Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
A Civil Society DeferredThe Tertiary Grip of Violence in the Sudan$

Abdullahi A. Gallab

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780813036885

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813036885.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM FLORIDA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.florida.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University Press of Florida, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in FLASO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 04 July 2020

The Creation of the Margin

The Creation of the Margin

(p.164) 8 The Creation of the Margin
A Civil Society Deferred

Abdullahi A. Gallab

University Press of Florida

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter addresses the meaning and development of what is called the Margin. In the Sudan, the term is applied to a region of the country that continues to be marginalized from the main society. The marginalization of such regions developed as a result of practices, zoning, and policies that, at their most benign, have the potential to harm certain groups of people. Marginalization occurs also as a result of deliberately ignoring and/or denying some people the opportunity to fully participate in the society to which they belong. In efforts to define and focus the debate over the southern part of the country, a certain functional imperative arose. At the same time, the discourse of marginalization—and its proliferation of demands, rights, and entitlements—has expanded to other areas in the Western Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and the Blue Nile, as well as to the eastern parts of the country. This represents only the visible forms of marginalization; invisible forms of marginalization include those experienced by women and the rural poor.

Keywords:   black Janissary units, At-Tahtawi, Slim Qabutan, Coptic church, open districts, closed districts, colonizing Christianity

The theme of the margin and of marginalization has an enduring hold on the contemporary Sudanese discourse. As a central concern for different Sudanese political and social groups and individuals, this theme spread like wildfire through scholarship, media, and everyday language. It developed its own proponents and practitioners. No one disagrees as to what the term and the theme mean, except, depending on the way it is articulated, marginalization might represent different actions or reactions loaded with unsettling predispositions. Within this sense, the margin theme and marginalization are dicey and multilayered concepts. To a large extent, marginalization is a shifting phenomenon, linked to a region, a peoplehood, an economic system, a political status, or a placement within a country and its total population.

In the Sudan, the margin theme is applied to the various regions of the country that continue to be marginalized from the main society. Their marginalization developed as a result of practices, zoning, certain policies, and programs that had the potential to contribute negatively to the needs of certain groups of people. Marginalization occurs also as a result of deliberately ignoring or denying some people the opportunity to fully participate in the society to which they belong. Defining and focusing the debate over the southern part of the country, a certain functional imperative arises. At the same time, the discourse of marginalization—its proliferation demands, rights, and entitlements—has expanded to include other areas in western Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and the Blue Nile, as well as the eastern parts of the country. This represents only the visible forms of marginalization. Other, invisible forms of marginalization include women and the rural poor.

By way of euphemism and other forms of expression, the theme of marginalization—in all its different and uniform constitutive dimensions, (p.165) such as underdevelopment—was part of the local, regional, and international debate. Now and again, as the Sudan's system of government changed, the different-minded people who formulated the debates and representations of marginalization brought with them other ideational, scholarly, and political platforms. Although this theme was never immune to totalizing discourses and contestations, nothing could be more totalizing than the colonial discourse that meant to organize, instruct, and colonize the country and the lifeworld of some or all of its different groups.

Many factors and inventions have created the Sudan; both in its objective reality, which lies within its geographical configurations, spacetime factor, human veracity, and experiences, and in its subjective reality, which lies within its people's and other people's minds. Neither objective nor subjective reality claimed to have created any form of uniformization, except for their humanity and being “genetically continuous groups.” However, certain internal and external aspects of power and discipline acted to regulate, control, and colonize the lifeworld of some or all of the Sudanese people. Using the powers of spatial control and discourse, the colonizing states produced maps in order to confine people to certain imaginary geographical zones. However, in the process, some deeper effects took hold. The invention of peoplehood emerged from the system of magnitude that operated and produced zones and margins in line with the colonial states' projects of control and order. The aim—and essence—of that order was to create margins and centers.

In this chapter I will address the creation of the margin and marginalization in order to demonstrate that the outcome of the formal and informal processes, or structural socioeconomic changes, which governed the Sudanese people's conduct, was subject to different colonial polarizing experiences of openness and closure. The dynamic relationship between openness and closure within the colonial system was the production of the regional confinements that the ruling colonial states labeled as the south, the east, and the west in addition to unlabeled invisible forms of marginalization. The structure and the differential chances of visibility and invisibility, together with discourses and the labels attached to each group, correspond, in turn, to what the colonial states made sense of, and attributed meaning to, as location, peoplehood, and representations of the margin and marginalization in relation to the north as the prime illustration of the center's core. At the heart of these labels and discourses (p.166) lie the different forms of practice that one needs to examine in order to discover how and to what extent the colonizers labeled, characterized, practiced, and created a hegemonic language, exercised power, and how they eventually used up that power.

Identifying the Perspectives and Approaches of Marginality and Marginalization

'Ali Mazrui, a leading African social scientist, has raised the issue of marginality in the Sudan: “distinguished Arabic-speakers of the North, and distinguished southerners, have all been known to exaggerate the ethnic chasm which separates northerners from people of the South.”1 Many would agree with the British scholar Peter Woodward, who explained that this exaggeration “was to raise two very different images of Sudan as an Afro-Arab frontier that were sharply contested in 1968 and later. The first was that of Sudan as an Afro-Arab bridge able to show the way in which these two identities could be linked to each other. The second was Sudan as an example of the inability of these identities to live together in one country.”2

Mazrui quoted the southern Sudanese politician Agrey Jāen, who asserted that the Sudan “falls sharply into two distinct areas, both in geographical area, ethnic group, and cultural systems. The Northern Sudan is occupied by a hybrid Arab race who are united by their common language, common culture and common religion; they look to the Arab world for their cultural and political inspiration. The people of the Southern Sudan, on the other hand, belong to the African ethnic group of East Africa.”3 Jaden continues his line of thought: “They not only differ from the hybrid Arab race in origin, arrangement and basic systems, but in all conceivable purposes. There is nothing in common between the various sections of the community; nobody of shared beliefs, no identity of interest, no local signs of unity and above all, the Sudan has failed to compose a single community.”4 Mazrui called these different Sudanese images a “dichotomous duality,” and he went on to declare, “The Sudan is a paradigm case of an Afro-Arab dual identity.”5

Currently, many scholars of the Sudan have taken the marginality thesis steps further to take different forms of political compositions and discourses void of the disadvantages that come with marginalization. At the (p.167) same time, however, the marginality thesis remains foundational for at least four schools of thought that are prevalent in Sudanese scholarship.

