- A Civil Society Deferred: The Tertiary Grip of Violence in the Sudan
The nature of the colonial states created by imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries continues to shape contemporary states. In Sudan, the legacies of colonial state violence are an important part of the foundations of the post-colonial political regimes. Abdullahi Gallab examines these colonial heritages, showing how the state “emerged as a centralized violent governing entity” with the result that “for a considerable period [End Page 375] of time the Sudanese civil society has been deferred” (pp. 189, 194).
Gallab argues that the “Sudanese state is a product of a unique and complicated encounter between imperial designs of exploitation, hegemony, ideology, and control that acted violently as an anathema to civil society” (p. xviii). He begins with a broad survey of the evolution of state structures in the region of Sudan from ancient times, noting the emergence of distinctive networks of power based on merchants and religious teachers as well as military commanders. In the second chapter, Gallab examines the construction of the distinctive colonial state by the British at the beginning of the 20th century. The foundations for the colonial state were laid by the Turco-Egyptian conquest of Sudan in 1820 and the centralized administrative system created by those conquerors. This state was overthrown by the Mahdist revolution late in the century. The new 20th century state, created as a result of the Anglo-Egyptian “reconquest,” was a hybrid “condominium” of British and Egyptian control dominated by Great Britain. The core of this power system was a military management elite which established “the colonial state as a central organizer of the construction and order of the political space” (p. 35).
The resistance to the evolution of the colonial state, as discussed in Chapter 3, centers around the Mahdist tradition. The Mahdist revolution resulted in an independent Sudan from the 1880s until 1898–99. The movement did not end with the British conquest, and resistance to the new rulers first took the form of messianic revolts and then a neo-Mahdist proto-nationalism. Non- Mahdist resistance was expressed through another large Muslim organization, the Khatmiyyah Tariqah, led by the Mirghani family. Gallab also notes the emergence of an educated Sudanese elite “that colonial institutions of learning have produced to serve the state. Those elites later inherited that state” (p. 65).
In three chapters, Gallab provides portraits of three cities as symbols and expressions of colonial dominance and resistance to it. Khartoum had been the Turco-Egyptian capital; and in the 20th century state, it was rebuilt as “the model and the representation of the ‘symbol of Imperial Britain’” (p. 69). In the era of independence, the city remains as the symbol of hegemonic (and violent) central power. Omdurman, the old Mahdist capital, was “the flagship of an emerging and resilient anticolonial Sudanese spirit” (p. 101). In this framework, Omdurman “emerged as the site of the Sudan’s ‘nationalist movement’” (p. 112). The third city, Cairo, is a complex double symbol of both a colonizing center in the 19th century and, especially in the 20th century, the source of both nationalist ideologies and activists as well as being the locus of an official copartner in the Sudanese colonial state.
The final two chapters “review the broad colonial strategies and the Sudanese counterstrategies that marked the creation of the center and the periphery” in modern Sudan (p. 140). The colonial state “had the capacity to create different and unequal groups of ‘peoples’” (p. 187), using categories of “colonized peasants” (p. 160), “fossilized” tribal, ethnic, and racial identities (p. 171), and African-Arab competition as a part of creating a narrative of central (violent) control over the population. This process also created a new Sudanese state-oriented elite who believed they that “were destined to occupy a special position of authority and privilege,” especially in the post-colonial (but still-colonial) state (p. 154).
Gallab’s analysis is...