Sudan Wars

by Jeremy Fonseca
Class of 1997

The Sudan Wars were a series of conflicts in the Sudan part of Africa in the late 19th Century. The conflicts erupted between the British and the Muslims Africans in the Sudan in 1881 because of religious disputes and the British attempt to end the "new" slavery trade. Muslim fundamentalists instigated a rebellion against the British, driving them and their Egyptian armies from Sudan. Britain atoned for the loss in 1898, militarily reclaiming control of the Sudan. Following this engagement, competition between Britain and France for the south of Sudan led to military conflict, ended by diplomatic avenues which partitioned the disputed area. Both events demonstrate the intensifying struggle to control Africa, and the conflict between the European powers in the race of imperialism. This conflict gave rise to the beginning of World War I.

The first of the conflicts, between the British and the Muslim Sudanese, exemplified the dedication of time, resources, and life exerted by the European powers in their race to control Africa and out-do the other European nations. Britain, having assumed control of Egypt in 1882, was presented with the problem of the Egyptian- controlled Sudan, an Islamic land south of Egypt where the Nile's tributaries are located. In a revolt against the increasing Christian influence brought by the British, manifested mainly in an attempt to end the historic Muslim slave trade discovered by Livingstone, led by Muslim Muhammad Ahmad, who claimed to be the "Mahdi" (Muslim messiah delivered to free the followers of Islam from non-believers), Islamic armies battled the British in attempt to create an independent Muslim commonwealth. The Egyptian armies, under British control, were defeated at El Obeid (1883) and Khartoum (1885), and the Sudan was independent until 1898, when the British regained control at Omdurman. These engagements demonstrated the British determination to control Africa in light of tremendous opposition from a native source.

The second conflict of the Sudan Wars exemplified the British resolve to stand fast against another European power of equal determination- France. France controlled African lands in the east, namely Somaliland, and in the west, Senegal. A major French goal was to secure an east-west belt of control between the two possessions. After lending aid to Ethiopia in its defense against Italy, France exercised much control over Ethiopia and used it as a staging ground for exploration into the southern Sudan, namely the upper Nile area, to find a corridor for the belt of influence. This belt of influence conflicted with the British goal of establishing a railway from Cairo to Cape Town, which required a north-south belt of control running through southern Sudan. France, having been deploying General Marchand from French West Africa on missions to "explore" the area, was infringing on the British control of the area. The British deployed their army from Egypt, under the command of Kitchener, and the two armies met at Fashoda in 1898. A full-scale war was averted by diplomatic intervention, which arrived at a settlement to partition the disputed area. Britain received east Sudan with Egypt, while France gained control of the expanse from the Congo Darfur.

The willingness of the European powers to exert such resources into retaining possessions in Africa showed the intense rivalry the countries had with each other. Fighting African natives and even themselves demonstrated the stubborn tenacity the nations bore in pursuing their goals, and when these goals were not realized, national pride was affected. The Sudan Wars, in exemplifying this stand- fast attitude of imperialism in Africa, were a prime example of the cause of the eminent commencement of World War I.