First, the Sudanese scholar Francis Deng has led the study of the “dichotomous duality,” or conflict of identities, in the Sudan, among Sudanese and Sudanist scholars. Deng has described the fault-finding order that emerges from such a situation: “Soon after my arrival as ambassador of the Sudan in Washington in 1974, a senior official at the state department asked me how, given a choice, I would want my country to be classified for administrative purposes. Should the Sudan be classified as a Middle Eastern or an African country, and within the continent should it be considered part of the Arab Muslim North or of sub-Saharan black Africa?”6 Deng, who has contributed immensely to the field of Sudanese studies, responded to his interlocutor, “‘Whichever category seems most obvious, I suggest that the Sudan be classified in the other.’”7 In doing so, Deng perceived a Sudanese tendency, supporting the reasons for his choice with the statement, “‘In that way, we expand our identity and benefit from both’ [the Arab Muslim North and sub-Saharan black Africa].”8 At the same time, according to the book publisher's remarks, Deng argues that the “north on south” violence is a “conflict of contrasting and seemingly incompatible identities in the Northern and Southern parts of the country. Identity is seen as a function of how people identify themselves and are identified by others in terms of race, ethnicity, culture, language, and religion.”9 Deng does explain, “The historical process that has separated the Arab Muslim North and the African South has its roots in the Arabization and Islamization of the North and in the resistance to those forces in the South.”10 Deng further asserts, “The assimilation processes favored the Arab religion and culture over the African race, religions, and cultures, which remained prevalent in the South.”11

Another Sudanese scholar, Dustin Wai, expresses the Arab-African dichotomy even more emphatically than Deng: “In essence, it [the civil war] is a conflict of nationalism: one rooted in Africanism and the other in Arabism. It is not a mere case of ethnicity. The Northern Sudanese view themselves as Arabs and whether their Arabness is more by acquisition than heredity is of less importance. Whereas the Southern Sudanese feel themselves to be authentically Negroid Africans in every way.”12 Yet another Sudanese scholar, Malwal Leek, argues that one of the components of the war in the south could be related to an identity crisis: “‘One (p.168) component is that national culture is understood as Islamic and Arabic. This on the other hand has invited a response from those who have different cultural identities which are together described as African.’” Leek adds, “‘There are also those who believe that they have acquired another cultural identity through the Christian religion adapted to the African way of life. These groups are resenting the definition of the national identity as Islamic and Arabic. Their resistance is expressed in various ways.’”13

Mansour Khalid, a scholar, writer, and politician—who served as a minister of youth, foreign affairs, and education during Ga'far Muhammad Nimeri's dictatorial rule (1969–85) and was a member of the government negotiating team in the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 and was a high-ranking northern member of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM)—claims that the Sudanese conflict is about national selfidentification: “It is a cultural problem which affects all Sudanese, from all regions, and which has disturbed the peace and unity of the Sudan for over 30 years. … For 30 years, and for reasons of myopia, ignorance, and unenlightened self-interest on the part of the Sudanese ruling elite, the Sudan's national identity has been obscured and distorted.”14

Another Sudanese scholar-turned-politician, Sharif Ḥarir, leader and spokesperson of the SLA-Unity faction of the Darfur rebel group, claims, “Sudanese nationalism, in a strict sense, expressed only the riverain viewpoint because of the peculiar historical evolution which made both modern and traditional elites of the Sudan to be dominated by the northern sedentarized and riverain groups of, generally speaking, the northern provinces.”15 Ḥarir continues, “such dichotomized identities are again reduced to two main ones. These are that of Arabs (embedded in Awlad Arab) and that of non-Arabs carried sometimes to the extremes of Zurga (black) and 'Abid (slaves).”16 Further, “These prejudices have major political and economic consequences as they are, also, held by the power elite; for they, in many cases, define what is good for one or what one is supposed to be good at. As such they reflect, in a sense, the share each of these dichotomized identities could have in terms of power and economic well-being.”17

Ann Lesch takes the identity crisis issue a step further. She argues that there is a “difficulty of achieving a consensus within the Sudan concerning its national identity. From that difficulty flows the problem of structuring a constitutional system that its diverse citizenry would view as (p.169) legitimate.”18 Lesch explains, “Racial, linguistic, and religious categories have become the basis for crucially important power relationships that have resulted in the peoples who live in the northern and central Nile Valley wielding disproportionate political and economic power.”19 Lesch takes the same stand as other identity-crisis scholars who perceive the conflict in the context of an Afro-Arab dichotomy. She argues, “Those citizens' Arab-Islamic image of the Sudanese nation excludes citizens who reside on the geographic and/or ethnic margins: persons who define themselves as African rather than Arab, ethnically or linguistically.” That includes “those who reside in the south[, who] generally adhere to Christianity or traditional African beliefs, whereas the ethnic minorities in the north are largely Muslim.”20 Accordingly, Lesch senses that the “marginalization [of these groups] has intensified as political, economic, and cultural power has remained concentrated in the hands of the Muslim Arab core and as the central government has intensified its drive to spread Islam and Arabic. In reaction, disaffection and revolts by the marginalized peoples have deepened and widened.”21

