The Fashoda Incident

by Guatam Bahl
Class of 1997

The Fashoda Incident, also known as the Fashoda Crisis, was the climatic event caused by years of territorial disputes in Africa, between France and Great Britain. In essence, this European obsession with the African continent began in the 1670s, which ended in partition of the entire continent by 1895. For this reason, the crisis at Fashoda (Kodok) in Egyptian Sudan, on September 18, 1898, proved to be a matter of national honor, with imperialists on both sides figuring out if their dominance of the African continent was at stake.

Since the colonies of both the French and the British were widespread over the continent, both countries wanted to link their respective colonies with a system of railroads. Great Britain wanted to link Uganda to Egypt, by building the "Cape-to-Cairo" railway. France, on the other hand, wanted to extend their empire through Central Africa and Sudan, by pushing eastward from the west coast.

The French wanted holdings stretching from the east coast of Africa to the west coast, controlling the all-important headwaters of the Nile. The British wanted to expand their territory, obviously, but also hoped to establish a railway from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo, a north-to-south railway, through the entire length of the continent. This lead to the confrontation at Fashoda, over an obscure outpost, sought by no general staff.

The French foreign minister, Gabriel Hanotaux, in his attempts to continue French imperialism, sent an expedition of 150 men east to Gabon under Jean-Baptiste Marchand. British forces, too, approached this area, under Sir Herbert Kitchener. Kitchener was looking to re-conquer the Sudan, as the British moved south from Egypt, following the Nile. British soldiers had been entrenched in Egypt since 1882. Eventually, both Marchand and Kitchener and their respective forces reached Fashoda. However, Marchand arrived at Fashoda on July 10, 1898, where he occupied the fort. Kitchener was held up at Omdurman and Khartoum, so his forces did not reach Fashoda for another two months, September 18, 1898.

With both armies wishing to occupy the fort at Fashoda, Kitchener and Marchand agreed that they did not want a military entanglement. Following, they agreed to fly French, English, and Egyptian flags over the fort at Fashoda. For weeks, however, the British and French troops were on the brink of war over the outpost at Fashoda. Theophile Delcasse, the new French foreign minister, realized the implications that the Fashoda crisis could have and was very anxious to gain Britain's support against Germany. So, against public opinion, he decided to concede at Fashoda, allowing the British to occupy the outpost. Another reason Delcasse gave up so easily was the Dreyfus affair, which was the source of great division among the French.

On November 4, 1898, Delcasse instructed Marchand to withdraw from Fashoda. However, Delcasse did continue to push for a string of smaller posts that would have allowed the French to control a corridor to the White Nile. Lord Salisbury, the British foreign secretary, and the prime minister of Britain, rejected France's idea of occupying forts, in hopes of controlling the headwaters of the Nile. Eventually, on March 21, 1899, the French and British governments agreed that the watershed of the Nile and the Congo, respectively, should mark the boundaries between their spheres of influence.

The French sphere became the region west of this watershed, while the British confirmed their position in Egypt, especially important because of the Suez Canal, built in 1869. This "solution" to the Fashoda Crisis led to the 1904 Anglo-French Entente.