Mai Idris Alooma

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Mai Idris Alooma

Reigned circa 1570-circa 1600-1617

Ruler of bornu


Great Leader. Idris Ali, who was posthumously named Idris Alooma, was the greatest mai (ruler) of the kingdom of Bornu in the eastern-most part of West Africa. Much is known about Alooma’s military exploits, because Ahmad ibn Fartuwa, the chief religious leader of Bornu, wrote elaborate accounts of his military campaigns.

Military Innovator. Like several other rulers of his time, Alooma was pre-occupied with military conquest and the territorial expansion of his domain, and he took several steps to enhance the professional competence of his military. He established a new military corps equipped with firearms and trained by Turkish instructors. He furnished his cavalrymen chain mail, quilted armor, and iron helmets and introduced a cavalry of camels as a transportation unit of the army. He also built larger boats for naval use. He repeatedly attacked a particular target to break down the defenders’ resistance and morale while maintaining the morale of his own men with generous distribution of war booty.

Administration. Although his military prowess tends to overshadow his other accomplishments, Alooma was also a skilled administrator and a gifted diplomat. He carried out many reforms of the Bornu administrative system and separated the judiciary from the main bureaucracy. He created a court of appeals to review the judgments of lower courts. Alooma’s strategy for preventing the rebellion of conquered groups was a combination of mass expulsion and immigration. He changed the demographic profile of his empire by driving out recalcitrant groups and encouraging or forcing new groups from outside Bornu to settle in those areas. He also encouraged intermarriage between his subjects and women of conquered territories.

Diplomacy. Alooma established diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire, sending emissaries who extracted from the emperor a guarantee of security of life and property of Bornu travelers in Ottoman territory. He solicited the cooperation of the Ottoman ruler on a joint strategy to deal with the menace of Tuareg raids on trans-Saharan caravans.

Islamic Proselytizer. A devout Muslim, Alooma built many brick mosques in several parts of Bornu and enhanced the Islamic judicial system by appointing qualified judges to administer the law. He encouraged his subjects to fulfill their Muslim obligation to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca. The impact of Alooma’s policies on pilgrimage can be deduced from the fact that his grandson, Mai Ali, made three pilgrimages to Mecca, taking thousands of Bornu pilgrims each time.


Ahmad ibn Fartuwa, History of the First Twelve Years of the Reign of Mai Idris, Alooma of Bornu, 1571-1583, translated by H. R. Palmer (London: Cass, 1970).

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