله
يعطى لإمير إنغليز عمر أطويلاً ويسهل الله له كل أميره
يسيرا. وإننا سألناك يا غمنه لغات لاجل أن تضع هذه
رسالتنا في قدام أمير إنغليز. وإن هذا القرطاس كتبه
وزيري الإمام إبن حفصة ووضعت عليه طبعي بيدي
بتاريخ يوم الخميس لأول محرم عــــــــام 1333 الهجرة
والــــسلام

Translation22

  • 22 Translation by Rémi Dewière. This translation is clearer than the English translation that can be f (...)
  • 23 غمنه لغات, Lord Lugard (Ġamanh Luġāt).
  • 24 Captain Upton Fitz Herbert Ruxton in Nov. 1914.
  • 25 أمير إسطنبول, The Sultan of Istanbul (’amīr ’Isṭanbūl).
  • 26 The Prince of England (’amīr ’Inġlīz).
  • 27 جامن, The Germans (Ǧāman).
  • 28 جافن, The Germans (Ǧāfan).
  • 29 18 Nov. 1914.

In the name of God the Merciful, the Compassionate. Blessings and peace be upon the Prophet of God.
From
šayḫ [Shehu] Ġarbai ibn šayḫ ’Ibrāhīm ibn šayḫ ’Umar ibn šayḫ al-’amīn al-Kānimī, the Humble slave of Allah, kabīr of Borno to Lord Lugard23, representative of the ’amīr [of England], May Allah prolong his life. The rasidant [resident24] told us that the ’amīr of Istanbul25 took arms against his [the resident’s] kabīr, ’amīr of England26, when the Germans27 told him. We have mercy on ourselves to hear this news and we ask you to tell him that our hearts are subordinated to him and that our delight is for the ’amīr of English. Our delight is not for the ’amīr of Germans28. And after this, because we follow the path of al-’imām Mālik – may Allah have mercy on him – and because we are from the true religion of Islam and we are not infidels and because we know that our territory dies in the religion of Islam and does not die in the religion of infidels. For that, we pray Allah all-mighty and ask in His direction not to be involved for the benefit of our religion and for this pray Allah and ask Allah the longest life for the ’amīr of English and we ask Allah that Allah facilitates the government of all his ’amīr-s. We ask you, Lord Lugard, that you give this letter in front of the ’amīr of English. This letter has been written by my vizir the imam ibn Ḥafṣa and I signed it with my seal the fifth day of muḥarram of year 1333 of hiǧrā29.
Peace

The Europeans in Borno

  • 30 From Hassan al-Wazzan (Leo Africanus) to the consuls of Tripoli, many authors wrote about the Sulta (...)
  • 31 Hornemann 1802.
  • 32 Lockhart 1996; Barth 1857.
  • 33 Nachtigal, Fisher and Fisher, 1974. On European travellers in Central Sahel, see Brenner 1973, Kany (...)
  • 34 Hiribarren 2017, 46.

6In the Central Sahel, the First World War arguably took its roots in the 1890s, both on the shores of Lake Chad and in the European capitals. The Kamerun wars brought together four European actors in Borno, including the Ottoman Empire, whose shadow was not to be neglected. Borno was the only place in Africa to be claimed by both Germans, French, British and Ottomans. These claims were expressed between 1890 and 1917 (see figure 1). Since the early modern period, the Borno sultanate was relatively famous in Europe due to a rather rich literature and the slave trade coming from the Sahelian state.30 After the travel of the German explorer Friedrich Conrad Hornemann in 1799-1801,31 several Europeans attempted to cross the Sahara in order to reach Borno and establish commercial relations. For example, H. Clapperton and H. Barth worked for the British government32 while E. Vogel and G. Nachtigal for the German government.33 Quite naturally, the Borno Sultanate became the final objective for the European powers, but also for the Ottoman Empire: the “scramble for Borno”34 was yet to begin.

Figure 1: European claims in Africa (1890-1917)

  • 35 For more information about the French colonial policy see Newbury and Kanya-Forstner 1969, 253-276. (...)

7In the year 1890, intense negotiations took place between the United Kingdom and France in order to place the Lake Chad area under their spheres of influence. Both French and British claimed Sokoto and Borno. For the British, Borno was considered as a part of their sphere of influence, as well as in the case of the Sokoto Caliphate. The reason why the French tried to gain access to Borno was because the British did not sign any treaty with the Shehu and because Borno self-evidently did not belong to Sokoto. This was a perfect opportunity for the French to obtain more than the content of the treaty. The French colonial pressure group was particularly involved in this claim. Indeed, even if they were not the final decision-makers, these lobbyists tried to obtain more territory than was stipulated in the 1890 boundary agreement. General Philebert and Darcy, members of the French colonial lobby-group, campaigned for the conquest of Borno in their writing and cartography.35 However, a compromise was settled and a first treaty was signed on 5 August 1890. The boundary was established on the Say-Barruwa line.

  • 36 Flint 1960, 171-172; Hiribarren 2017, 47.

8Indeed, after their first 1891 agreement, the British and the French separately attempted to sign treaties with the Shehus of Borno in order to secure their position and claim the whole of Bornoan territory for their future negotiations. In 1892, the Royal Niger Company sent MacIntosh to sign a treaty with the Shehu. However, this expedition failed as MacIntosh was dismissed by the Shehu after spending two months in Kukawa. The latter hoisted the Ottoman flag as a symbol of his non-recognition of British authority. Did this mean that the Shehu saw himself as dependant of the Sublime Porte? It seems more logical to suppose that the Bornoan preferred to recognise a distant authority than the more commercially threatening Royal Niger Company.36

  • 37 Minawi 2016, 68.
  • 38 Ibid., 69.
  • 39 Koloğlu 2007, 79.
  • 40 Koloğlu 2007, 101.
  • 41 For the Ottoman presence in Sahara see Vikør 1999, 250-268.

9On the other side of the Sahara, the 1890 agreement between France and the United Kingdom raised the ire of the Ottoman sultan, who protested to Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister, claiming that the British-French agreement “infringed on the rights of the Ottoman government to its own colonies […] These colonial possessions included Wadai, Borno, Kanem and Baguirmi.”37 The Ottoman ambassador Rüstem Pasha argued that “Istanbul considered [Borno] an integral part of the Libyan hinterland.”38 Hence, on 30 October 1890, a diplomatic note from Istanbul proposed to the European powers that the African colonies of the Ottomans would go from Tripoli to Borno and Baguirmi included.39 In the Ottoman media, articles were written in order to sustain these claims,40 and the Ottomans remained active in the Sahara region until 1911.41

  • 42 Crowder 1987, 313.
  • 43 Hiribarren 2017, 59.
  • 44 Salmon and Worsfold 1918, 148.
  • 45 In fact, in the beginning of the twentieth century, Ottoman interests were “so weak that the mere a (...)

10The Germans arrived later in Africa, but their ambitions were to create a Mittleafrika that would stretch from Kamerun to Oriental Africa.42 The competition between the British and French in the Lake Chad region was partly responsible for the German presence in Cameroon. Indeed, the United Kingdom favoured agreements with Germany to prevent the French from having the upper hand in local boundary negotiations.43 However, the objectives of the Germans grew during the First World War. Two maps representing the German claims in Africa in 1917 show that, even if they failed to keep their colonies under direct rule, they still hoped to have a German Africa including the former Borno sultanate in case of victory.44 One last European actor came into play in 1912; it was Italy. Without claiming Borno, Italian authorities radically changed the power relations in the Sahara and, by extension the Sahel: the conquest of Libya in 1911-1912 expelled the Ottomans from Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. The Ottomans could not directly intervene anymore in the interior of Africa, leaving their ambitions against the French, British and Germans.45

  • 46 Hiribarren 2017, 67.
  • 47 Ibid., 66; Gardner 2016, 102-103.
  • 48 Hallam 1977, 126-133; see the reasons behind the choice of Dikwa in Mohammed 2006, 51-52.
  • 49 Tukur 1989, 43.
  • 50 Hiribarren 2017, 62; Ikime 1977.

