The Development of the Economy up to 1930

  • Tim Niblock


The defeat of the Mahdist forces under the Khalifah ‘Abd Allahi at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, and the consequent establishment of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium in Sudan, undoubtedly ushered in a new era for Sudan economically as well as politically. Some have described the economic change as a transition from a subsistence economy to a market economy. While there is some truth in this, it is a characterisation which obscures as much as it reveals. Several centuries before 1898 a market economy had been in existence in some parts of Sudan. Moreover, even at the end of the Condominium in 1956 subsistence production still made up a very substantial part of the Sudanese economy. The economic developments before 1898 in fact had a considerable effect, social as well as economic, on the post-1898 period.


European Trader Tenant Farmer Cash Economy Tribal Leader Pump Irrigation 
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  1. 1.
    The account given here of economic developments in the Sudan between the 16th and 18th centuries relies heavily on the able historical work of R. S. O’Fahey and J. L. Spaulding. Their principal writings on this period are: R. S. O’Fahey and J. L. Spaulding, Kingdoms of the Sudan (Methuen, London, 1974);Google Scholar
  2. J. L. Spaulding, ‘Kings of Sun and Shadow: A History of the ‘Abdullab Provinces of the Northern Sinnar Sultanate, 1500–1800’, unpublished PhD thesis, Columbia University, 1971;Google Scholar
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  4. Another important historical work from which information is taken is: O. G. S. Crawford, The Funj Kingdom of Sennar (John Bellows, Gloucester, 1951). The accounts of European travellers who visited the area at this time are also instructive, as for example: J. Bruce, Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years 1768–1773 (Edinburgh University Press, 1805); J. L. Burckhardt, Travels in Nubia (Murray, London, 1819); G. W. Browne, Travels in Egypt, Syria and Africa (Cadell and Davies, London, 1799).Google Scholar
  5. 2.
    For a discussion of what is meant by ‘administered trade’, see K. Polanyi, Primitive, Archaic and Modern Economies (The Free Press, New York, 1968), pp. 280–3.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Information on the goods traded can be found in ‘Awad al-Sid al-Karsani, ‘Trade and Society in ad-Damer Town’, unpublished typescript, p. 4; in El-Sayed el-Bushra, ‘Towns in the Sudan in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries’, Sudan Notes and Records, vol. LII, 1971, pp. 63–70;Google Scholar
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    See R. Hill, Egypt in the Sudan 1820–1881 (Oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 7–8.Google Scholar
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    For the activities of the traders at this time, as outlined in this paragraph and the three which follow, see R. O. Collins, The Southern Sudan, 1883–1898: A Struggle for Control (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1962).Google Scholar
  10. Also see Abbas Ibrahim Muhammad Ali, The British, the Slave Trade and Slavery in the Sudan (Khartoum University Press, 1972), pp. 3–21.Google Scholar
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    See P. M. Holt, The Mahdist State in the Sudan 1881–1898 (Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 255–7.Google Scholar
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    The map is reproduced in F. Rehfisch, ‘A Sketch of the Early History of Omdurman’, Sudan Notes and Records, vol. XLV, 1964, pp. 44–5.Google Scholar
  13. The book from which the map was taken is P. Rossignoli, I Miei Dodici Anni di Prigonia (Mondini, 1898).Google Scholar
  14. Other first-hand accounts of the economic conditions during the Mahdiyyah can be found in J. Ohrwalder, Ten Years’ Captivity in the Mahdi’s Camp (Macmillan, London, 1892);Google Scholar
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  18. 32.
    The information given here on the needs of the Lancashire cotton industry is taken from A. Barnett, ‘The Gezira Scheme: Production of Cotton and Reproduction of Underdevelopment’, in I. Oxaal, A. Barnett and D. Booth (eds), Beyond the Sociology of Development (Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1975), pp. 187–9.Google Scholar
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    A number of the memoirs of British officials who served the Condominium in the early years refer to this point. See, for example, H. C. Jackson, Sudan Days and Ways (Macmillan, London, 1954), p. 130–2.Google Scholar
  20. 35.
    The pattern of financing gives credence to the contention of Mustafa Kamil and the Egyptian nationalists at the time that Sudan had become a British colony at the expense of Egypt’s ‘blood and money’. See Mekki Shibeika, The Independent Sudan (Robert Speller, New York, 1959), pp. 461–2.Google Scholar
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    For the early developments see W. F. Tewson, Golden Jubilee, 1904–1954: The Sudan Plantation Company and the Kassala Co. Ltd. and Their Work in Sudan (SPS, London, 1954).Google Scholar
  22. 39.
    The basic information given here on the schemes which came under the SPS is taken from A. Gaitskell, Gezira: A Story of Development in the Sudan (Faber, London, 1959).Google Scholar
  23. See also W. A. Hance, ‘The Gezira, an Example in Development’, The Geographical Review, vol. 44, 1954, pp. 253–70;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. and Khattab Saggar al-Ani, ‘The Gezira Scheme in Sudan, unpublished PhD thesis, Columbia University, 1959.Google Scholar
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    See E. Mackinnon, ‘Blue Nile Province’, in J. D. Tothill (ed.), Agriculture in the Sudan (Oxford University Press, 1948).Google Scholar
  26. 42.
    This was in accordance with a land settlement ordinance laid down in 1905. See Saeed Mohamed Ahmed El Mahdi, A Guide to Land Settlement and Registration (Khartoum University Press, 1971), Ch. 2.Google Scholar
  27. 47.
    Information on the Kassala Cotton Company taken from K. M. Barbour, The Republic of Sudan (Athlone Press, London, 1961), p. 222.Google Scholar
  28. 50.
    See C. B. Tracey, ‘Northern Province’, in J. D. Tothill (ed.), Agriculture in the Sudan (Oxford University Press, 1948).Google Scholar
  29. 53.
    See D. Roden, ‘The Twentieth Century Decline of Suakin’, Sudan Notes and Records, vol. LI, 1970, pp. 1–22.Google Scholar
  30. 54.
    See R. L. Hill, Sudan Transport (Oxford University Press, 1965), pp. 57–67.Google Scholar
  31. 56.
    See D. F. M. Mcloughlin, ‘Labour Market Conditions and Wages in the Three Towns, 1900–1950’, Sudan Notes and Records, vol. LI, 1970, pp. 105–18.Google Scholar

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© Tim Niblock 1987

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  • Tim Niblock

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