'Abdullahi Aḥmed an-Na'im disagrees with the view of an Arab-Muslim and African-Christian dichotomy: “this portrayal vastly understates the complexity of the situation.”22 He adds that “students of religion, anthropology, politics, and related fields agree that there is no such thing as a single coherent Islamic or Arabic identity, much less a single coherent non-Islamic African identity.”23

The late Moḥammed 'Omer Bashir, another leading Sudanese scholar in this field, argues, “While there is no small degree of diversity of people … it is generally accepted that culturally the country is divided into two broad regions: the north and the south. … Islam and Arabic have acted as unifying factors and contributed to the homogeneity of the north, whereas the south is a heterogeneous society.”24

Second, for Norman ƠNeill and Jay ƠBrien, “the contemporary struggles in Sudan represent a struggle for control over its rich cultural heritage; its rulers counter-posing the glories of empire to mass traditions of resistance to oppression.”25 They further explain that this “battle for control over Sudan's cultural legacy has in many ways mystified both academic analysts and political strategists, who have tended to accept the sectarian religious form of much contemporary political contention and to miss the class interests which lie behind the overtly religious alliances which appear to shape the dominant political parties.”26 According to (p.170) this school of thought, systems of domination and resistance movements both represent genuine elements of Sudan's complex cultural heritage within its contradicting patterns and historical moments.27

Third, another group of Sudanese scholars have contributed to what they call the jallaba hegemony. For this group of scholars, the jallaba—who were initially known as peddlers and mobile and nonmobile merchants—were transformed into a social group that controlled political, social, and economic life and eventually the state in the Sudan since its independence. Chief among this group of scholars is Fatima Babiker Mahmoud, who articulates a theoretical framework in this field in her book The Sudanese Bourgeoisie: Vanguard of Development?

In 1994, Dr. John Garang 1945–2005), leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and its political wing, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), gave the jallaba theory of hegemony a political dimension in his speech for the SPLA/SPLM national convention. Mansour Khalid tried to attribute Sudan's problems to this jallaba mentality in his book Al-nukhba al-sudania wa idman al-fashal (The Sudanese Elite and the Infatuation with Failure). Later, Peter Nyot Kok reproduced the jallaba theory of hegemony in a wider context. Kok argues that several dynamics have caused “the crisis of governance, prevalence and recrudescence of armed conflict.”28 The first of these forces, according to Kok, is “the unwillingness and inability of the relevant social forces in the Sudan to forge a national democratic consensus on the fundamentals of state- and nation-building.” The second is “the striving, by the forces of hegemony, to impose their vision of the state- and nation-building.” The third and final dynamic is “the resistance to vision by marginalized people of the Sudan and their general struggle for justice, freedom, and cultural affirmation.”29

Taisier Moḥamed 'Ali adds yet another dimension to the jallaba theory of hegemony: “For most Sudanese in the south (and growing numbers elsewhere), war and the use of force by the central government underscores northern tenacity to maintain age-old practices of pillage, exploitation and control practiced by Arab ‘jellaba’ traders.”30 Building on that, 'Ali judges that the conflict is a result of the economic, political, and sociocultural values of the elite in the north.

Fourth, Douglas H. Johnson maintains, “The Sudan entered the twenty-first century mired in not one, but many civil wars. What had been seen in the 1980s as a war between North and South, Muslim against (p.171) Christian, ‘Arab’ against ‘African,’ has, after nearly two decades of hostilities, broken the bounds of any North-South conflict. Fighting has spread into theatres outside the southern Sudan and beyond the Sudan's borders.”31 Johnson aims to “examine some of the economic and political patterns which have affected the development and exercise of state power in the Sudan since at least the nineteenth century in an attempt to explain the process and consequences of regional underdevelopment, and the conjunction between perceptions of religion and race specific to this part of Africa.”32

In their several articles and collaborations, which include Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa and The Phoenix State: Civil Society and the Future of Sudan, Alex De Waal, A. H. Abdel Salam, and M. A. Moḥamed Saliḥ have brought together the historical antecedents and sociopolitical underpinnings of the violence as reflected in southern Sudan, the Nuba Mountains, and Darfur. In particular, Alex De Waal, a fellow of the Harvard Global Equity Initiative and the program director at the Social Science Research Council, has thoroughly investigated the root causes of the violence in Darfur.

These three contributory voices to the discourse on dual marginality represent an example of a long debate about what should be considered one particular people, the Sudanese, in their attempts to understand who they are, and this debate's incompleteness to grasp a coherent conclusion to their development in time and place. In some of its articulations, however, the debate reflects heavy ideological overtones that suggest a peculiar form of Sudanese exceptionalism. This exceptionalism proclaims the existence of different categories of Sudanese, frozen in time and place, and to each of these categories a permanent label is attached. None of these labels—Arab, African, southerner, northerner, westerner, easterner, riparian, zurga, jallaba—is value free. They are all complicated and each contains an inaccurate and questionable meaning. That is, such characterizations of each of these categories are debatable. But, on all levels, the most illusory and excessive aspect of such a debate is that it represents the wide space called the Sudan as consisting of different groups of people separated by firewalls who have populated it from the beginning of time and will continue to populate it until the end of time. For them, the Sudan is fossilized in time and place.

To complicate things more, outsiders have applied most, if not all, of these categories and labels, and, ambiguous as they are, each has serious (p.172) consequences. One of these serious consequences is that most of these articulations elicit tacit assumptions about “original” underdevelopment. By ignoring the root causes of the development of the margin, these categories and labels either obscure or insinuate an “original” marginalization, which is almost similar to the curse of Ham or the notion of original sin. The idea of the original underdevelopment, whether imbedded in the curse of Ham or not, was well suited to the colonial ideological discourse and its autoreferential racism. Autoreferential racism, as explained before, is a type of racism in which the bearers of the prejudice, who exercise physical or symbolic violence, designate themselves as representatives of a superior race. Both the colonial ideological discourse and the kind of racism that was born of it were responsible for the policies and processes that led to the margin's social, political, and communicative construction.

