The Journal of African History

Research Article

Plantations in the Economy of the Sokoto Caliphate

Paul E. Lovejoya1

a1 York University, Toronto

At a time when coastal West Africa was responding to the growth of ‘legitimate’ trade, the Sokoto Caliphate was experiencing dramatic expansion in the plantation sector. Plantations (gandu, rinji, tungazi), which used slaves captured by the Caliphate armies, were established near all the major towns and were particularly important around Sokoto, Kano, Zaria and other capitals. Plantation development originated with the policies of Muhammad Bello, first Caliph and successor to Uthman dan Fodio, who was concerned with the consolidation and defence of the empire. Besides promoting the economic growth of the capital districts of Sokoto and Gwandu, Bello's policy encouraged the expansion of the textile belt in southern Kano and northern Zaria. Similarly, the desert-side market in grain also benefited from the emphasis on plantations. The result was the greater integration of the Central Sudan region into a single economic zone. The role of plantations in the economy differed from that of plantations elsewhere in the world. Market forces tended to be weaker, and no single export crop dominated production. Rather, the orientation towards the desert-side sector indicates that opportunities for expansion were limited, while the importance of textile manufacturing reflects the relatively weak links with European and other textile production. Other differences included a system of Islamic slavery which encouraged emancipation, a close connexion with slave raiding and distribution, and a system of land tenure which often resulted in fragmented holdings. Stronger links with the world economy did develop in parts of the Caliphate towards the end of the nineteenth century. Nupe and Yola were drawn more closely into the world market through the greater use of the Niger and Benue rivers, but these changes only marginally affected the wider Caliphate economy.