11On 15 November 1893, the British and the Germans signed a new treaty which enabled their common colonial boundary to reach Lake Chad.46 In 1894, Germany and France agreed to sign a treaty delimitating their boundary on the Shari river.47 From 1894, Borno was virtually divided between three colonial powers. However, in 1894, the Europeans were still very far from the shores of Lake Chad and Sudanese adventurer Rābiḥ b. Faḍl Allah (1842-1900), known as Rabih or Rabah, conquered Borno with a well-trained modern army. He expelled the Kanemi dynasty and established his capital in Dikwa.48 This event reshaped the political map of the Lake Chad region. The Kanemi dynasty split into several directions.49 The main group took refuge in Damagaram with 670 followers and tried to seek assistance from the French and the British in order to take back their throne. Meanwhile, the British supported Rābiḥ and recognised him as “Sultan of Borno.”50

  • 51 Tukur 1989, 44.
  • 52 Ibid., 45.
  • 53 Ibid., 46.
  • 54 For a while, the British supported Rābiḥ’s son Faḍl Allah (Telegram. The officer Administering the (...)
  • 55 Coquery-Vidrovitch 2015, 106-108.

12Converging from Senegal, the Maghreb and Congo, the French troops arrived first in Borno.51 In 1900, the Foureau-Lamy expedition overtook Garbai and two of his brothers, Umar Sanda Kura and Umar Sanda Mandara, on the Komadugu river and reestablished them as rulers of Borno after the death of Rābiḥ at the battle of Kusseri on 22 April 1901.52 Shortly after being installed as Shehu of Borno in Dikwa, Sanda Kura was dismissed and replaced by Garbai.53 However, the latter accepted the British call to rule British Borno in 1902.54 The last brother, Sanda Mandara, became Shehu of Dikwa just before the French withdrew from Dikwa in front of German progression. When in 1902, the area was occupied by German and British troops, Garbai was ruling British Borno from Kukawa while Sanda Mandara was recognised as the Shehu of German Borno in Dikwa.55

  • 56 Tukur 1989, 50.
  • 57 Ibid., 54.
  • 58 Ibid., 74.
  • 59 G. Tomlinson, ‘Report on Dikoa,’ 20 June 1916, National Archives, Kew, FO 371/2859, 9.

13During this period, European powers experienced their limits on the ground: the two Shehus had a large room for manoeuvring in both internal and regional context. Shehu Garbai made it clear that “he intended to be independent of them.”56 During the first years of British dominion, he collected the taxes in his name and tried to keep his firearms as he was convinced that the British would stay a year or two and then leave.57 Garbai officially swore an oath to the British in 1904 only, with some conditions. Between 1907 and 1912, the British officer Hewby tried to by-pass the Shehu in taxation policy. This attempt was a failure that revealed the dependency of the British towards Garbai; on 1 January 1914, H. R. Palmer confirmed Garbai as the chief of native administration with a clear autonomy on taxes, police and law affairs. His position was thus reinforced in the years preceding the First World War.58 On the German side of the border, Shehu Sanda Mandara had a larger autonomy. He paid an annual tribute to the Germans, but was able to keep his firearms and full power in the area under his control.59

  • 60 Lavers 1994, 232-233.
  • 61 Osuntokun 1979, 231. It is astonishing, considering that the French named him Shehu of Dikwa.

14On a transnational scale, the Anglo-German frontier was often challenged, especially during the first years of the colonisation. Close family and tributary ties from both parts of the frontier created tensions that were reported by colonial officers. In 1903 and at the beginning of 1904, both British and German Shehus were levying taxes in villages located on the other side of the colonial border. Quite blatantly, the Kanemi heirs disregarded the colonial border. Apart from this, we do not know much about Garbai’s contacts outside Northern Nigeria, neither about his foreign policy, if any. During the conflict with Rābiḥ’s son, in 1900, Garbai tried to seek help from the Sanūsiya in Kanem, but he was prevented by a Tiğānī “alim to do so.”60 On the German side of the border, before the First World War, Shehu Sanda Mandara was arming rebels in French Chad, probably belonging to the Sanūsiya.61 It is likely that these initiatives were undertaken independently from colonial authorities, raising unanswered questions about the relations between the Kanemi and the Islamic brotherhoods before the First World War, especially the Sanūsiya.

  • 62 Hiribarren 2017, 88.
  • 63 Dominik 1908, 168.

15It should then be considered to what extent both Shehus were being manipulated and whether they were using the Europeans for their own purposes.62 It seems that they succeeded in protecting their personal position, their interests and a relative autonomy, using the Europeans in order to conquer and remain in power. Opportunistically, they did not hesitate to switch sides in order to keep their position, knowing that the European powers could not rule without them. Unfortunately, we do not have information regarding their own agendas and the very nature of their relations. According to Hans Dominik, the German colonial officer in charge of Northern Cameroun, “the first [Garbai] believed that he was the real suzerain and Sanda was only a creature of the French.”63

16British Borno and German Borno, respectively under the rule of Garbai and Sanda Mandara, were two autonomous entities part of the British and German empires. However, they still had a proper administrative structure and used family, religious and tributary networks in order to support their own politics in the Lake Chad area. The sophisticated form of Garbai’s letter could show that the Shehu considered himself as an autonomous and not as a native authority ruler. One could imagine that tensions between the two Shehus could have led to an armed opposition in the context of the First World War. However, the clash did not occur: the Franco-British side was too strong and Sanda’s opportunism pushed him to open rapidly Dikwa’s gates.

  • 64 Matthews 1987, 97-98.
  • 65 Osuntokun 1979, 143. In a letter to Lord Lugard, Garbai wrote: “I have assisted the Resident with a (...)
  • 66 Osuntokun 1979, 187.

17Despite the fact that the British were fighting the Ottomans, the world’s leading Muslim power, the Bornoan elite was ready to help the British. Like many other Nigerian rulers,64 Garbai provided “transport, mail runners, remounts, escorts and gifts to the Nigeria troops.”65 Other authorities, like the Sultans of Gulfei or Mandara, sent military information to the British because of the dynastic ties between them and Garbai.66 However, this help was motivated by personal interests. As he helped the British during the war, the Shehu of British Borno had to obtain territorial gains from the negotiations in Europe. The German defeat during the First World War was a perfect opportunity to unite Borno again.

  • 67 Tomlinson’s report, 1916, 10. There was a minor incident in Dikwa reported in Arthur Lees’s diary o (...)
  • 68 Stratchan 2004, 34.
  • 69 For more information about the Mandara Mountains during the First World War, see the website create (...)

18The military operations against the Germans went rather rapidly in the territory of Borno. Dikwa fell on 21 August 1914, almost without fighting as Shehu Sanda Mandara opened the gates to the British and provided arms and ammunitions.67 The British column marched on Mora, in the Mandara Mountains from Maiduguri. Kusseri was captured in September by the French. The two armies joined in mid-October 1914 and Marua fell in mid-December 1914. However, the German captain Ernst von Raben, at the head of his troops, chose to leave the plains and took refuge in the Mandara Mountains, in the vicinity of the well-defended Mora.68 He only surrendered on 18 February 1916 with his 155 soldiers.69

Figure 2: O'Neil, 1919, p. 62. The dashed line shows the itinerary of the British troops. The arrows represent the French movements.

  • 70 Crowder 1987, 314.
  • 71 Ibid., 314; Osuntokun 1979, 139-166; Nigeria Annual Report for 1915 (Lagos: Government Printer, 191 (...)