Straddling the Margin

Ultimately the margin in itself is neither a modification of human nature nor a persistent human condition. The margin is not even a caste system into which people are born and in which they die. It is the creation of systematic processes of violence within the civil sphere that produced it.

The origins of the historical condition of marginalization go back to experiences, dating to different times, through which marginalized people internalize a whole host of processes. According to Edward Said, “Both [imperialism and colonialism] are supported and perhaps even impelled by impressive ideological formations that include notions that certain territories and people require and beseech domination, as well as forms of knowledge affiliated with domination.”33 Said continues, “the vocabulary of classic nineteenth-century … imperial culture is plentiful with words and concepts like ‘inferior’ or ‘subject races,’ ‘subordinate peoples,’ ‘dependency,’ ‘expansion,’ and ‘authority.’”34 Moreover, “Out of the imperial experiences, notions about culture were clarified, reinforced, criticized, or rejected.”35 The facts of these experiences and notions, however, entail “certain racist postures as autoreferential,”36 leading to the construction of different imagined communities and districts that could be colonized and opened up to a different system of subjugation that included slavery (during the Turkiyya) or closed down to another form of subjugation (as during the British colonial period)

These two systems were exercised during both the rule of Muḥammad 'Ali (1805–49) (p.173) and the British colonization of the Sudan (1898–1965). The rule of Muḥammad 'Ali and the British imperial colonization, although different in form and historical condition, both aimed at recuperating and assimilating into their “discourse[s] very old images of ‘difference,’ [which] is by no means a given state of affairs.”37

The expression, practice, and extension of imperial power, along with the exercise of these forms of racism, produced what might be absent from Balibar's treatment. That is what I would call the formation of homoreferential racism. This impulse emerges when that particular practice of racism nominates some of those who were subjected to prejudice and colonization to see themselves as different from other groups within their same human milieu. Both colonial experiences were connected with processes by which the state's power “was stimulated by the growing influence of European technology, concepts and commerce, [which] had recently started to explore and to develop the economic and strategic possibilities of the Sudan.”38 There are four broad aspects of Muḥammad 'Ali's imperial colonial system of “open-districts experience” that converted the Sudan into differentiated spheres through an ideology and practice of systematic, though uneven, forms of violence and control.

By invading the Sudan, the first general aspect of that colonial experience endowed Muḥammad 'Ali with one of the largest empires in the history of Egypt—almost half the size of the European continent. Muḥammad 'Ali and his aides came to rule the country as “colonisers, to command obedience, to regulate the affairs of everyone at every level, and claimed a natural right to extract a surplus for the Egyptian treasury.”39 As explained before, Islam, Arabism, sovereignty, and the long-standing neighborly relations between the Sudan and Egypt did not save the country from invasion and colonization. An autoreferential form of racism drew new boundaries and relegated the Sudanese to an inferior status, which made them subject to invasion, colonization, and control. Under this form of racism, the Sudan was not only invaded but its “unknown mysterious parts” were “discovered,” conquered, and opened to different forms of repression. Further, the Sudan was subject to “longterm plans of exploitation which went beyond the search for gold and the capture of slaves towards an emphasis on taxation and the export of agricultural and natural products. … The Sudanese, on the other hand, saw the Turkish administration and development efforts as instruments of oppression and injustice, and alien to most of their traditional religious, (p.174) moral and cultural concepts.”40 An oppressive military regime in which “the real rulers were the Turkish central, provincial and district military governors” emphasized and carried out this enforced system of exploitation.41 Against this background, the Sudan was considered a district, open to different forms of exploitation and an “enclosure” for other forms of oppression.

The second general element was one of the consequences of the open-district policy, which allowed the imperial Egyptian state to turn the southern part of the region into a hunting ground for slaves. The imperial state in Cairo and its auxiliary military system in Khartoum turned slave hunting into a function of the state. As stated earlier, Muḥammad 'Ali built a big war machine out of enslaved Sudanese to consolidate his power and expand his empire. Muḥammad 'Ali, who “had planned a new army, could not get any Turks or slaves from the Ottoman empire which had placed an embargo on the shipment of mercenaries or slaves to Egypt. He thought instead of developing a slave army from the Sudan.” 42 Another reason for developing this slave army was that the wāi was not keen on conscripting the fellaheen of Egypt in the first place, “mainly because that would have meant moving productive labor from the agricultural sector which was the main source of revenue.”43

The Sudanese, who were taken by the tens of thousands to the military training camps in Aswan, were placed under the dīwā al-jihadiyya (ministry of war), which was established in 1821. They were trained by “French officers who had served under Napoleon, and who brought with them French military discipline, promotion on merit, and desert drill.”44 These new “black Janissary units” were conditioned to serve as a lifetime fighting force whose barracks were their only homes. The open-district system, the slave hunt, and the creation of a slave army in Egypt constituted one of the biggest collective efforts to create conditions of systematic marginalization to all the areas which that practice of slavery affected.

The northern part of the country, which was open to different forms of exploitation and oppression, was opened for agricultural and commercial activities as well as heavy taxation (tulba). In the north people “sold their property to meet the demands for payment in cash.”45 Nevertheless, that part of the country experienced a relative growth in some of the urban centers compared to other marginalized areas in the south. Khartoum, which was established as a capital in 1830, grew faster than other parts as the center. At the same time, the rush for slaves and ivory stripped (p.175) the southern part of the country of human and natural life. Khartoumers of all races contracted warrior-traders to ravage the entire region. What the Sudanese describe as al-turkiyya al-sabiqa (the first Turkiyya), in contrast to al-turkiyya al-lahiqa (British colonial rule), subjected each of the Sudan's regions to distinctive forms of violence, oppression, exploitation, and control. That experience planted and maintained different forms of resentment and anger that transcended generalities and generations.

