South Sudan 2002

Between the State of Mahdia and the Free State Congo

The territories that today make up South Sudan were missing out on the Turkish-Egyptian occupation when Mahdi revolutionized today’s Sudan in 1881 and established an Islamic state there. The Turkish-Egyptian capital Khartoum fell in 1885.

A year earlier, the conquest of South Sudan began. Karam Allah Mohamed Kurqusawi was the leader of the 1500 Ansar (which means aides in Arabic), but never failed to put Equatoria under Mahdia state control. One possible reason why the Mahdia state did not try to conquer South Sudan was that the people there supported the Mahdist struggle against the Egyptians and the English.

A Mahdist military post was established at Rejaf, a region near Juba, but the Mahdia state never had effective control south of Fashoda. Rejaf was part of the Lado enclave given by England to the Free State of Congo in 1894 to control the Mahdists, but when Belgian King Leopold 2 tried to use the Lado enclave to conquer Sudan north, England eventually sealed the deal and took control of the South -Sudan from 1899.

South Sudan Border Countries Map

The Anglo-Egyptian condominium

From 1899, South Sudan was part of the condominium that Egypt and Britain established over Sudan. While the Arab leaders in North Sudan joined the regime after the British won the battle of Omdurman in 1898, there was opposition to the colonial rule in the south.

Britain invaded and occupied Egypt in 1882. The British quickly realized that they had to keep other European countries away from the Nile River so that the Nile water flow could not be sabotaged. In 1896, France sent an expedition from the Loango on the Atlantic coast of today’s Republic of Congo to Fashoda (now called Kodok) on the White Nile in today’s South Sudan. The expedition was led by Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand, and the goal was to build a dam on the Nile to waive British control over Egypt.

The British decided that the only way to protect the Nile from the French was to control Sudan. Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the general of the Anglo-Egyptian army, was therefore ordered to invade Sudan. Omdurman, the capital of the Mahdia state fell to the Anglo-Egyptian forces on September 2, 1898. By then, Marchand and the French expedition had already reached Fashoda where he had hoisted the tricolorand proclaimed the area as a French province. Kitchener pulled a small flotilla up the White Nile to Fashoda, where he met Marchand September 19, 1898. They left to their respective governments to come to an agreement on control over the Nile, and the so-called Fashoda crisis was a fact. The British were ready for war, but not the French. They therefore agreed that the French expansion east of Africa should stop at the watershed between the Nile and Congo. However, this was the start of the British colonization of today’s South Sudan.

The British began their expansion up Bahr al-Ghazal in December 1900. During the spring, Sudanese troops occupied under the command of British officers Mashra ar-Raqq, Wau, Tonj, Daym az-Zubayr, Shambe and Rumbek. The administrative headquarters were relocated to Wau in 1901. However, the South Sudanese failed to approve the Sudanese government as their new overlord.

Several people opposed foreign rule, whether represented by British or Arabs. In the north, the pressure for independence led to the establishment of a legislative assembly in 1948. There were only 13 of 75 members coming from South Sudan. This followed a governing council, which was first established only with participation from the north, from 1947 with representatives from the south. Arabic was chosen as the Assembly’s working language, which contributed to the cultural divide between the regions, and to dissatisfaction in the South, where English was used as the main language in administration and education.

The modern state formation of Sudan was formed under Egyptian and British rule during the colonial period (1898–1956), with separate administrations for the northern and southern parts respectively, which in practice were ruled as two separate colonies. South Sudan was little integrated into the modernization of Sudan, and just as the geographical distance between the north and south was great, the cultural divides were significant. While North Sudan quickly adapted to Egyptian-British rule, opposition in South Sudan was greater; this also contributed to a lesser degree of modernization in the south, where more effort was taken to manage the area. The government invested little in education in the south, leaving it mainly to religious institutions. After independence, public positions were largely held by Muslims from the north.

The British colonial government conducted different policies in the two regions, limiting contact between them, including with a view to including South Sudan into British East Africa rather than the Middle East. Not least, British policy for South Sudan from 1930 contributed to the divide; it meant that the South should be developed according to “African”, and not “Arab”, guidelines, and indirect rule through traditional leaders were introduced. British colonialism further contributed to the divide through the spread of Christianity, through missionary work.

However, when the British colonial power in 1945 made an assessment of which part of the empire most naturally associated with southern Sudan, the recommendation became North Africa and the Middle East, essentially because of the Nile connection line. The result of the so-called Juba Conference, held in the then Equatorial Province of the British Colony Administration in June 1947, with both British and Sudanese delegates, was that the two parts of Sudan should be more closely linked and governed as a unit. As a result, Sudan was united, but with skepticism from the South Sudanese representatives at the same time became the seed for future conflict- and detachment – created. Still, South Sudan was not truly integrated as an equal part of Sudan.

The emergence of Sudanese nationalism after the First World War was essentially a phenomenon linked to the mainly Arab part of Sudan, that is, the north, where several political groups were formed that had independence as their goal. A new Anglo-Egyptian agreement in 1953 gave Sudan internal autonomy, with the withdrawal of all Egyptian and British forces. South Sudan was not included in the agreement; here, the transition to self-government, independence and unification under one central political leadership therefore meant increasing subordination to North Sudan.

During the Juba Conference on the Future of South Sudan in 1945, the political elite in the south advocated independence for Sudan, but presumed a federal structure and that the southern part could later choose full independence. In principle, these were the same assumptions that were the basis of the peace agreement 50 years later.