19Alongside European military operations, the local political actors were not inactive. Garbai’s letters can be considered as the tip of the iceberg. First of all, the war slightly changed the balance of power between Europeans and Africans. The First World War weakened the already meagre European presence in Northern Nigeria, where half of the European population had left the country.70 This departure strengthened the Native authorities’ position, as it occurred only a few years after their arrival. In many places in Nigeria, rumours that white people were leaving forever circulated, and small unrests started in many rural areas.71

  • 72 “Many Moslem northerners resisted military service because they believed that ‘fighting in East Afr (...)
  • 73 It is unlikely that Ottoman agents were operating in Borno territory, even though Palmer states the (...)
  • 74 Osuntokun 1979, 149. These letters are in the British National Archives, CO 583/30/7842 and CO 583/ (...)
  • 75 Osuntokun 1979, 150; Rogan 2015, 299-301.

20The authorities collaborating with the Europeans were in a precarious position. A part of the religious and political elite, who was supporting popular discontentment or pro-Ottoman sympathies,72 was hostile to the British and the French. The fact that Garbai wrote a letter claiming his support for the British against the Ottomans shows that he needed such an alliance and that the Ottoman threat was perceived in Borno in 1914. Moreover, the German authorities, probably with the help of Ottoman supporters,73 tried to use their alliance with the Ottomans in order to gain support in French, Italian and British colonies. Between 1914 and 1915, they sent Arabic letters supposed to come from the Ottoman Sultan in Yola and Borno. They claimed that Germany was fighting to prevent the British from giving Istanbul to the pagans.74 British authorities suspected several emirs in the former Sokoto Caliphate to be uncooperative and exiled them. Besides, the British developed a counter propaganda in direction of Islamic communities with the help of Hussein bin Ali, the newly independent ruler of Hijaz, who denied the Ottomans and called for Muslims to follow the Alliance during the First World War.75

The Borno-British Alliance in Trans-Saharan and Trans-Sahelian Contexts

  • 76 Lange 1977, 68.The Sayfawa dynasty previously ruled Kanem, in present-day Chad.
  • 77 Dewière 2013.

21The Islamic propaganda mobilised by the Germans, British, French and Ottomans in the context of the First World War had a strong echo in the trans-Saharan and trans-Sahelian contexts. In both, the Sayfawa (or Sayfawa) rulers, who founded the Borno sultanate in the fourteenth century, were major actors since their early conversion to Sunni Islam in the eleventh century.76 In the early modern period, Bornoan diplomats, traders and scholars travelled across the desert and the savannah and were regularly seen in Morocco, the Nile valley or Istanbul. The trans-Saharan roads between Tripoli and Borno through the oases of Kawar and Fezzan were strategic for the economy of Borno, especially because of the salt and slave trades.77 From West to East, Borno pilgrims crossed Baguirmi, Wadai, and Darfur in direction to Mecca, contributing to the material and immaterial circulations between West Africa and the Middle East. Actually, the choice of Garbai to collaborate with the British fits with the Borno position in the Sahara and Sahel since the early modern period, when independent Borno had to protect its commercial and political interests against the Ottomans, the Tuareg and Wadai.

  • 78 Coquery-Vidrovitch 2015, 106-108.
  • 79 Between 1711 and 1835, Tripoli was ruled by the Qaramānlī, who were independent from the Ottomans. (...)
  • 80 Nachtigal, Fisher and Fisher 1974, 183.
  • 81 Ibid., 183-184.

22At the beginning of the twentieth century, the networks between the two shores of the Sahara and along the Sahel were still relatively strong. There were about 100 Tripolitans in Dikwa when the French conquered it in 1901.78 However, its political situation was very unstable, especially after the Ottoman loss of Tripolitania in 1912. After nearly 400 years on the Libyan coast, the Ottomans were expelled by the Italians.79 In Fezzan, the Italians only conquered Sebha and Murzuk at the beginning of the war in 1914.80 Officially, the European scramble for Africa definitively cut the Ottomans from Borno. However, their influence and their political ties were still strong when the First World War began: Fezzan became independent in 1915 and was not conquered again until 1930.81

  • 82 About the Sanūsiya, see Triaud, 1995.
  • 83 Triaud 1995, 11.
  • 84 Triaud 1996, 8.

23Even if the Ottomans were no longer present in Africa, their supporters and the opponents to European colonisation were still active. The most famous organisation was the Sanūsiya, an Islamic brotherhood that challenged the Europeans until the 1930s in Libya and Sahara.82 The Sanūsiya brotherhood was well established in Tibesti and Wadai, but also in Fezzan and Kawar.83 During the rule of the third master of the Sanūsiya, Aḥmad al-Sharīf al-Sanūsi (1902-1918), the ties with the Ottomans strengthened84 and the brotherhood – with the support of the Ottomans – became the Islamic conduit of several rebellions against the Europeans.

  • 85 Lovejoy and Baier 1975, 551.
  • 86 This drought was considered “the worst since eighteenth century”, cf. Lovejoy and Baier 1975, 570.
  • 87 Lovejoy and Baier 1975, 575.
  • 88 Ross 2011, 30.

24However, the political situation in Northern Africa and its Saharan vicinities was nothing compared to the economic consequences of the Anglo-British occupation of Sahel and southern Sahara. For the first time since the apparition of Islam in Africa, the savannah economy was no longer turned towards the North, but towards the Atlantic coast. This shift was a direct consequence of colonisation. Lovejoy and Baier considered that “the decline of the desert-edge sector was one of the most underestimated impacts of colonialism.”85 Colonial Nigeria was no exception, as the decline of the trans-Saharan trade was significant. In 1911, the railway from the coast to Kano was completed; the drought from 1911 to 191486 in the Sahara and Sahel greatly affected the Tuareg populations, who migrated to Nigeria and revolted against the French in Aïr in 1916, during the Kawousan (or Kaocen) war.87 The decline of the desert economy and the administrative partition of Sahara, with the progressive closing of colonial borders, reshaped networks and alliances in the region.88

  • 89 See Mukhtar 2000.

25Regarding the trans-Saharan situation, the ruler of Borno was facing a challenge: the colonisation, the retreat of the Ottomans from Africa, the drought from the past three years and the reshaping of the trading networks towards the coast challenged the traditional pillars of the Bornoan economy. The end of the trans-Saharan trade and the reinforcement of the Kano-coast network was putting Borno’s economy to death.89 Garbai thus could have found reasons to rebel against the British when the war started or during the Kawousan war in 1916. Garbai could have chosen to support the Sanūsi, the Tuareg, the Ottoman secret services and the Germans. Instead, Garbai supported the British throughout the war. Garbai’s personal history and his relations with the British may provide an explanation for this. However, two other significant elements justified his choice: the tumultuous relations between Borno and the Ottomans in the past and the geopolitics of Islam in Africa.

  • 90 Osuntokun 1979, 139.

26The Ottoman Empire is usually represented as “the head of the Islamic World.”90 However, some Sunni Islamic states never recognised the Ottoman authority and even challenged its power at a local level. The Borno sultanate was one of them. Since the conquest of Tripoli by the Ottomans, several clashes between Borno and the Ottoman Empire or the Tripolitan regency took place. Every time, the conflict started with an attempt from Tripolitan authorities to attack the territorial and economic interests of Borno.

  • 91 Gürkan 2010; Işıksel 2013, 375-82.
  • 92 Dewière 2012b, 383-393.

27The first intervention that the Ottoman Empire led in Africa was the 1517 conquest of Egypt. Its control of Cairo, followed by the conquest of Mecca and Medina, the two holy cities of Islam, and its victories against the Habsburgs gave it a strong legitimacy in the western Dār al-Islām. This also had consequences in North Africa, where the Ottomans established their suzerainty over Algiers (1533) Tripoli (1551) and Tunis (1569-74) in the context of corsair raiding in the Mediterranean Sea.91 Moreover, the conquest of Tunis was the occasion for the Ottoman sultan to initiate an imperialist policy into the interior of Africa.92

  • 93 Bradford Martin read Q.rān (قران) instead of F.zān (فزان). However, he recognises that the term “q- (...)
  • 94 Martin 1972, 478.

