Caliphate of Hamdullahi (Massina Empire)

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In North West Africa, the vast wilderness of the Sahara runs into the tropical rainforests of Benin and Burkina Faso. And it is in this region, that some of Africa’s greatest empires flourished. Among them was the Songhai Empire, as well as the earlier Mali Empire, whose rulers included Mansa Musa – who flushed with gold – was reportedly the wealthiest man in history. By the early 19th century, the Bambara Empire controlled much of the territory that is in today’s Mali. But from the Southwest, a new force emerged, a man named Ahmad Lobbu who forged not just a new empire but what came to be known as the Caliphate of Hamdullahi. An Islamic and jihadist state, it was one of the last powerful empires in the region before the scramble for Africa beginning in 1881 saw almost the entire continent fall under colonial rule.

It’s an area of the world and era of history that is often overlooked in the West. But Professor Mauro Nobili author of Sultan, Caliph, and the Renewer of the Faith: Aḥmad Lobbo, the Tārīkh al-Fattāsh and the Making of an Islamic State in 19th-Century West Africa is a subject matter expert on this period of history. I recently spoke to him about the caliphate and began by picking up from our discussion in a previous episode about the Songhai Empire.

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