Recent archaeological, historical, and anthropological literature on the development of social and political complexity in Africa challenges older models of state formation that once informed the understanding of medieval Sahelian empires such as Songhay. We now know that there were multiple paths to complexity that did not necessarily lead to state formation, and that there was a heterarchical distribution of power in many African political formations. Despite this, the historiography of pre-colonial states in Sahelian West Africa, and of the role of Islam in these political formations, retains an attachment to a particular model of statehood derived from Arabic geographies and chronicles. Emphasis continues to be placed on military power and a largely ambivalent relationship between Islam and indigenous forms of authority. In this article, I offer a reinterpretation of the exercise and rhetoric of sovereignty in imperial Songhay by focusing on some of the ways in which Islamic authority was claimed and contested by its rulers. I argue that Songhay rulers claimed a religious authority that far outstripped their coercive power. Instead of an ambivalent relationship between the Muslim religious estate and secular power, Islamic religious authority was the principal basis of Songhay rulers’ claims to extensive power.
This is an annotated translation of ten letters with an introduction.
co-authored with Yacine Daddi Addoun. This is an annotated translation of ten Arabic letters written by, or sent to, slaves in the nineteenth-century Sahara.
This is an exercise in contemporary history that aims to give a comprehensive background and analysis to the 2012 political crisis in Mali, generated by the start of a new Tuareg nationalist uprising against the state, complemented by a coordinated attack on the state by both international (AQIM) and local Jihadi–Salafi movements, leading to a coup d’état against the incumbent President Touré, and finally a political stalemate of great concern to the international community.
This is a collective article that gathered together eight scholars of Mali to try to shed light on fast-moving current events in Mali.