The third general aspect was the open-district experience, which introduced Egyptians to a new and different country and a people that they knew little about. The invasion, colonization, and hegemonic discourse of Muḥammad 'Ali's imperial state provided the legitimating framework for the subjugation of the Sudanese in particular and other people within the empire, including the Egyptians, who were depicted as fellaheen. The stream of false consciousness within certain Egyptian social groups was instilled among the ranks of those who accepted, reasoned, and internalized the imperial discourse. Accordingly, it became inescapable for them not to expand it or liberate themselves as loyal agents of the empire or otherwise. The outcome of that was threefold.

Those who exercised their hegemony forgot that the same imperial regime subjugated them too. As the regime that employed them perceived the Sudan as a piece of a property, which Egypt owned, they accepted the premise of that argument and continued to look at relations between the two countries through that prism. Later the idea of the unity of the Nile Valley was accepted, without noticing the underlying problems that accompanied the imperial ideology behind it. Finally, they became the producers of a discourse that promoted the image of the Sudan as a primitive place and the Sudanese as savages. Hence, the imperial spirit, conquest, and colonization of the Sudan forever changed Egyptians who considered their transfer to governmental jobs in the Sudan as punishment, exile, or both.

Among the many important Egyptian personalities who traveled to and spent time in the Sudan for the purpose of discovery or employment were Muḥammad al-Tunisi, al-Binbashi (Colonel) Salim Qabutan, Rifā'ah Rāfi' aṭ-Ṭahṭāwī, 'Ali Mubarak, and at a later stage, Ibrahim Fawzi. For each of them, the Sudan was a place he had discovered, and each portrayed what he saw in the Sudan in a narrative that later influenced and framed the discourse about the Sudan.46 The written observations and narratives of the five men, “when viewed together, reveal the interplay (p.176) between personal experience and memory, popular myths, and the changing constructions of racial identity that occurred in Egyptian society after the official conquest of the Sudan.”47

Rifā'ah's poem in which he describes his miserable situation in the Sudan represents a prime example of this discourse. It presents the Sudan as a “chain of references that produces the effect of the place.”48 He starts by saying that the Sudan is neither a place to his liking nor are its women his type. Later, he expresses his disgust with everything Sudanese. This includes not only disgust with their way of life but also some of the natural phenomena such as the haboob, or devil wind (harmattan). He then turns graphically racist when he says, wa nisf al-qoum aktharhum whoush wa b 'ad al quom ashbah bi al-jamad, meaning that the majority of the population are wild animals and some of the population is similar to stone. He continues: wa lwola al-bāḍ min 'Arbin likano swadan fi sawadin fi sawadi, meaning had not some Arabs been (among them) they could have been black in black in black.

As Powell explains, speaking of the above writers, except for Ibrahim Fawzi, “race is an important marker of difference for all four writers, who painstakingly noted racial differences in skin color, sexual behavior, and religious attitudes among the Sudanese.”49 Sometimes these writers were similar to other orientalist writers, who represent the place “as a set of references, a congeries of characteristics, that seems to have its origin in a quotation, or a fragment of a text, or a citation from someone's work on the Orient, or some bit of previous imagining, or an amalgam of all these.”50 As Powell contends, Egyptian orientalists “seem to have plucked these concepts from medieval literature about blacks and Sudanese, but more often they mixed stereotypes about blacks with new terminology about power and concepts of civilization translated from European texts.”51

This discourse and its embedded autoreferential racism, as a reproduction of the imperial character, have been manifestly important in influencing the ideology of Egyptian nationalism. The discourse further made possible the distinction between the Sudanese and the Egyptians, which old media (verbal and print press) aroused early on, and new media (film at a later stage) continued to nurture.

Finally, the fourth general aspect were the consequences of Muḥammad 'Ali's conquest of opening the Sudanese space, followed by Salim Qubatan's expeditions far south, along the White Nile, to what Europeans (p.177) considered a “discovery” of the unknown world. “Salim's expeditions had discovered therefore, not the sources of the Nile, but a route which seemed to open up vast possibilities.”52 Salim's unrelenting course of that exploratory journey to the “heart of darkness,” turned the Nile into “a highway into tropical Africa.”53 The translation of Salim's journal into European languages and the details about that expedition, which Thibaut, ďArnaud, and Werne narrated, all three of whom accompanied Salim through the “jungle,” drew Europeans' attention to the fact that “the outside world suddenly discovered a navigable waterway stretching far into the unknown interior. During the following decades the southern Sudan by virtue of this discovery occupied a position of primary importance in the exploration and colonization of tropical Africa.”54

The newly opened water route soon became the primary route for missionaries, merchants, and the devastation of the region by slave and ivory traders. Europeans and their agents' warrior traders were able to break the Khartoum government over the monopoly of the ivory trade and to compete effectively with the Arab traders of Zanzibar. The new water route opened a new way for Christian and Islamic influences. Such an influence could be found among communities like “the Feroge, for example, [who] became Muslims. Some of the Southern chiefs adopted Arabic dress, names and customs and a pidgin form of Arabic began to spread.”55 According to Richard Gray, “It was rumored that a Protestant Bishop was intending to send missionaries to this virgin field, and since there was an obvious possibility that Islam might quickly spread over the area Pope Gregory XVI created the Vicariate Apostolic of Central Africa in 1846 and propaganda sent out a small reconnaissance party.”56 The missionaries found in the new waterway “a door through which they could reach the Christian Kingdom of Ethiopia where they planned to capture the Coptic Church.”57

At the same time, the Sudanese resistance movement against the empire and its oppressive regime in Khartoum, which had started to gather momentum, brought together the Sudanese from northern and southern parts of the country. The Mahdist revolution had unified Sudanese in the northern and southern parts of the country and elsewhere (see chapter 6), far beyond the previous formations of resistance under al-Zubair's trading, farming, and bazinger enterprise, or any form of resistance since 1821. This was a new phenomenon. For the first time, a nationalist movement mobilized Sudanese groups and individuals across the social, (p.178) regional, and religious spectrum and brought together all regions of marginalized Sudan for the social and political liberation of the country and maybe the entire Nile Valley.

