Alternative History
Kingdom of Bornu
Timeline: Differently
Flag Emblem
Location of Bornu in Northern Africa
(and largest city)
East Ngazargamu
Official languages Kanuri
Religion Roman Catholic
Government Unitary parliamentary monarchy
 -  Mai Alauma II
 -  Prime Minister Simplice Sarandji
 -  Total 2,826,949 km2 
1,091,491 sq mi 
 -   estimate 50,284,849 
Currency bornu

Bornu, officially the Kingdom of Bornu, is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It borders Central Sahel and Egypt to the north, Ethiopia to the east, Nigeria and Cameroon to the west, French Equator to the southwest, Congo-Kinshasa to the south, and Uganda and Kenya to the southeast. Bornu descends from the medieval Kanem, a prominent kingdom that formed around 700 and was Christianized about a century later.

The capital and largest city is East Ngazargamu, located near the border with Nigeria. Bornu's official and most widely spoken language is Kanuri, which is part of the Nilo-Saharan family.

At 2,826,949 square kilometers, Bornu is the 12th-largest country in the world, ranking fourth in Africa. With over 50 million inhabitants, it ranks 33th among the world's most populous countries and 10th in Africa.

Bornu is a member of the League of Nations.


Formation of Kanem

In its early centuries, the nation was chiefly known as Kanem, which comes from anem, meaning "south" in the Teda and Kanuri languages, and hence a geographic term. It was located at the southern end of the trans-Saharan trade route between Carthage City and the region of Lake Chad (now in located in the Central Sahel). Slaves were imported from the south through this route. Besides its urban elite, it also included a confederation of nomadic peoples who spoke languages of the Teda–Daza (Toubou) group.

During the first millennium, as the Sahara underwent desiccation, people speaking the Kanembu language migrated to Kanem in the south, contributing to the formation of the Kanuri people. Kanuri traditions state the Zaghawa dynasty led a group of nomads called the Magumi. This desiccation of the Sahara resulted in two settlements, those speaking Teda-Daza northeast of Lake Chad, and those speaking Chadic west of the lake in Bornu and Hausa-land.

The origins of the Kingdom of Kanem are unclear. The first historical sources tend to show that it began forming around 700 AD under the nomadic Tebu-speaking Kanembu. The Kanembu were supposedly forced southwest towards the fertile lands around Lake Chad by political pressure and desiccation in their former range. The area already possessed independent, walled city-states belonging to the Sao culture. Under the leadership of the Duguwa dynasty, the Kanembu would eventually dominate the Sao, but not before adopting many of their customs.

Dynastic rule was established over the nomadic Magumi around the 9th or 10th century, through divine kingship. For the next millennium, the Mais (kings) ruled the Kanuri. Kanem is mentioned as one of three great empires in the North African Christian tradition. Living as nomads, their cavalry gave them military superiority. Their king was considered divine, believing he could "bring life and death, sickness and health." Wealth was measured in livestock, sheep, cattle, camels and horses.


Medieval Kanem warriors

Kanuri-speaking Christians from the north gained control of Kanem from the Zaghawa nomads in the 9th century. This included control of the Zaghawa trade links in the central Sahara with Bilma and other salt mines. Yet, the principal trade commodity was slaves. Tribes to the south of Lake Chad were raided because they were considered "heathens" and then transported to Christian towns in western Egypt, where the slaves were traded for horses and weapons. The annual number of slaves traded would increase from 1,000 in the 7th century to 5,000 in the 15th.

Mai Hummay began his reign in 1075, and formed alliances with the Kay, Tubu, Dabir and Magumi. Mai Humai was the first Christian king of Kanem, and was converted by his Orthodox Christian tutor Hanno from Carthage. This dynasty replaced the earlier Zaghawa dynasty and remained nomadic until the 11th century, when they fixed their capital at Nijmi.

Humai's successor, Dunama (1098-1151), visited Jerusalem three times in his lifetime, and his wealth included 100,000 horsemen and 120,000 soldiers.

Kanem's expansion peaked during the long and energetic reign of Mai Dunama Dabbalemi (1210-1259). Dabbalemi initiated diplomatic exchanges with nations in North Africa and even southern Europe, sending a giraffe to King Sancho II of Portugal. During his reign, he declared a crusade against the surrounding "heathen" tribes and initiated an extended period of conquest with his cavalry of 41,000. He fought the Bulala for over 7 years.