28In 1577, the Ottoman officer Mahmud Bey led from Tunis the conquest of the Fezzan oases, a commercial crossroad in Central Sahara. This conquest challenged the Bornoan influence in Fezzan. However, Ottoman initiatives were fragile: internal conflicts in Maghreb and regional rivalries gave an opportunity for Borno to react to the Ottoman intrusions. Between 1574 and 1579, the Borno Sultan Idrīs b. ‘Alī (1564-1596), or Idris Alawma (Alooma), sent an ambassador to Istanbul in order to ask the Ottomans, among other things, to give back a fortress named Fezzān.93 The Ottoman sultan refused to retrocede the region to the Borno sultan,94 but the Ottoman garrison was slaughtered by a local rebellion in 1583, probably with the help of the Borno sultan.

  • 95 In the 1630s-1640s, the Tripoli authorities tried to conquer the Fezzan oases several times, see Fr (...)
  • 96 Féraud 1927, 106.

29During the following centuries, the Ottomans were no longer directly involved in African affairs while the vilayet of Tripoli and Borno sultanate continued to have intense economic and diplomatic relations between each other. On several occasions, the relations severely deteriorated because of commercial rivalry in the Sahara.95 From 1637 to 1655, tensions reached their climax: in 1648, Muḥammad Saqīzlī (1633-1649), Pacha of Tripoli, tried to kidnap the Borno sultan ‘Alī b. ‘Umar (1639-1677) while he was travelling back from Mecca. The attempt failed and the Borno sultan interrupted the trade in direction of Tripoli for five years. The next year, Muḥammad Saqīzlī was killed by the minister of finances of Tripoli.96 His successor, ‘Uṯmān Pacha Saqīzlī (1649-1672), sent an embassy to restore the relations a couple of years later, as Tripolitan economy suffered from this rupture.

  • 97 Koloğlu 2007, 61; Lyon 1966, 4.
  • 98 Zeltner 1997, 102-103.
  • 99 Bradford 1983, 568.
  • 100 Abun-Nasr 1999, 200-201.
  • 101 Denham and Bovill (eds) 1966, II, 9-10, quoting Warrington to Bathurst, 5 Aug. 1820 [FO 76/14]; Loc (...)
  • 102 Palmer 1967, II, 47; Dewière 2012b, 391.
  • 103 Gwarzo 1968, 57.
  • 104 Martin 1962, 363-365; Gwarzo 1968, 55-57; Hodgkin 1973, 20-21, Dewière 2015, f. 430.

30At the beginning of the nineteenth century a change in the relations between Tripolitan rulers and Borno occurred. For the first time since the beginning of Ottoman presence in Africa, Fezzan was definitively conquered by the Ottomans in 1811-1812. The year after, they started to send military expeditions into the Lake Chad region: Yussuf Pacha (1766-1838), the Pacha of Tripoli, gave the order to his officer al-Mukni to help Muhammad al-Kanemi (r. 1809-1837) with 6,000 fighters in a conflict with Wadai in Kanem.97 In 1816, al-Mukni came back to Tripoli after a razzia with a thousand slaves from Kanem and Borku.98 This expedition was probably initiated upon the request of Muhammad al-Kanemi, who had asked al-Mukni to help him suppress a revolt.99 During that period, the Tripolitan officers intensified the number of razzia in the Lake Chad area, especially in Kanem and Baguirmi, often with the assistance of Borno rulers. However, this new collaboration was disturbed in the years 1820-1824: according to British Consul Warrington in Tripoli, the Pacha tried, in vain,100 to obtain a loan from the British in order to raise an army that “would enable him to take Bornou and Sudan.”101 Tripolitan expeditions did not end at that moment; in 1826-27, Yusuf Pacha sent another expedition to help the Kanemi rulers against Wadai, bringing back many slaves.102 During the second Ottoman period (1835-1911), the relations with Borno were fluctuating.103 In 1854, Ottoman authorities in Tripoli named Sharif Barkan as the resident at Shehu Umar al-Kanemi’s court, for at least fifteen years.104

31From this period, it seems that Borno was playing a dangerous game. In order to maintain their interests in the Sahel against Sokoto and Wadai, the Kanemis called the Tripolitans. In return, the Qaramanlis, and subsequently the Ottomans, aimed at increasing their influence in the Sahel and, maybe, conquering Borno. Although the exact nature of the Bornoan relations with the Ottomans remains unknown, the Borno rulers always tried to guarantee their own independence until Rābiḥ’s invasion in 1893. In this context, relations with the Ottomans were ambiguous, as they were essential partners for the trans-Saharan trade. However, they were always considered as a dangerous adversary, and the Borno rulers did not hesitate to face them: Garbai’s decision to join the anti-Ottoman side during the First World War was thus in line with the past decisions of his predecessors.

  • 105 Bobboyi 1993, 53.
  • 106 Nicolson 1942, 15-16; Monnet 2012, 366; Aigle 2008, 133.
  • 107 Dewière 2015, f. 383-385.

32While being Sunni Muslims, the Ottomans and Bornoans differed on a legal point of view as their political power relied on two different schools of law. The Ottomans were hanafi while the Bornoans were maliki. The Ottoman Empire had already had to face this situation during its domination of the region. The Maghreb and West Africa were mainly maliki while Egypt was shafi’i. In Borno, the authorities adopted malikism in the eleventh century.105 It is striking that Garbai, in his letter to Lord Lugard, used this difference as a legal argument justifying his alliance with the British. The use of legal arguments in diplomatic letters is quite common.106 Many examples in the history of Borno show that the Borno administration manipulated this in the same way other Islamic powers did.107 However, emphasising the difference of legal schools in order to promote a Christian-Islamic alliance against another Islamic power might appear paradoxical.

  • 108 Morrocan Sultan Aḥmad al-Manṣūr used this argument against the Ottomans in the 1580s, cf. Mouline 2 (...)
  • 109 Palmer 1932, 127-128; Dewière 2014a, 441; Dewière 2015, f. 174.
  • 110 Dewière 2014b, 89.
  • 111 We have learned that the Turkish Sultan has embraced the cause of Germany against France. We conde (...)

33The use of legal school affiliation to mark a border between political entities is not so common in an Islamic context. When contesting the authority of the Ottoman Turks, the other Islamic authorities rather tended to use the ethnic argument, emphasising that the Caliph should be Arab and/or a Quraysh.108 Actually, the Quraysh identity was used by the Borno rulers already in the 1570s in order to claim Islamic legitimacy against the Ottomans, when the Sayfawa dynasty of Borno claimed their Quraysh origin in a diplomatic meeting with the Ottoman ambassador.109 At that period, a pan-African reaction to the Ottomans incursions into the African continent was also legitimated by ethnic affiliation, and not by legal affiliation.110 Turning back to the First World War, the Muslim authorities of the Afrique Occidentale Française also used these arguments when they claimed their spiritual affiliation to the Sultan of Morocco in order to justify their allegiance towards the French authorities.111

  • 112 Tucker 2005, accessed on 12 Sep. 2017.

34However, we can find such examples in other parts of the the Muslim world. In 1736, the Persian shah Nāder sent an embassy to the Ottoman sultan in order to ask him to recognise Twelver Shi’ism, the main branch of Shia Islam, as the fifth legitimate school of Sunni Islam.112 This proposal was rejected but the negotiations momentarily contributed to improve the relations between Sunni Ottomans and Shia Persians.

  • 113 Burak 2015, 10.
  • 114 Burak, Ibid., 3; Apellániz 2016, 636.
  • 115 Pearson 2000, 48-49; Reichmuth, 2000, 429.

35Actually, the tensions and rivalries between legal schools were particularly visible in legal and commercial affairs. These tensions increased when the Ottomans “assumed the right to intervene doctrinally in regulating and structuring” the hanafi legal school,113 which became the official school in the Ottoman Empire from the sixteenth century.114 The Ottoman influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean favoured the diffusion and use of the hanafi doctrine in areas where other legal schools were predominant. The legal pluralism involving Muslims from different legal schools or Muslims and non-Muslims created tensions between jurists and political authorities. While cohabitation and rivalry between Hanafites and Shafi‘ites are well documented in East Africa,115 the use of the hanafi legal school in a maliki West African environment during the Early Modern period remains largely unstudied.

