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Egypt’s African Empire

Samuel Baker, Charles Gordon and the Creation of Equatoria

Dr Alice Moore-Harell is an independent researcher, after retiring from teaching at the Department of Islam and Middle East, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of the well received Gordon and the Sudan: Prologue to the Mahdiyya 1877–1880 (Frank Cass, 2001).

This book is a detailed and original study of the creation of the province of Equatoria, located in present-day Southern Sudan. No detailed account has previously been published on the effort to conquer and create a new Egyptian province in the 1870s in the interior of Africa, despite its importance to the history of the on-going north–south conflict in the Sudan.

The annexation of Equatoria emerged from the Khedive (viceroy) Ismail’s aspiration for an African empire that would control the source of the White Nile at Lake Victoria. At the time he was under pressure from the British government to suppress the lucrative slave trade in the Turco-Egyptian Sudan, and to this end the new province was to be under direct control of Cairo and not the authorities in Khartoum.

The two conquering expeditions of Equatoria were led by Britons, Samuel Baker and Charles Gordon (later Governor-General of the Sudan). With them were other Europeans, Americans, Sudanese and Egyptians. Baker, Gordon and some of the others left detailed accounts of their experience in the region. All of which contribute to our knowledge not only of the difficulties involved in the annexation of a region thousands of kilometres from Cairo, but also geographical data and a record of the complex human relations that developed between the men involved in the expeditions, and the creation of the new province. Official documents from the Egyptian state archive, Dar al-Wathaiq, provide detailed accounts of the politics of the annexation of Equatoria, and these accounts are discussed in their historical context.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-387-4
Hardback Price: £49.95 / $74.95
Release Date: February 2010
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-641-7
Paperback Price: £25.00 / $34.95
Release Date: May 2014
Page Extent / Format: 240 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No


List of Abbreviations

Part One: Egypt and the White Nile
1. The Quest of the River's Source
2. Egypt's Southern Expansion

Part Two: Conquest and Annexation – Samuel Baker's Expedition
3 . The Treacherous Nile
4 . The March to Masindi
5 . Resistance and Cooperation: the Natives and the Slave Traders

Part Three: The Creation of a New Egyptian Province – Charles Gordon's Expedition
6 . Samuel Baker's Departure and Charles Gordon's Arrival
7 . The Route to Central Africa
8 . Military Stations on the White Nile
9. The Great Lakes

Sources and Bibliography

In Egypt’s African Empire Alice Moore-Harell revisits the Egyptian annexation of Equatoria from 1869-1876, a subject that has received little scholarly attention since Richard Grey’s 1961 A History of the Southern Sudan, 1839–1889. Moore-Harell’s book is in essence the prequel to her earlier work Gordon and the Sudan: Prologue to the Mahdiyya, 1877–1880 (2001), a history of Charles Gordon’s term as governor general of the Sudan. A third book, detailing Gordon’s 1884–1885 return to Khartoum for the Egyptian evacuation, is being left for a later stage according to the author. The projected trilogy’s biographical focus notwithstanding, Egypt’s African Empire succeeds in reaching back beyond Gordon’s service in Equatoria, and provides readers an equally detailed account of his predecessor, Samuel Baker; both men, it should be noted, were working for Ismail, the Egyptian Khedive, and in pursuit of his imperial agenda per the book’s title. Making extensive use of both published primary sources and archival documents, most notably official papers and correspondence found in the Egyptian national archive, Dar al-Watha’iq al-Qawmiyya, Moore-Harrell’s current study fills an important gap in the historiography of the Sudan, and deepens our knowledge of events on the Upper Nile just prior to the Scramble. Be that as it may, in so uncritically privileging the voices of Baker and Gordon over all others, the end result sheds less light on ‘the circumstances that made Sudan a political entity within its preseent borders’ (p. ix) than it does the prejudices and predilections of Eminent Victorians.
International Journal of African Historical Studies

Southern Sudan will probably celebrate 2011 as its year of political independence. Thus, it is altogether fitting that this new study on the creation of the Equatoria province of the Turko-Egyptian Sudan reminds readers that the primary agents in creating a Sudanese state that reached all the way to Lake Victoria were an Egyptian Khedive, Ismail (r. 186379), and two British adventurers, Samuel Baker and Charles Gordon. Drawing on copious primary sources, notably the Baker and Gordon papers, located in libraries in London, and the archives of the Egyptian government in Cairo, Alice Moore-Harell unravels the complicated diplomatic and technological history involved in the exploration of this territory and its eventual administrative annexation to Egypt.
... In the author’s account, the motive forces behind Egypt’s expansion into central Africa were these two British figures, distinctly different yet both eager to serve an Egyptian government in efforts to stamp out the slave trade, to further explorations of Africa (particularly in a search for the sources of the Nile in and perhaps beyond Lake Victoria), and to advance the causes of ‘civilization’ in a seemingly desolate region through the establishment of settled Egyptian administration. Neither Baker nor Gordon was elevated to a position of authority following an intensive search. In truth, they were chance appointments. Baker just happened to be in Cairo when the Khedive was looking for someone to lead an expedition into this area. The Khedive granted him two two-year contracts, which he did not renew. Instead, he turned the task over to Gordon, who had lately and somewhat inadvertently come to his attention.
Both men had qualities that commended them for this work, and some that did not. Baker was a fiery and driven individual, who, like a good number of the adventurers / explorers / expansionists drawn to Africa in the age just preceding the partition of Africa, did not hesitate to use overwhelming – even, one might say, unnecessary – force to further his cause. His efforts aroused much African antagonism and were a factor in Khedive Ismail’s decision to find a replacement. Gordon, a born leader of men and a man with an international reputation for executing difficult and complicated tasks under demanding circumstances, burnished by his efforts to quell the Taiping rebellion in China, provoked much less resistance from the African populations whom he endeavoured to bring under Egyptian rule and accomplished more than his predecessor. He raised the Egyptian flag over more of these distant lands and brought a greater level of settled administration to central Africa than Baker, though he and the Egyptian officials whom he served never disputed the debt that he owed to his predecessor.
... The strength of this study rests in its exhaustive use of archival sources and its meticulous telling of a complicated story. Readers relive the infrequent yet heroic triumphs of this hardy band of explorer-conquerors. Far more regularly, they share the frustrations and despair of expeditionary forces operating at close to 1,000 miles from their administrative center (Cairo), which was not always responsive to requests coming from the group, and functioning in a land with an enervating climate that took the lives of many and left those who could endure the heat and the diseases with limited energies. Yes, the Baker and Gordon teams did put a steamer on Lake Albert; they did establish stations along the Nile from Gondokoro to Lake Victoria; and they did reduce slave raiding and trading in the region. But the Turko-Egyptian administration was very light indeed, and was rarely able to collect taxes from the local populations.
The Journal of African History

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