Collaborating on Unequal Terms: Cross-Cultural Cooperation and Educational Work in Colonial Sudan, 1934-1956 - HAL-SHS - Sciences de l'Homme et de la Société Access content directly
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Collaborating on Unequal Terms: Cross-Cultural Cooperation and Educational Work in Colonial Sudan, 1934-1956


This article aims at contributing to ongoing historiographical debates on cooperation and cross-cultural relations in imperial/colonial settings through a specific case study of education in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (1899-1956). As an "in-between" space between the Arab Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, as a frontier area between Arabic-speaking and English-speaking Africa, and as a legal anomaly within the British Empire, the Sudan has drawn little attention among scholars of imperialism and colonialism. Despite this relative marginality, several important studies dealing mainly or partly with the issue of collaboration/cooperation in colonial Sudan have been produced since the 1980s. Among them, Heather Sharkey's thorough analysis of Sudanese civil servants as "human bridges" between colonialism and nationalism relies both on Ronald Robinson's political study and on more recent works by postcolonial or "new imperial" historians, hinting at continuities -or at least compatibilities- between these various approaches. During the first half of the 20th century, the Sudan was theoretically ruled by a dual Anglo-Egyptian administration known as the "Condominium". The country was not a colonial territory in the legal sense, being attached to the British Foreign Office rather than to the Colonial Office in London. Besides, it was never the home of any significant British or European settler community. In practice, however, Britain detained all decision-making powers in the Sudan, for Egypt was herself subject to British subordination to varying degrees from 1882 to 1956. The Sudan Government was dominated by the British Sudan Political Service, an elite corps modelled upon the Indian Civil Service. This did not mean that the British ran the country alone; as in most other territories under imperial/colonial rule, they had to rely on the collaboration and work of thousands of local clerks, translators, tax-collectors, judges and teachers. In the Sudanese case, these local or regional actors were mostly Northern Sudanese, Egyptians and "Syrians" (a category that usually included all Levantines). Cross-cultural mechanisms of cooperation existed both within the Khartoum central government and between the central government and local or provincial administrations , as well as between the colonial state apparatus and Sudanese organizations (Sufi orders and later political parties). After the Second Word War, in the context of a heightened Anglo-Egyptian dispute over the Sudan, the British authorities in Khartoum decided to speed up the Sudanization of the administration, namely the replacement of British with Sudanese officials. This process significantly affected cooperation dynamics, as more and more key positions were taken up by (mostly Northern) Sudanese between 1946 and 1954. Power relations, social hierarchies and mutual perceptions between British and Sudanese in and outside the government service were reshaped to a considerable extent. This article sheds new light on the politics of cooperation in colonial Sudan by focusing on education, an understudied field of cross-cultural interaction. Colonial education is both relevant and fascinating because it involved at once collaborative processes, unequal power relationships, disciplining mechanisms and emancipating dynamics. Moreover, the study provides a detailed analysis of historical dimensions of cooperation that have not hitherto been adequately or fully addressed: specific modes of collaboration, concrete results produced by joint work, difficulties and obstacles to cooperation, mutual perceptions of the collaborating actors. In a first part, two important methodological issues are tackled, namely terminological choices and the use of primary evidence. In order to avoid value judgments and possible anachronisms carried by terms such as "collaboration" and "cooperation", it is argued, historians should look for the words used by historical actors themselves, bring to light these "indigenous categories" and try to specify their meaning in relation to the historical context in which they were deployed. With regards to evidence, the problem of dissonant or contradicting sources (sometimes produced by a single author) and its implications for analyzing cooperation in imperial/colonial settings is briefly discussed. Moving to the core subject of enquiry, the article identifies historical factors that facilitated cooperation between British and non-British (Sudanese, Egyptian, Syrian) individuals within the colonial administration of the Sudan. Various considerations and interests on both sides allowed -sometimes actively pushed- for cooperation despite political antagonisms and cultural gaps. In the Sudanese educational field of the 1940s and 1950s, collaborative mechanisms operated at different levels. Specific examples of cross-cultural cooperation at macro (broad educational planning), meso (publication of pedagogic materials) and micro (writing and experimentation of history textbooks for elementary schools) levels are provided to show the importance of multilayered cooperative dynamics in late colonial Sudan. Based on empirical evidence, the article not only highlights significant achievements and limits of cross-cultural cooperation in a colonial context that was both incorporating and differentiating social groups ; it also points out at various ways in which the actors themselves (both colonizers and colonized) perceived and experienced collaboration in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.
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halshs-00911881 , version 1 (30-11-2013)


  • HAL Id : halshs-00911881 , version 1


Iris Seri-Hersch. Collaborating on Unequal Terms: Cross-Cultural Cooperation and Educational Work in Colonial Sudan, 1934-1956. Tanja Bührer et al. Cooperation and Empire: Local Realities of Global Processes, Berghahn, p. 292-322, 2017. ⟨halshs-00911881⟩
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