  • 116 Baker and Pennel (eds) 1989, 31.
  • 117 Ibn Nāṣar, A., Al-Riḥlat al-Naṣiriyyat, 2 t., Fès, 1320 AH/1902. El-Jetti, Mohammed, ‘Tripoli dans (...)
  • 118 Udovitch 1970a, 291; Udovitch 1970b, 230.

36Yet, the antagonism between hanafi and maliki was a reality in Ottoman Maghreb. In Tripoli, several documents show that the legal schools were used as political indicator by the elites. During the seventeenth century, British Consul Thomas Baker reported that maliki and hanafi muftis “had considerable personal authority of their own, and were often participants in political struggles on the own account.”116 In 1709, Aḥmad b. Nāṣar al-Dar‘ī, a Moroccan traveller, related several of these struggles during his travel to Mecca.117 In this context, the cohabitation between hanafi and maliki legal systems revealed internal accommodations and tensions regarding Ottoman policies in the Maghreb. More astonishing, Garbai’s letter shows that the cohabitation between hanafi and maliki legal systems was known across the Sahara. The Tripolitan traders who were in Borno could have used the hanafi law in their commercial transactions, thus creating a legally pluralistic context that characterised trade and interactions with Ottoman Tripoli. In fact, the hanafi law was considered in the Ottoman Mediterranean context, and especially in cross-cultural trade, as the “law merchant” par excellence.118 The use of malikism against the Ottomans by Garbai shows that he definitively turned away from the Saharan economy at the beginning of the First World War.

Global War, Local Conflicts

  • 119 Many riots occurred in the South, especially in Igboland, Osuntokun 1971, 174-181. This article wil (...)
  • 120 Osuntokun 1979, 150-151; National Archives, CO 583/63/14783, Palmer to Lugard, 2 Mar. 1917.
  • 121 Osuntokun 1979, 139, 144, 148, 153, 224, 232.

37The local scale of the conflict is absent in Garbai’s letter. Yet, the region faced much violence, from local unrest to major rebellions. Hence, in Northern Nigeria, several protests and riots started during the war, especially in the Borno region.119 We know very little about them, as colonial sources are rather silent about their actors. The colonial officers who authored these reports do not help understand them in depth: H. R. Palmer explained that the insurgents’ motivations were the consequence of “an inherent love of charlatanism and the ordinary motives of a mendicant.”120 More recently, Osuntokun spoke about religious “fanatics.”121 It is true that the revolts often had an Islamic aspect. However, the outbreak of violence during the First World War took its roots in older conflicts, and the geography of violence followed geopolitical patterns. Violence took place at the margins of the former Borno sultanate, across regions that were refuge places for rebel movements and political opponents.

  • 122 Even if this article is more concerned by their political dimension, Sufi brotherhoods can be both (...)
  • 123 See Dewière 2014b; García-Arenal 2012, 52; Hamès 2005; Dewière 2012a, 39-54.
  • 124 Dewière 2015, f. 377-378.
  • 125 Batran 1996, 585.
  • 126 Piga 2006, 256-257.

38Beyond legal schools, Sufi brotherhoods had a deep influence in religious and political relations in central Sahel.122 Sufi brotherhoods spread in Subsaharan Africa in the sixteenth century123 and became politically influential in the second half of the seventeenth century.124 It was however during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the most influential brotherhoods transformed into more centralised and militant entities, especially the Qādirīya, the Tiğānīya and the Sanūsiya.125 From that period, political conflicts in Subsaharan Africa operated through the religious prism: regional oppositions became brotherhood oppositions, like the conflict between Massina and al-Hajj Umar Tall’s state, which became a conflict between the Qādirīya and the Tiğānīya.126

  • 127 Bobboyi 1992, 143; Osuntokun 1979, 152; Last 1996, 640.

39In twentieth-century Northern Nigeria, the Qādirīya was the most popular brotherhood. However, the Tiğānīya, Šāḏilīya and Sanūsiya brotherhoods were more popular in Borno.127 In fact, the Qādirīya was associated with the Sokoto former enemy and the political power never favoured one brotherhood over the others. Among these brotherhoods, the Sanūsiya was particularly feared by the colonial powers. Its members, who were supported by the Ottomans, organised resistance and popular unrest against the European advance in the Sahara and Sahel.

  • 128 Crowder 1987, 323-324.
  • 129 Ahmida 2008, 304; Slight 2014.
  • 130 Kimba 2003, 195-197.
  • 131 Ibid., 191.
  • 132 Vaughan 2015, 58-61.
  • 133 Crowder 1987, 311; Vaughan 2015, 62-67.
  • 134 Favre 2008, 299-300.
  • 135 Archives Nationales du Niger, Niamey, 2.7.2; Mangeot 1930, 479-482; Kimba 2003, 207.

40During the First World War, the Sanūsi engaged their forces mainly towards the North, in Libya and Egypt,128 where they led an offensive against British from Cyrenaica and Fezzan.129 However, several armed movements were inspired by the military success of the Sanūsiya in Fezzan, Cyrenaica and Tibesti. In 1916, a revolt occurred in Aïr, a French territory, in a difficult ecological and economical context.130 This revolt, known as the “Kawousan War,” seriously challenged the French presence in nowadays Niger: the military post at Agadez was under siege for about 80 days from 13 December 1916 to 3 March 1917, and the war continued in the Aïr region until 1920.131 In the east, the British governor of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Wingate took advantage of the war by setting up a hostile policy against ‘Alī Dīnār, the sultan of Darfur.132 The latter raised troops in what sounded like a positive answer to the Ottoman call for jihad, threatening British and French positions in the Sahel. British forces coming from Sudan defeated him in February 1916.133 A year later in Wadai, the French killed the military chief Dokom and his followers as well as many Muslim authorities, fearing a Sanūsi rebellion.134 Several documents show that contact existed between the Ottomans, the Germans and the leaders of these movements. In Agades, the French found a letter written by the Tuareg leader Kawousan in October 1916. He stated that the Germans and the Turks had to join forces at Kano with the columns coming down from Tripolitania.135

  • 136 Both French and British authorities were aware of population movements between the two sides of the (...)
  • 137 Kimba 2003, 200.
  • 138 Osuntokun 1979, 160.

41In fact, British officers feared that the Kawousan movement would inspire Muslim populations in Nigeria, on the other side of the colonial frontier:136 Tagama, a leader of the Kawousan war, was a Tuareg who lived part of his life in Borno and traded with Kano.137 Between February and March 1917, some armed elements of the Kawousan rebels fled to Nigeria and remained in Hadejia and some other towns near the border, without fearing the British reaction.138

  • 139 Ibid., 152.
  • 140 Osuntokun even says they considered him as their ‘sultan’ (Ibid., 231); The partition of the rest o (...)
  • 141 Ibid., 147.

42The Sanūsiya was influent in northern Nigeria and was considered as a threat for colonial authorities.139 We have seen that Borno Shehus had contacts with the Sanūsiya before the First World War. However, while Shehu Sanda Mandara armed them against the French before the war, Garbai chose the Franco-British side. In return of his support against the Sanūsi in Chad and Niger, the French accepted to reunite Borno under British rule in 1916: subjects in Kanem, Borno, Wadai and Ennedi still considered the Borno Shehu as a strong moral authority.140 The British also compromised and accepted to extend Garbai’s power. In 1915, in response to several revolts in Potsikum and Dambam area, the colonial authorities provided guns to the native administration police in Kano and Maiduguri for the first time since the beginning of colonisation.141 On the one hand, this shows that the British trusted Garbai, on the other hand, it sheds light on the British reliance on native authorities in northern Nigeria.