Under Karam Allah Kurqusāi, the Mahdist amir of Baḥr al-Ghazāl, the Dinka, the Nuer, the Shulluk, the jallaba, and the bazinger were mobilized as one united front that “transformed the Mahdiyya from a religious into a national political uprising that raged throughout the country.” 58 The Mahdist revolution itself was a double transformation in the mode of operation in the Sudanese quest for independence, which was driven by a deeper feeling of nationalism and patriotism as an ideology.

On the one hand, for the first time there was the consolidation of all different fighting forces in the Sudan into one powerful army. Gradually, most of the bazinger, their commanders, and other private armies, including al-Zubair's forces, particularly those who did not follow Rabih Fadlallah, joined the Mahdist revolution, forming the leadership and the main body of the jihadiyya army in particular and other parts of the Mahdist war machine. The seizure of power in the southern part of the country by Kurkusāwi and his associates from the south finally demolished the zariba forever, introduced a new form of repair to the social sphere, and paved the way for the revolution's success.

On the other hand, there was a never-ending feeling of discontent among the ranks of Sudanese that had continued to express itself since the early days of the invasion. That discontent united the Sudanese and demolished the political and military “enclosure,” which a brutal regime had created, making remarkable successes in defeating that system, militarily and ideologically. Thus, the Sudanese revolution, in all its constitutions, went a step outside the role structures of the religiopolitical association and its expressed orientation. It was an imminent multidirectional development in the country, embodied not only in a singular social change but also in accomplishing one particular task.

Omdurman, the newly built capital and the seat of the Mahdist state, witnessed different forms of representation, which wad Sa'd described as al-jira al-'ammana khiera (the neighborhood in which we all relished its virtuous wealth). Wad Sa'd provided another model of reference, which the society began to favor and which attested to a kind of progress in the repair of the social sphere. Joseph Ohrwalder described al-Khalifa 'Abdullahi's forms of state entertainment as performed in the mosque: “Sometimes just before midnight he [the khalifa] will again enter the (p.179) mosque, and will summon the poets to sing his praises. He delights in music, and keeps a number of Dar Fertit and Niam Niam singers, who accompany themselves on the rubaba (a sort of native guitar), and their strange and weird melodies delight the Khalifa's soul.”59 That type of music that delighted the khalifa and annoyed Ohrwalder had an appeal among the population of Omdurman: “These native musicians have a sort of school of music, in which they practise all day; but they never seem to learn anything new.”60 Rather than the musicians, it was Ohrwalder who never seems to have learned anything new. But there were even more generative continuities than what he saw that were not associated with the regime's policies. That indicated that Omdurman was a new and diverse social space, representing broad groups of people from different parts of the country who were coming together through the exercise of different forms of socialization.

Moreover, what could be significant here was the anti-imperial program of nationalism within the different parts of the Nile Valley from one side and the Niger Nile on the other—the link between the central and Nilotic Sudan—and the degree of transformation that came with it in both the Sudan and Egypt. The rise of a particular revolutionary fervor in both Egypt and the Sudan has to be seen as an outcome of a whole host of conditions. These conditions are related to the nature of Cairo of the khedive's system of governance, which provoked an acceleration of a scheme of calamities. These conditions influenced all forms of discontent and accelerated the pace of different types of internal and external reactions. At the same time, this revolutionary fervor did not mediate elements within each region independently; it mediated between revolutionary elements within the entire Nile Valley.

Although Britain crushed the rebellion that Aḥmed 'Urabi led from 1879 until 1882, which had initiated the Egyptian revolutionary action, the revolutionary impulse stayed alive and continued to permeate the Egyptian private sphere. Simultaneously, the Sudanese revolution (1881–85), which Muḥammad Aḥmed al-Mahdi commanded, advanced successfully toward Khartoum. During this time, the Egyptian revolutionaries communicated with the Sudanese, encouraging the Sudanese to continue their advance toward Egypt and promising to support them. Both movements had distinct internal and external bearings on the fate and a new form of direct action, by different systems of inter- and intrasocial repair not only within each country, but also within the Nile Valley (p.180) and the Niger Valley at large. The most important aspect of this development was that all the revolutionary groups in the region started to get closer to each other.

The Mahdist revolution acted as a magnet that attracted them all together. The anticolonial, or revolutionary, nationalists, in colonized Egypt looked forward to the Mahdist revolution, which liberated the Sudan to continue its anticolonial march north and liberate Egypt as well. West African revolutionaries, such as Mohamed al-Dadari and his Fulani followers, already joined the long Mahdist march as early as 1882. Simultaneously, Ḥayatu bin Sād, the great-grandson of 'Uthman Dan Fadio, became a significant supporter of the Mahdist revolution in West Africa. Ḥayatu, al-Dadari, and Muḥammad Aḥmed al-Mahdi exchanged some correspondence, and later Ḥayatu, whom al-Mahdi appointed as his agent ('āmil) for western Sudan, fought with Rabiḥ Fadlallah under the banner of al-Mahdi in West Africa. Again, and in a similar fashion as in Egypt, the British encroachment checked the revolutionary activities in West Africa, especially in Nigeria, where the colonialists were most concerned about a Mahdist revival.

