Battle of Omdurman I
Program InformationSeries: A Moment in Time
Year Produced: 2009
Sudan is located in northeastern Africa. It is the continent’s largest country and, in the late nineteenth century, Britain added it to its expanding colonial empire.
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Lead: Sudan is located in northeastern Africa. It is the continent’s largest country and, in the late nineteenth century, Britain added it to its expanding colonial empire.
Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.
Content: In the late 1800s European powers raced to grab Africa. Historians often refer to this as “the scramble for Africa.” Indigenous peoples were resentful of this absorption. Sometimes there was resistance and, on occasion, violence followed.
Sudan’s most important geographic feature is the Nile River and its two main tributaries, the Blue Nile and White Nile, which flow south to north in the middle of the country. Traditionally, most of the population depended on the Nile for transportation, livelihood and, indeed, survival.
By the sixteenth century, the northern region of Sudan had come under Muslim control and, in the 21st century, about half of the 37 million Sudanese are Suni Muslims who live in the north and central regions of the country. Much of the south has been inhabited by indigenous Africans who are either Christians or practice traditional African religions such as Animism. The country was thus fiercely divided along ethnic, religious and political lines. This was immensely complicated as Europeans, specifically the British, inserted themselves into Sudanese affairs. They initially did so as allies of the Egyptians. Britain had occupied Egypt in 1882 and they encouraged their Egyptian clients to invade and occupy their neighbor to the south. This in turn stirred up Sudanese nationalism and a revolt led by the Islamic religious leader, Muhammad Ahmad, who proclaimed himself the Mahdi--the prophesied redeemer of Islam.
Recognizing that the Anglo-Egyptian invading force--which had occupied the Sudanese capital of Khartoum--was in danger, the British sent former British Army General Charles “Chinese” Gordon to get them out. Gordon, a religious mystic and political imperialist who believed that Britain had an obligation to spread power, politics and Christianity into the Sudan, refused to leave. The British were forced to send an Army slowly up the Nile to rescue the rescuer, but they were too late. By the time they arrived, the forces of the Mahdi had captured Khartoum in January 1885 and executed Gordon. The British rescue Army was forced to withdraw and for 13 years Sudan remained under the control of the Mahdi and his successor, Abdullah.
Next time: The Battle of Omdurman.
Research by Ann Johnson, at the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.