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,
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.