Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan

By Imperato, Pascal James | African Studies Review, April 2004 | Go to article overview
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Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan


Imperato, Pascal James, African Studies Review


Heather J. Sharkey. Living With Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. xiii + 232 pp. Map. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. $24.95. Paper.

This well-researched volume greatly illuminates our understanding of the modern Sudan and of the political, social, cultural, and religious forces that helped to forge it during the colonial era. Created as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in 1898 out of the ruins of a Turco-Egyptian sphere of influence and the theocratic Mahdist state, this vast territory was in principle a condominium jointly administered by Great Britain and Egypt. In reality, however, the Sudan was uniquely administered by the British. Yet, as Sharkey notes, the fiction of joint administration was maintained not only through the use of the term condominium, but also by placing the Sudan under the Foreign Office, not the Colonial Office, and by creating a separate Sudan civil service.

In 1902, the British established Gordon Memorial College in Khartoum, named in honor of a by-then mythologized General Charles Gordon, who had perished at the hands of the Mahdi's followers in 1885 while defending Khartoum. Gordon College was modeled after comparable schools in India whose goal was to educate and train clerks and minor government officials. The author details clearly how and why British admission policies favored Arabic-speaking Muslim elites from the north and regularly excluded animist and Christian southerners. As a result, Gordon College produced graduates who were fairly uniform in their vision of a future independent Sudan as Muslim and Arabic-speaking. At the heart of this volume is the author's thorough analysis of how the school reinforced the cultural and religious values of its students, excluded from enrollment those representing the Sudan's great ethnic and religious diversity, and in so doing, helped create the conflicted state that the Sudan has become since independence in 1956. The author's analyses of Gordon College demonstrate that it was not merely a colonial mechanism for creating minor functionaries to serve in the condominium's administration, but more importantly a crucible for giving form to a preexisting political vision for a future independent state. For it was the alumni of Gordon College who gave birth to the Sudan's early nationalist movements and who became its leaders at independence. They and their successors have tried to define the Sudan on the basis of fairly narrow linguistic and religious characteristics, and have been uncompromising in refusing to accept the concept of a nation-state based on linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity. This, coupled with patently racist attitudes toward black southerners, has fueled armed conflicts that have affected the south for almost a half century.

One wishes that Sharkey had broadened her canvas somewhat to include a discussion of Comboni College in Khartoum, which was founded in 1929 by the Institute of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart and later operated by the Comboni Fathers, a religious order of Catholic missionaries.

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