But the Mahdiyya victory should be considered an event that led to dire consequences. The self-motivating attitudes of other actors in the region, who joined or encouraged the Mahdist movement, created the conditions that united tormented Britain (the colonizer) with terrorstricken official Cairo. This unity allowed the two forces to work together to counter the revolution, recolonize the Sudan, and mutilate the revolutionary body that brought the Nile and Niger together. Hence, the colonial movement's success was not only a defeat to the Mahdist state; by checking the expansion of an emerging civil space, it also delivered a powerful blow to the social movement that brought the Sudanese together, the Nile Valley closer, and brought the Niger-Nile space into a new condition, discourse, social and jihadist solidarity, and sociopolitical life for the first time. Only by understanding the depth and breadth of this colonial moment and the progression of its regime can one begin to understand the basis of how the margin was recreated and maintained through the closed and open districts and disciplinary practices of the new colonial system.

(p.181) The British Open- and Closed-District Policies and Practice

Britain and Egypt's recolonization of the Sudan, as well as the creation of the condominium, with its peculiar nature, as already explained, gave rise to a differentiation within the newly created British mini-imperial system. The newly created system did not return the Nile Valley to Egyptian control; rather, it put almost the entire valley under Britain's control. In addition, it came with profound problems, affecting all three countries: Britain, Egypt, and the Sudan.

Specifically, the British imperial system of rule in the Sudan, among other things, created a distinctively new colonial model, which was forcibly placed to control land, vital waterways, and map space. At this point, Britain, which had acquired the Nile Valley and access to land and sea, became the core state. Egypt, which was supposed to be codominus, but which Britain had colonized, was connected to that system as part of the British imperial system's semiperiphery.

The Sudan was a designated periphery zone, with an inferior status. Within that periphery, certain areas, primarily the southern part of the country, which Lord Cromer described as “consisting of ‘large tracts of useless territory’ with no value ‘for the official mind of British Imperialism …’ to which it would be ‘difficult and costly to administer properly,’”61 were assigned an even more inferior status: the periphery of the periphery. Hence, the creation of such difference, inherent in the colonial pathology, manifested and intensified itself in policies that joined the autoreferential racism together with selective forms of affinity, which created a complex situation that could be described as a complex system of control, exploitation, and creation of peoplehoods.

First, both the Egyptian and British imperial autoreferential forms of racism, as the condominium authorities expressed them, drew new boundaries and assigned the southern part of the Sudan a more inferior status, making it subject to control through a planned and well-guarded system of closure through neglect. For the colonial state, that part of the country was a space where “at least three million people, primitive, unclothed, pagan, and tremendously virile, keep very much to themselves. And virility is the keynote. A man cannot hold his place if he is weak; and the women live, not in the out-of-date seclusion of Sudanic Islam, but in pristine open vigour.”62 J. S. R. Duncan argued, “the British attitudes (p.182) toward the south were permeated with a racist view of their mission in the southern Sudan.”63 As a representation of that form of racism, Duncan quoted a British administrator who stated that “the task in the north was simple compared with that in the south. The northern Sudanese at least knew what administration was, and they were civilized in some degree. The primitive southerners … were quite untamed, and a handful of British officers, with a few soldiers, went off into the unknown to gain the confidence of such people as they might meet.”64 As for the colonial-state enterprise, which was based on an economy of domination and subjugation, the southern part of the country was “too far from Sudanese or Egyptian ports and lacked adequate transport to make colonial economic exploitation profitable.” As for the state, the southern part of the country “assumed greater importance mainly because through it flows the White Nile. It was then realised that the Nile constituted the only highway from the North into East Africa. Secondly, it was evident that the waters of the White Nile were of great importance to Egypt. The later future development would depend on the supply of water.” Hence, controlling that space was of great consequence in controlling Egypt.65

Second, the open system of control in the north was different from that in the south. The open system of control was organized through the creation of white- and blue-collar, and white-'arrāqi state-manufactured workers as a mode of production to service the state's means of production and services that included the state itself, its transportation and communication systems, and the Gezira Scheme. Hence, the colonial state gained wealth not only by having a monopoly on the productive forces, but also by controlling the country through the application of this type of labor to the country's human and natural resources. On the other hand, the closed system of control, which was created before the 1929 Closed Districts Act, was based on closing the southern part of the country to all forms of economic, political, educational, or social activity in or with other parts of the country or even the world. Furthermore, as the resources of the north were extracted to benefit the colonial system's core state first and provide subsistence to its satellite state at Khartoum—the center—the margin was left to deal with progressive forms of marginalization and underdevelopment. Both cases, as different as they might appear, represent the main source of marginalization and underdevelopment, or the creation of the margin, which the very same processes (p.183) that generated the economic wealth of the colonial core state and that its capitalist system generated and sustained.

This system of control demanded the simultaneous incorporation of other institutions such as the colonized church, colonized anthropology, and the colonial state to put this system of closure into effect as an incident of state power. The south, Darfur, and the Nuba Mountains, together with other parts of the country, were not that easy to control (see chapter 3). In the face of different violent forms of resistance, the colonial state followed different cost-effective means of control. One of these means was to transform the social system into primordial communities. That is, to pursue a “civilizing mission” in reverse, within which a system of control is devised to turn “tribalism, once seen as the focal point of native resistance” to “now be looked upon as an efficient mode of native control”66—a system of colonizing the lifeworld of the population from the outside through what Mamdani describes as decentralized despotism. Within this process of control, “many anthropological studies by Evans-Pritchard and others of the London School of Oriental and African Studies during the ′20s and ′30s were conducted to spy on and help the British administration to control the native population of the south.”67 This remains true for colonial anthropology in its relationship to state power as well as other forms of colonial knowledge.

The colonial state, as Nicholas B. Dirks maintains, “is seen as a theater for state experimentation, where historiography, documentation, certification, and representation were all state modalities that transformed knowledge into power.”68 This might go some way to explain the complicated relationship between the colonial state and the church.

