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Kanem (känēm´), former empire in Africa in the areas near Lake Chad that are now part of Chad and N Nigeria. The empire began in the 9th cent., when the Sefawa migrated to the area from the Sahara. The rulers eventually embraced Islam and extended their control to neighboring Bornu. After attacks by the Bulalas forced the rulers of Kanem to shift their capital to Bornu (c.1380), Bornu gradually emerged as the center of a revitalized empire of which Kanem became a protectorate.