Academic journal article African Economic History

Big Is Sometimes Best: The Sokoto Caliphate and Economic Advantages of Size in the Textile Industry1

Academic journal article African Economic History

Big Is Sometimes Best: The Sokoto Caliphate and Economic Advantages of Size in the Textile Industry1

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Sokoto Caliphate, established following the 1804 jihad led by Shehu dan Fodio, was the largest single polity in nineteenth century sub-Saharan Africa.1 Considerable economic benefits derived from its very size, and some of these benefits were passed on to producers and consumer's throughout the Caliphate and even far beyond, although those who launched the jihad, probably did not have any of these concerns in mind at the time. As the textile industry was one of the most important industries in the Sokoto Caliphate, the size of the Caliphate had enormous economic advantages for the producers of indigo-dyed textiles and for those involved in the textile trade. It brought various cloth producers from very different traditions within the Caliphate together, while also bringing different textile traditions from outside into a new intimacy with these groups. Thus, the quality of cloth improved and the variety increased for textiles produced within the Caliphate as the nineteenth century progressed. The producers of textiles were very quick to realize some of the advantages of the new mega state for their own livelihood. In this paper, I argue that the actual quality of the textiles produced within the Caliphate definitely improved as the nineteenth century progressed, and that this improved quality was accompanied by an increase in a greater variety of different kinds and qualities of cloth which were made available. Furthermore, this expansion in textile production had the added advantage of making textiles which were increasingly cheap and therefore somewhat easier for more individuals to obtain.

Hausa, Nupe and Yoruba textile traditions predated the jihad by centuries,3"' and each of these traditions is still very much alive.' It might be argued, therefore, that the jihad and the resultant Sokoto Caliphate did not have much impact on these very important textile traditions. However, during the nineteenth century, the Sokoto Caliphate brought these various producers from very different traditions together in one single polity, and they benefited enormously from cross fertilization which came about from the movement of producers and products from one part of the Caliphate to another. For example, the jihad brought different textile traditions into the Caliphate in a new intimacy with the major weaving and dyeing groups within the Caliphate, and these included, most notably, the Kanuri and the Tuareg.

The analysis here is based on neo-classical economics, as it seems increasingly clear that the leaders of the Sokoto Caliphate and its constituent emirates, of which the Kano Emirate was one, demonstrated remarkably clear understanding of basic economic facts over the years, and they used the power of the state to advance their interests (through fiscal and other state directed policies). This approach to the economics of West Africa is now fairly standard. The argument here is that at least some of the economic leaders of the Sokoto Caliphate were well aware of the advantages of size.

The Sokoto Caliphate and Textile Technology

The size of the Caliphate had enormous economic advantages for long distance traders as well as for the producers who supplied them with their trading goods. Large size guaranteed not only good supplies of a variety of raw materials at competitive prices, but it also guaranteed a very large internal market-both in the open market and in the procurement of supplies for the state. External markets were also more easily secured when supported by a powerful and respected state. The supply of labor (both free and slave) was also much more mobile and flexible than would have been possible in a smaller polity. The quality of labor-in the sense of different skills, different technologies, and different tastes-also was an advantage of the megastate.

The textile industry was one of the most important industries in the Sokoto Caliphate in the nineteenth century-arguably second only to agriculture. …

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