Diplomatic Correspondence between Muhammad al-Kanami and Muhammad Bello

(1810–1812)

The diplomatic correspondence between Muhammad Bello of Sokoto and Shehu al-Hajj Muhammad al-Amin ibn Muhammad al-Kanami of Kanem-Borno,  two Muslim leaders of nineteenth-century West Africa, was a result of conflict between their two nations. Bello was ruler of the Sokoto Caliphate, a newly created Islamic empire in what is now northern Nigeria, and al-Kanami was an adviser to the ruling class of Kanem-Borno, an ancient Islamic empire formed around Lake Chad. Bello felt that Sokoto was justified in attacking Kanem-Borno, while al-Kanami tried to point out the inconsistencies and hypocrisy in Sokoto’s justification for war. To understand the content of these letters better, we need to examine the formation of the Sokoto Caliphate.

The Sokoto Caliphate took root in 1804 when a group of Muslim Fulani (a pastoral people who live throughout the savanna belt of West Africa) initiated a jihad under the leadership of Usuman dan Fodio against the city-state of Gobir, in Hausaland...