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Durham University

Durham Law School

Staff profile

Publication details for Professor Tom Allen

Allen, Tom (2017). The Purposes of Land Settlement in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1898-1914: Drawing Paths through the Weeds. Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 45(6): 894-922.

Author(s) from Durham


This article examines the programme of land surveying and registration that was undertaken by the British-led administration of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in the period 1898–1914. The Legal Secretary, Edgar Bonham Carter, stated that programme was the most important project of his division in this period. Scholars have shown that the programme, known as land ‘settlement’, was used to build alliances with elites and to clarify title for European investors in the new irrigation scheme at Gezira. This article argues that, as such, the ambitions of land settlement were relatively limited. In many other colonies, and in Britain itself, politicians and administrators across the political spectrum saw the reform of private property in land as the key for addressing structural problems in agricultural labour. One might have thought that, the Sudan, land settlement might have provided a means of addressing the dependence on slave labour in agriculture. The article demonstrates that, except for a small number of administrators (including Bonham Carter), this was not the case. The general indifference to slavery itself carried through to an indifference to the transformative potential of land law. The article examines the proposals of this minority of administrators, and contrasts their views with the majority’s focus on land settlement as demonstration and opportunity to enhance state power.