Friday, March 15, 2013

British Colonialism: 1898 Fashoda (Sudan)


At the end of the 19th century the continent of Africa was already under European colonial siege, a race termed in history as the scramble for Africa.  The major European powers in Africa at the turn of the century were the British and the French, with Germany, Spain, Belgium, Portugal and Italy also engaged on the continent.   The incident of Fashoda (modern Sudan) was not only a ‘diplomatically’ resolved land conflict between Britain and France, it served as a very important evolution point in imperialism.

In July 1898, the French established a military presence at Fashoda under the command of Jean-Baptiste Marchand.  As a result, British forces based in the Upper Nile region moved military forces under Lord Herbert Kitchener southward into Sudan toward Fashoda. 

What was the importance of Fashoda?  The Importance of Fashoda is its position on the Nile, which is a Northern flowing river.  From a British perspective, French forces could put gunboats in the water or even erect a dam to completely cut off the flow of water, which would be disastrous on economic, health, military levels.

Kitchener won the battle of Omdurmam against Mahdist forces on the southward movement toward Fashoda.  Full scale conflict between British and French forces never erupted over Fashoda because “France stepped down” because “her ally, Russia, refused to become entangled in a dispute over a stretch of sand in the middle of Africa” [1].  The French also understood the naval superiority that the British possessed over them and did not wish to see their own foreign trade decimated again, as it had been in the 18th century, due to conflict  with Britain [2].

I offer two areas for contemplation and discussion:

The fact that Britain “had the Egyptian flag rather than the British flag hoisted over Fashoda” is very interesting.  Looking at this period of colonial history, we see Britain using Egypt, basically a British property yet proclaimed as an autonomous protectorate, as a puppet state for military and political actions (to achieve British economic interests).  I view this as an evolution in imperialism.  Just as the modern imperial actions of the United States and their allies remove regimes such as Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, only to replace them with puppet governments which they can utilize or exploit, we can look back at the British return to Egypt in 1882 and see that Britain controlled the finances, government and military of Egypt.

A few weeks back while studying Dr. Said’s orientalism, we reviewed an account of General Gordon’s evacuation mission to Khartoum (north of Fashoda).  I have to give consideration to the possibility of ‘under the table’ French support, in military or economic form, to the Mahdists in their opposition against British-Egyptian southern advancement.  Any thoughts on this possibility?

[1] James, Lawrence.  The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996), 285.

[2] James, Lawrence.  The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1996), 285. 

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