The “Most Impressive Monument in West Africa” is Fading away

The ancient defensive walls designed to protect the inhabitants of the ancient city of Kano were built between 1095 through 1134 and completed in the middle of the 14th century. Known in Hausa as the Kofar Na’isa, the Ancient Kano City Walls have been described as “the most impressive monument in West Africa”.

Local archives record that in their original state, the walls were 15 metres (50 feet) high and 12 metres thick at the base, with a broad rampart walk. Surrounding the wall were added trenches several metres deep to further deter would-be invaders as rivalry was commonplace, while access was controlled by 13 large entrance gates. According to historians, the General-Governor of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, Fredrick Lugard, wrote in a 1903 report about the Kano Walls that he had “never seen anything like it in Africa” after capturing the ancient city of Kano along with British forces.

The mud walls have come to define Kano as an ancient city-state, attracting archaeologists’ attention and tourists from across the world, but the city, now home to an estimated 13 million people, is now facing challenges with preserving this cultural heritage.

In between the ancient and modern. Photo courtesy of Kofarnaisa

Houses and commercial buildings have sprung up on demolished sections or turned into dumping grounds for rubbish, litter and sewage from the ever more crowded city. Elsewhere, excavators dig into the fortifications for the red iron and aluminium-rich rock laterite, which is loaded onto donkeys and taken away for use in construction and renovation. What remains of the weakened walls that once stretched 14 kilometres (nine miles) around the city is then prone to crumble at the foundations and collapse when the rains come.

“If you look at the city wall generally, almost 80 percent of it has been destroyed,” the curator of the Gidan Makama Museum in Kano, Mustapha Bachaka, told AFP. The walls no longer mark the city limits. “There is a lot of encroachment,” he added.

As most of the city continues to take a modern and cosmopolitan hue, the mud houses with distinct architectural features and narrow roads that were meant for only men and their domestic animals are gradually being lost. But not everyone appreciates the importance of the move to rehabilitate the walls as there are demands to expand the narrow roads, provide water, and build structures. Recently, it was reported that one of the gates was demolished by a road construction company to pave way for the road expansion and reconstruction.

However, those keen to preserve the walls say the widespread damage can be salvaged if there is funding. Some of the city gates were renovated in 2004 by the German government, and in 2014, by the former Governor of Kano Dr. Musa Kwankwaso. However, little or no progress has been made in the last 10 years.

In 2007, the National Commission for Museums and Monuments submitted a bid to have the walls, the emir’s palace and other places of interest declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Experts fear that securing global protection status is unlikely if they are unable to save the walls from further damage.