restricted access Business, State and Economy: Cotton and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1919-1939
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Business, State and Economy:
Cotton and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1919-1939

Following the 1898-1899 invasion and the establishment of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, Sudan enjoyed a predictable but short-run spurt of growth as a result of improvements to the basic conditions for economic activity. The relative absence of conflict, a reduction in the dislocation of the population caused by war, and the development of transport infrastructure and the provision of services all helped to stimulate the economy. Between 1901 and 1914, exports increased 282% and imports increased 246%; the area under cultivation in Sudan went from 1,000,000 feddans in 1904 to 2,100,000 feddans in 1913, an increase of 110%.2 Between 1901 and 1905, annual Sudan exports grew by an average of 6.5% per year as compared to the annual average growth of "crown colonies" trade of 1.2% per year. Between 1906 and 1910, Sudan exports grew by an annual average of 29.2% compared to an annual average growth in trade of 7.0% amongst the crown colonies, though between 1911 and 1913 Sudan export growth stalled at 3.2% annually, compared to a 9.3% increase in overall annual colonial trade.3 The subsequent dip in annual average growth can be attributed to the economy reaching a fuller capacity. Thus, by 1913-1914, the growth in exports - made up exclusively of agricultural produce and dominated by gum - began to choke off.

Convinced that unaided private enterprise could not deliver capital investment or further economic growth, the Sudan government began to work closely with the Sudan Plantations Syndicate, a British based company, to develop plantation cotton-growing in the Gezira region (the area of land between the White and the Blue Niles, just south of their confluence at Khartoum).4 Following World War I, which interfered with the plans for development, the construction of the dams and canals required to irrigate the Gezira resumed, culminating in the opening of the Gezira Scheme in 1924-1925.5 The scheme was a considerable technical achievement. It transformed the landscape in the Gezira region and, by importing labor, introducing tenant farmers, and changing the use of land, the scheme transformed a section of Sudanese society and created one of the defining institutions of colonialism in Sudan. The management [End Page 95] of the scheme was carried out by the Sudan Plantations Syndicate who held a monopoly concession. Cultivation was carried out by tenant farmers who worked under the supervision of the syndicate's officials. The Sudan government provided irrigation services. Together, these three made up the "partners" of the Gezira Scheme, each entitled to a share of the profits - 40% each to the tenants and the government; 20% to the syndicate.6 The syndicate and the government were to work closely together, leading Reginald Wingate to comment that "for a Government and a syndicate to combine on co-operative principles, and for a syndicate to become, in some respects, a Government Department, is an entirely new departure."7 The Gezira scheme was run on this basis until 1950. As such it represents the only major attempt made by the Sudan government to intervene in the economy to foster growth.

Ultimately economic development in Sudan during the Condominium was not widespread.8 The developmental effort was narrowly concentrated on cotton-growing in the Gezira region, and even there the wider benefits for Sudanese society have been questioned.9 The government's contribution to economic underdevelopment is important and any assessment has to take into account both the long-run structural changes brought about (such as the Gezira Scheme itself) and the record of policymaking over time. The verdicts of historians have not been positive. Martin Daly concludes that the officials of the Sudan Political Service showed "[d]isdain for development" - a withering criticism.10 G.N. Sanderson reaches a similar conclusion.11 Yet at the time of the opening of the Gezira Scheme in the mid-1920s, there was a positive optimism among officials and luminaries in Sudan, and they tended to be of one voice in praise of the cooperative/corporative nature of the partnership between tenant farmers, government, and...