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
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.