  • 142 See Aḥmad ibn Furṭū and Lange 1987; Vikør 1999; Dewière 2015.

43Here again, we can analyse Garbai’s choice to support the British in light of precolonial history. In fact, the regions where Sanūsi-inspired revolts occurred were historically hostile to Borno. During the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, Wadai was challenging the Bornoan authority in Kanem and Baguirmi, and Borno authorities had already requested help from the Ottomans against them. In the 1890s, Rabah came from the east across Darfur, Wadai and Baguirmi before expelling the Kanemi from Borno. The opposition between Aïr and Borno sultanates is even older, as they regularly were at war since the sixteenth century for the control of Saharan salt.142 The Bornoan rulers did not have any interest to see a Tuareg or a Wadai army at their doors, especially if they had pro-Ottoman sympathies.

  • 143 Osuntokun 1979, 147.
  • 144 Ibid., 146.
  • 145 Barth 1857, 201; Hiribarren 2017, 36.

44Revolts and general unrest agitated Borno and its neighbours in Northern Nigeria. In January 1915, a former native chief of Potsikum captured the city.143 Meanwhile, the local sarkin (chief) of Dambam expelled the British from the city. In May 1915, the revolts propagated in Fika, Katagum and Biu.144 In 1917, the Tuareg occupied the region between Nguru and Hadejia. Were these revolts really domestic? If we take into consideration the colonial boundaries, yes. However, the map of the spatial repartition of these riots against the British and native authorities reveals other political dynamics. Figure 3 shows violence, both internal and external, that occurred in the context of the First World War in and around Borno, including the Kawousan wars, the Mandara campaign against Germany, and the “local” revolts in Nigerian Borno. It reveals that all the violence was on the margins of the former Borno sultanate. These regions were the no man’s land between the Islamic states of Sokoto and Borno. The unrests that occurred in the context of the First World War were still spatially situated on the basis of pre-colonial boundaries. “Borno proper”145 was not concerned by the violence, even on the frontier between British and German Borno. In fact, in Kamerun, the Germans decided to leave the plains in order to organise their defence in the Mandara Mountains, again in the Borno margins.

Figure 3: Revolts in the region of Borno during the First World War

  • 146 Lavers 1994, 236-238. Already in the 1880s, the Bima hills were a Mahdist settlement that hosted th (...)

45Actually, the regions where unrests broke out during the First World War had already been places of refuge for rebels or political opponents in Borno in the past. In 1893, after Rābiḥ’s invasion of Borno, the Kanemi dynasty went on exile between Zinder, Kano and Diffa, where we find Hadejia, Katagum and Nguru. In 1900-1901, after the death of Rābiḥ, his son Faḍl Allah chose the Bima hills, between Fika and Biu, as a retreat place in front of French forces that supported the Kanemi in Dikwa in order to prepare a counter attack.146

  • 147 Dewière 2017.
  • 148 Seignobos 2015, 93.
  • 149 Higazi and Brisset-Foucault 2013, 148.
  • 150 We can notice that the Nguru area is not concerned by Boko Haram’s attacks.

46In the sixteenth century, these areas were already a place of resistance against the central state of Borno. Thanks to the narrative of an imam from the 1570s, Aḥmad b. Furṭū, it is possible to map the regions where Sultan Idrīs b. ‘Alī (1564-1596) waged his wars against Borno’s enemies, between 1564 and 1578.147 Aïr, the Mandara Mountains, a part of the Ngizim country and the Bedde country, especially between Nguru and Katagum, were the places of resistance and rebellion against the Borno sultanate. In general, the margins of the Borno sultanate have been used to foment rebellions by successive groups in the recent past. The relationship between the long history of these margins and local geography would need to be explored more systemically without any form of determinism, but it is remarkable that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the margins of Borno became again a refuge for the Islamic sect Boko Haram, after their movement was violently expelled from Maiduguri in 2009. Since 2013, they established their bases in the Sambisa forest, the Mandara Mountains, the Komadugu Yobe on the Niger/Nigeria frontier, and Lake Chad.148 Actually, while a large part of their members were coming from Borno and Maiduguri, Boko Haram was particularly popular in Potiskum, Damaturu, Bauchi, Biu, Damboa and Gwoza hills, and in the vicinity of the Mandara Mountains.149 To a certain extent, the First World War locations of violence are still fertile ground for military opposition to Bornoan central power.150

Conclusion

47This chapter argued that the study of the First World War in Africa should not be limited to the mere description of battles between European powers on a different theatre. Too frequently, the history of the First World War in Africa is only described as the transposition of European rivalries on an African stage. Instead of fighting in trenches, European enemies were supposed to battle in more exotic landscapes such as the oases of Cyrenaica or the jungles of East Africa. Rather than only focusing on European rivalries in Africa, this chapter suggested that the First World War should also be analysed as a series of localised conflicts in the contexts of Borno, Nigeria, the Sahel and the Sahara. Moreover, the First World War in central Sahel was, in many respects, the continuity of the precolonial geopolitics.

48The long history of the region should be carefully considered as it would be impossible to understand the conquest of German Cameroon by British and French troops without analysing the long history of Borno and its peripheral regions, from Istanbul to the Mandara Mountains. The rejection of the Ottoman call for jihad is the last episode of a long and tumultuous relationship between Borno and Istanbul. At a local level, Shehu Garbai would have faced numerous opponents who used the margins of Borno as their retreat base, with or without the British. The weakening of British colonial rule during the First World War gave marginalised political actors the opportunity to challenge the power balance in the region. However, these initiatives all failed, as they lacked both internal and external support. In alliance with the British, the Shehu of Borno managed to assert his own authority by supporting the war effort against the Germans. In Borno and Nigeria, the First World War was also a local struggle for power with strong Sahelian and Saharan dimensions. Arguing that the global meets the local is nothing new. The letter written by the Shehu of Borno in 1914 perfectly illustrates the connection between the different dimensions of European colonial rule in Africa whether they be religious or political, trans-Saharan or trans-Sahelian.

  • 151 Harrison 1988, 118-120.
  • 152 Garba 1994, 81-88.
  • 153 For a longer discussion on this collaboration see Hiribarren 2013, 77-98.

49The letter which was the main focus of this chapter is not unique in Africa. The main argument used by the Shehu of Borno – belonging to the maliki school of law – to justify his opposition to the Ottoman Sultan is very close to the ideas contained in letters written by other West African Muslim authorities in French colonies.151 However, the geographical and political position of the Bornoan rulers, in particular their close relations with the Ottomans and their situation within the British Empire, gave a particular dimension to the letter. Particularly notable is the debate on Islamic legal schools in the Ottoman Empire and its neighbours. The Shehu of Borno’s moral authority went beyond the borders of colonial Nigeria and was directly exerted over the Muslim populations of northern Cameroon. Obtaining the endorsement of such an important figure might have been necessary to obtain the approval, or at least neutrality, of the local populations after the conquest of Dikwa. Of course, it might never be possible to determine to what extent the British resident in Borno, Captain Upton Fitz Herbert Ruxton, was holding the hand of the Shehu when the latter sent his letter to Lugard on 18 November 1914. However, it is worth noting that the Shehu was no longer dealing with W. P. Hewby, the previous resident of Borno with whom he had an execrable relationship.152 The arrival of a new resident and the beginning of the war might have been an opportunity for Shehu Garbai to acquire a new form of autonomy. It is true that the legal argument contained in the letter must have been a convenient pretext to justify war against the Germans and the Ottomans. Indeed, the Shehu might have been forced to affix his seal to the letter. The letter, however, could be the result of his own agency and it is most probable that Shehu Garbai saw the war against the Germans as an opportunity for the reunification of Borno under his authority. Whether or not the resident was behind the Shehu’s actions remains to be proven but this chapter demonstrates the strength of the pragmatic alliance between the British colonising power and the local elite. Once again, this argument is not new but the joint-venture between the British and the Bornoan elite was justified and expressed in religious and legal terms.153

  • 154 For very precise details about the negotiations, see Yearwood 1995, 25-45.
  • 155 Stratchan 2004, 59.
  • 156 Yearwood 1993, 227.