At the beginning of colonial rule some British administrators opposed missionary work for the protection of the primordial communities. Colonel Jackson, who acted for the governor general during his absence, wrote to Lord Cromer in 1900 that, “a black when converted becomes a scamp, loafer, scoundrel and liar whereas they are now happy, contented, honest and vice unknown … from the time missionaries enter their country these tribes will disappear.”69 The Sudan “had been nominally included in the Anglican diocese of Jerusalem since 1899. However, Bishop Blyth of Jerusalem was warned not to ‘… exercise active episcopal functions in that country.’”70 The archbishop of Canterbury criticized the Sudan's government policy, accusing “the Sudan administration of infringement (p.184) on principles of religious liberty and acting contrary to policies of ‘a country guided by Christian principles.’”71 The missionary society also reacted strongly against the Sudanese government's policy: “Christianity had been the religion of the people in the Sudan for centuries and the reconquest provided the chance for its replanting in a region which originally belonged to it.”72 But Wingate did not surrender to these pressures until he “was certain of his own authority over church affairs.” The colonized church, like the colonized mosque, under Wingate was one of the departments of the state.

When Wingate put his efforts toward the construction of Khartoum Cathedral, he claimed that it would “‘more than anything else, prove to the Oriental mind the permanent nature of our occupation.’” From one side Wingate noticed that “the whole of Baḥr al-Ghazāl was threatened by Islamic influence,” and that there are “hundreds of Moslems each of whom by the very nature of his religion appeals to the blacks very much more than the Christian religion can.” Wingate thought that “if therefore, we are to succeed in Christianizing these Southern tribes, it can only be done by very much greater missionary activity than exist at present and I can perfectly encourage and facilitate such missionary work.”73

Moreover, the colonial state organized and supervised the activities of the entire church and divided the areas south of the tenth parallel into three zones: the Austrian mission, the American Presbyterians, and the Church Missionary Society (CMS). As long as the state would colonize the church, and both church and state were keen to “insulate the non- Muslim areas of the Sudan from the political stirring in the north,” the state was willing to allow the church to take part in the education of the country's southern regions. Thus, “the government refrained from opening schools, even in cases where there was a genuine demand for education, on the grounds of lack of finance and fear of Islam.”74

Hence, what stands out is that, without any exception, church education in southern Sudan, in its poor quality and isolation from the country's main educational system, served to increase the marginalization of that part of the country. Moreover, while the public education system in the northern part of the country was employment oriented, the educational system in the south was oriented toward “the spread of Christianity and the prevention of the southward spread of Islam.” These two different stances became the bases of the transformation in the fields of power and (p.185) in the growth of conditions that influenced conditions of cultural and political production and different nationalist impulses, especially among the older generations. All this is to say that the creation of the margin was a complex process that grew, increased, and was maintained with the invention of certain mechanisms that the state created and nurtured.


(1.) Mazrui, “Multiple Marginality,” 248.

(2.) Woodward, “Multiple Marginality Multiplied,” 5.

(3.) Quoted in Mazrui, “Multiple Marginality,” 243.

(5.) Ibid., 244.

(6.) Deng, War of Visions, 2.

(9.) Ibid., 580.

(10.) Ibid., 9.

(12.) Quoted in Idris, Sudan's Civil War, 25.

(13.) Quoted in Deng, War of Visions, 443–44.

(14.) Khalid, “External Factors,” 109–10.

(15.) óarir, “Recycling the Past,” 36.

(16.) Ibid., 37.

(18.) Lesch, Sudan, 3.

(22.) Na'im, “National Unity,” 71.

(24.) Quoted in Deng, War of Visions, 26.

(25.) O'Neill and O'Brian, Economy and Class, 6.

(28.) Kok, Governance and Conflict, 11.

(30.) ′Ali, foreword, ii.

(31.) Johnson, Root Causes, xi.

(32.) Ibid., xii.

(33.) Said, Culture and Imperialism, 9, emphasis in original.

(36.) Balibar and Wallerstein, Race, Nation, Class, 39, emphasis in original.

(38.) Gray, History of the Southern Sudan, 1.

(39.) Bjørkelo, Prelude to the Mahdiyya, 34.

(40.) Ibid., 35.

(42.) Sayyid-Marsot, Egypt in the Reign, 205.

(43.) Fahmy, All the Pasha's Men, 86.

(44.) Gray, History of the Southern Sudan, 3.

(45.) Bjørkelo, Prelude to the Mahdiyya, 84.

(46.) For more detailed information about these five personalities and their contribution to the Egyptian discourse about the Sudan, see Powell, Different Shade.

(47.) Ibid., 29.

(48.) Mitchell, Colonising Egypt, 31.

(49.) Powell, Different Shade, 30.

(50.) Said, Orientalism, 177.

(51.) Powell, Different Shade, 30.

(52.) Gray, History of the Southern Sudan, 19.

(54.) Ibid., 1.

(55.) Beshir, Southern Sudan, 13.

(56.) Gray, History of the Southern Sudan, 23.

(57.) Beshir, Southern Sudan, 13.

(58.) Ruay, Politics of Two Sudans, 159.

(59.) Ohrwalder, Ten Years’ Captivity, 301.

(61.) Beshir, Southern Sudan, 18.

(62.) Duncan, Sudan, 4–5.

(66.) Mamdani, Citizen and Subject, 93.

(67.) Duncan, Sudan.

(68.) Dirks, foreword, xi.

(69.) Quoted in Beshir, Southern Sudan, 25.

(70.) Warburg, Sudan under Wingate, 109.

(71.) Beshir, Southern Sudan, 26.

(73.) Quoted in Warburg, Sudan under Wingate, 111.

(74.) Ibid., 121.