Bornu arises

By the end of the 14th century, internal struggles and external attacks had torn Kanem apart. Wars with the So and the Bulala led to the deaths of several Mais. Finally, around 1387 the Bulala forced the last Mai to abandon Njimi and move the Kanembu people to Bornu on the western edge of Lake Chad.

But even in Bornu, the dynasty's troubles persisted. During the first three-quarters of the 15th century, for example, fifteen Mais occupied the throne. Around 1460, Buluma (1473-1507) defeated his rivals and began the consolidation of Bornu. He built a fortified capital at Ngazargamu, to the west of Lake Chad, he first permanent home a mai had enjoyed in a century. So successful was the rejuvenation that by the early 16th century Mai Idris Katakarmabe (1507-1529) was able to defeat the Bulala and retake Njimi, the former capital. The empire's leaders, however, remained at Ngazargamu because its lands were more productive agriculturally and better suited to the raising of cattle.

Mai Idris Alooma

Bornu peaked during the reign of Mai Idris Alooma (c. 1571–1603), reaching the limits of its greatest territorial expansion, gaining control over Hausaland, and the people of Ahir and Tuareg. Peace was made with Bulala, when a demarcation of boundaries was agreed, upon with a non-aggression pact. Military innovations included the use of mounted Byzantine musketeers, slave musketeers, mailed cavalrymen, and footmen. This army was organized into an advance guard and a rear reserve, transported via camel or large boats and fed by free and slave women cooks. Military tactics were honed by drill and organization, supplemented with a scorched earth policy. Fortifications were built on frontiers, and trade routes to the north were secure, allowing the continuation of diplomacy and trade with Carthage, Byzantium, and the Sassanid Empire.

The Lake Chad to Carthage route became an active highway in the 17th century, with horses traded for slaves. About two million slaves traveled this route to be traded in Carthage, then the largest slave market in the Mediterranean. As Martin Meredith states, "Wells along the way were surrounded by the skeletons of thousands of slaves, mostly young women and girls, making a last desperate effort to reach water before dying of exhaustion once there."


Young woman from Bornu, mid 19th century

Most of the successors of Idris Alooma are only known from the meagre information. In the eighteenth century, Bornu was affected by several long-lasting famines. The Principality of Agadez (now Central Sahel) was independently operating the Bilma salt mines by 1750, having been a tributary since 1532.

The administrative reforms and military brilliance of Aluma sustained the empire until the mid-17th century when its power began to fade. By the late 18th century, Bornu rule extended only westward, into the land of the Hausa of modern Nigeria.

The empire was still ruled by the Mai who was advised by his councilors in the state council or "nokena". The members of his Nokena council included his sons and daughters and other royalty (the Maina) and non-royalty (the Kokenawa, "new men").

During the 17th century and 18th centuries, Bornu became a centre for learning. The Kanuri language was widely adopted, while slave raiding propelled the economy.

19th century

In the early 19th century, during the Fulani War, the old city of Ngazargamu was raided by the Hausa and mostly destroyed. Citizens needed to be evacuated until the war was over in 1808 and settled eastward. This new city was called East Ngazargamu and became Bornu's new capital. Although the original city was eventually repopulated, it did not grow to the same size of the new capital.

By the mid-19th century, Bornu has good relations with the neighboring Ethiopian Empire to the east, as well as the more distant countries of Carthage, Byzantium, Spain, and Portugal, which were all united under the Catholic faith. It also maintained peaceful relations with the growing Empire of West Persia.

In the late 19th century, the Scramble for Southern Africa began, and European powers, mainly the French and British, began to establish colonies in the continent. Bornu, although a good ally of European powers, did not express intent of establishing colonies, but neither did it oppose European advances. At that time, the colonies that would later become Central Sahel (France) and Nigeria (Britain) bordered the territory of Bornu. This was ultimately good for Bornu's economy, since trade with the distant powers of Britain and France was now much easier and more accessible. Bornu traded important local information and goods for British and French technology, experiencing a period of modernization that lasted until the late 1900s. Today, many are critic of this and state that Bornu should have fought the colonization of its African brothers instead of allowing and profiting from it.


Alauma II, current Mai (king) of Bornu

The politics of Bornu take place within a framework of a unitary, parliamentary, representative democratic monarchy. The current monarch, Alauma II, is the country's head of state.

The unicameral parliament, called Bornu Assembly, is responsible for passing laws, adopting the state's budgets, and exercising control of the executive government through its elected representative, the Prime Minister - currently Simplice Sarandji.