50Another consequence of the First World War was the redrawing of the borders in the Lake Chad area.154 Rapidly agreed upon during the war, the 1916 borders largely influenced the negotiations after the war, in 1919. The First World War provided the opportunity for the reunification of Borno. It was agreed that the British should obtain the German province of Borno, but that the Mandara Mountains would go to the French.155 Although the British acquired “German Borno,” this change of border was also considered a reward for the Shehu for his support during the conflict.156 Shehu Garbai’s choice to reject the Ottoman call for jihad proved to be a fruitful political gamble. His letter revealed the legal arguments by which he justified his strategic policy, but also the continuity of Bornoan politics in the region. Only by studying Borno’s history can we understand how the borders were reconfigured at the end of the First World War.

51Borno and its rather well documented precolonial history might seem exceptional and research would need to be undertaken to understand how the global politics of the First World War intersected with local politics in this part of Africa. Clearly, the potential of such an approach is remarkable as the long history of political margins of precolonial African polities can directly inform our analysis of global conflicts.

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Notes

1 Letter from Emir of Bornu to His Excellency the Governor General of Nigeria,’ 18 Nov. 1914, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 77 (10 for the translation and 11-12 for the original document), ‘Letters from Chiefs and Emirs, Northern Nigeria (originals and translations), 1900-1919,’ Weston Library, Oxford.

2 In this chapter, we will use the name Garbai. For a biography of Garbai, see Tukur 1989, 43-80 or Tukur 2016, 37-38.

3 On the Kanemi dynasty, see Brenner 1973.

4 France and the United Kingdom declared war to the Ottoman Empire on 5 Nov. 1914.

5 See the text and its translation below.

6 Perham 1960.

7 In 2014, the collections of manuscripts from Rhodes House were transferred to the Weston Library (formerly known as the New Bodleian) on Broad Street, Oxford.

8 Smith and Bull 1991, 1.

9 Ibn Ḥafṣā was not the only scribe of Garbay: another letter, dated 3rd Oct. 1914, was written by Šaṭṭīma 'Alī Kusta (‘Letters from Chiefs and Emirs, Northern Nigeria (originals and translations), 1900-1919’, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 77-53, Weston Library, Oxford).

10 This paper was produced in Italy and quite common in West Africa in the nineteenth century. See Bloom 2008 and Walz 2011, 88.

11 Bivar 1968, 7 and Bondarev 2006, 120.

12 The dimensions are 3.3x3.2 cm.

13 ما شاء الله كل عبده الشيخ بكر بن الشيخ إبراهيم الكانم السلطان عام 1333

14 The text forms a square of 14.5x14.5 cm.

15 The oldest original letter from Borno still available today is located in the archives of the University of Ibadan Library (MSS 82/237). It is dated 17 Rabi‘ al-awwal 1223 (13 May 1808), and was written by Muhammad al-Kanemi to Goni Mukhtar, the leader of the jihad forces in Borno. This letter was translated by Brenner 1973, 39-41. The oldest Bornoan letter that was edited is from 1823 (National Archives, CO 2/13, vol. 2, f. 347r). Edition and translation found in Lockhart and Lovejoy 2005, 452-453.

16 Osuntokun 1979 and Crowder 1987, 307-38.

17 Prescott 1971; Digre 1990; Yearwood 1990, 316-341; Yearwood 1993, 218-244; Yearwood 1994, 36-42.

18 Hiribarren 2017.

19 Hiribarren 2017, 87.

20أنا أمير برنوا وقد إعطاني السلطان إنقليز حكماً’ (I am ’amīr of Barnūwā and the Sultan of Inqlīz (English) gave me power), MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 77-53.

21 Minawi 2016.

22 Translation by Rémi Dewière. This translation is clearer than the English translation that can be found with the original letter. See ‘Letter from Emir of Bornu to His Excellency the Governor General of Nigeria,’ 18 Nov. 1914, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 77 (10 for the translation).

23 غمنه لغات, Lord Lugard (Ġamanh Luġāt).

24 Captain Upton Fitz Herbert Ruxton in Nov. 1914.

25 أمير إسطنبول, The Sultan of Istanbul (’amīr ’Isṭanbūl).

26 The Prince of England (’amīr ’Inġlīz).

27 جامن, The Germans (Ǧāman).

28 جافن, The Germans (Ǧāfan).

29 18 Nov. 1914.

30 From Hassan al-Wazzan (Leo Africanus) to the consuls of Tripoli, many authors wrote about the Sultanate of Borno.

31 Hornemann 1802.

32 Lockhart 1996; Barth 1857.

33 Nachtigal, Fisher and Fisher, 1974. On European travellers in Central Sahel, see Brenner 1973, Kanya-Forstner and Lovejoy 1994, 7-14; Kanya-Forstner and Lovejoy 1997; Lefebvre 2015.

34 Hiribarren 2017, 46.

35 For more information about the French colonial policy see Newbury and Kanya-Forstner 1969, 253-276. See also Persell 1983.

36 Flint 1960, 171-172; Hiribarren 2017, 47.

37 Minawi 2016, 68.

38 Ibid., 69.

39 Koloğlu 2007, 79.

40 Koloğlu 2007, 101.

41 For the Ottoman presence in Sahara see Vikør 1999, 250-268.

42 Crowder 1987, 313.

43 Hiribarren 2017, 59.

44 Salmon and Worsfold 1918, 148.

45 In fact, in the beginning of the twentieth century, Ottoman interests were “so weak that the mere assertion of local or regional opposition was enough to put them off the prospect.” See Vikør 1999, 259.

46 Hiribarren 2017, 67.

47 Ibid., 66; Gardner 2016, 102-103.

48 Hallam 1977, 126-133; see the reasons behind the choice of Dikwa in Mohammed 2006, 51-52.

49 Tukur 1989, 43.

50 Hiribarren 2017, 62; Ikime 1977.

51 Tukur 1989, 44.

52 Ibid., 45.

53 Ibid., 46.

54 For a while, the British supported Rābiḥ’s son Faḍl Allah (Telegram. The officer Administering the Government of Northern Nigeria to Chamberlain, 5 August 1901, National Archives, Kew, FO 2/675, 15). However, after Faḍl Allah’s death in November 1901, they offered their support to the Kanemi dynasty. Ibid., 50.

55 Coquery-Vidrovitch 2015, 106-108.

56 Tukur 1989, 50.

57 Ibid., 54.

58 Ibid., 74.

59 G. Tomlinson, ‘Report on Dikoa,’ 20 June 1916, National Archives, Kew, FO 371/2859, 9.

60 Lavers 1994, 232-233.

61 Osuntokun 1979, 231. It is astonishing, considering that the French named him Shehu of Dikwa.

62 Hiribarren 2017, 88.

63 Dominik 1908, 168.

64 Matthews 1987, 97-98.

65 Osuntokun 1979, 143. In a letter to Lord Lugard, Garbai wrote: “I have assisted the Resident with all that has been required, horses, donkeys, bullocks, carriers and corn, and everything that he asked for. The Resident told me that we know that Governor Lugard wants money for this war. I remember that last February I gave him £ 4000 for schools, public works and sanitation etc. I should like the destination of this money to be changed and given for the war.” (Oxford, Weston Library, MSS. Brit. Emp s. 77-053, Letter from Shehu Bukar Garbai to Governor Lugard, 3 Oct. 1914.)

66 Osuntokun 1979, 187.

67 Tomlinson’s report, 1916, 10. There was a minor incident in Dikwa reported in Arthur Lees’s diary on 18 Aug. 1914 (Robinson 2010, 3).

68 Stratchan 2004, 34.

69 For more information about the Mandara Mountains during the First World War, see the website created by Gerhard Müller-Kosack, http://www.mandaras.info, accessed on 12 Sep. 2017.

70 Crowder 1987, 314.

71 Ibid., 314; Osuntokun 1979, 139-166; Nigeria Annual Report for 1915 (Lagos: Government Printer, 1917), 23.

72 “Many Moslem northerners resisted military service because they believed that ‘fighting in East Africa’ meant killing Moslem brothers in the mid-East,” Matthews 1987, 107.

73 It is unlikely that Ottoman agents were operating in Borno territory, even though Palmer states the contrary (Osuntokun 1979, 150-151; National Archives, CO 583/63/14783, Palmer to Lugard, 2 Mar. 1917). The Ottoman agents in Africa were mainly in Libya (Yiğit 2014, 160).

74 Osuntokun 1979, 149. These letters are in the British National Archives, CO 583/30/7842 and CO 583/34/34607.

75 Osuntokun 1979, 150; Rogan 2015, 299-301.

76 Lange 1977, 68.The Sayfawa dynasty previously ruled Kanem, in present-day Chad.

77 Dewière 2013.

78 Coquery-Vidrovitch 2015, 106-108.

79 Between 1711 and 1835, Tripoli was ruled by the Qaramānlī, who were independent from the Ottomans. Before, the pachas of Tripoli had a large autonomy from Istanbul.

80 Nachtigal, Fisher and Fisher 1974, 183.

81 Ibid., 183-184.

82 About the Sanūsiya, see Triaud, 1995.

83 Triaud 1995, 11.

84 Triaud 1996, 8.

85 Lovejoy and Baier 1975, 551.

86 This drought was considered “the worst since eighteenth century”, cf. Lovejoy and Baier 1975, 570.

87 Lovejoy and Baier 1975, 575.

88 Ross 2011, 30.

89 See Mukhtar 2000.

90 Osuntokun 1979, 139.

91 Gürkan 2010; Işıksel 2013, 375-82.

92 Dewière 2012b, 383-393.

93 Bradford Martin read Q.rān (قران) instead of F.zān (فزان). However, he recognises that the term “q-r-ā-n” might be a scribal error for “f-z-ā-n” (Martin 1972, 477).

94 Martin 1972, 478.

95 In the 1630s-1640s, the Tripoli authorities tried to conquer the Fezzan oases several times, see Froment de Champlagarde and Blondy 2001, 47-48; Koloğlu 2007, 52.

96 Féraud 1927, 106.

97 Koloğlu 2007, 61; Lyon 1966, 4.

98 Zeltner 1997, 102-103.

99 Bradford 1983, 568.

100 Abun-Nasr 1999, 200-201.

101 Denham and Bovill (eds) 1966, II, 9-10, quoting Warrington to Bathurst, 5 Aug. 1820 [FO 76/14]; Lockhart and Lovejoy 2005, 19 n. 43.

102 Palmer 1967, II, 47; Dewière 2012b, 391.

103 Gwarzo 1968, 57.

104 Martin 1962, 363-365; Gwarzo 1968, 55-57; Hodgkin 1973, 20-21, Dewière 2015, f. 430.

105 Bobboyi 1993, 53.

106 Nicolson 1942, 15-16; Monnet 2012, 366; Aigle 2008, 133.

107 Dewière 2015, f. 383-385.

108 Morrocan Sultan Aḥmad al-Manṣūr used this argument against the Ottomans in the 1580s, cf. Mouline 2009, 67.

109 Palmer 1932, 127-128; Dewière 2014a, 441; Dewière 2015, f. 174.

110 Dewière 2014b, 89.

111 We have learned that the Turkish Sultan has embraced the cause of Germany against France. We condemn this act for we are attached to France […] Furthermore, the Turkish Sultan does not know us. He is not our chief. He is an usurper. Nor did our ancestors have any relationship with him. They knew only the Sultan of Morocco”, cf. Harrison 1988, 120.

112 Tucker 2005, accessed on 12 Sep. 2017.

113 Burak 2015, 10.

114 Burak, Ibid., 3; Apellániz 2016, 636.

115 Pearson 2000, 48-49; Reichmuth, 2000, 429.

116 Baker and Pennel (eds) 1989, 31.

117 Ibn Nāṣar, A., Al-Riḥlat al-Naṣiriyyat, 2 t., Fès, 1320 AH/1902. El-Jetti, Mohammed, ‘Tripoli dans les récits des voyageurs marocains aux XVIIe et XVIIe siècles,’ presentation during the workshop Tripoli, port de mer, port de désert, University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, 25-26 Nov. 2011.

118 Udovitch 1970a, 291; Udovitch 1970b, 230.

119 Many riots occurred in the South, especially in Igboland, Osuntokun 1971, 174-181. This article will only deal with the Borno area.

120 Osuntokun 1979, 150-151; National Archives, CO 583/63/14783, Palmer to Lugard, 2 Mar. 1917.

121 Osuntokun 1979, 139, 144, 148, 153, 224, 232.

122 Even if this article is more concerned by their political dimension, Sufi brotherhoods can be both doctrinal and political. For a better insight, see Trimingham 1998; Hannoum 2016.

123 See Dewière 2014b; García-Arenal 2012, 52; Hamès 2005; Dewière 2012a, 39-54.

124 Dewière 2015, f. 377-378.

125 Batran 1996, 585.

126 Piga 2006, 256-257.

127 Bobboyi 1992, 143; Osuntokun 1979, 152; Last 1996, 640.

128 Crowder 1987, 323-324.

129 Ahmida 2008, 304; Slight 2014.

130 Kimba 2003, 195-197.

131 Ibid., 191.

132 Vaughan 2015, 58-61.

133 Crowder 1987, 311; Vaughan 2015, 62-67.

134 Favre 2008, 299-300.

135 Archives Nationales du Niger, Niamey, 2.7.2; Mangeot 1930, 479-482; Kimba 2003, 207.

136 Both French and British authorities were aware of population movements between the two sides of the border in order to avoid, among others, forced recruitments, cf. Matthews 1987, 100-101.

137 Kimba 2003, 200.

138 Osuntokun 1979, 160.

139 Ibid., 152.

140 Osuntokun even says they considered him as their ‘sultan’ (Ibid., 231); The partition of the rest of German Kamerun led to tensions between Paris and London.

141 Ibid., 147.

142 See Aḥmad ibn Furṭū and Lange 1987; Vikør 1999; Dewière 2015.

143 Osuntokun 1979, 147.

144 Ibid., 146.

145 Barth 1857, 201; Hiribarren 2017, 36.

146 Lavers 1994, 236-238. Already in the 1880s, the Bima hills were a Mahdist settlement that hosted the discontent to the Sokoto Caliphate, cf. Lovejoy and Hogendorn 1990, 226.

147 Dewière 2017.

148 Seignobos 2015, 93.

149 Higazi and Brisset-Foucault 2013, 148.

150 We can notice that the Nguru area is not concerned by Boko Haram’s attacks.

151 Harrison 1988, 118-120.

152 Garba 1994, 81-88.

153 For a longer discussion on this collaboration see Hiribarren 2013, 77-98.

154 For very precise details about the negotiations, see Yearwood 1995, 25-45.

155 Stratchan 2004, 59.

156 Yearwood 1993, 227.

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1: European claims in Africa (1890-1917)
URL http://books.openedition.org/cfee/docannexe/image/1252/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 780k
Légende Figure 2: O'Neil, 1919, p. 62. The dashed line shows the itinerary of the British troops. The arrows represent the French movements.
URL http://books.openedition.org/cfee/docannexe/image/1252/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 376k
Légende Figure 3: Revolts in the region of Borno during the First World War
URL http://books.openedition.org/cfee/docannexe/image/1252/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 463k

Auteurs

Post-doctoral researcher in EHESS–Centre Alexandre Koyré, Institut des Mondes Africains, Paris, France, remi.dewiere@orange.fr.

Lecturer in Modern African History, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom, vincent.hiribarren@kcl.ac.uk.

© Centre français des études éthiopiennes, 2018

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540