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Durham University

Special Collections

Administration of the Sudan

J.G. Mavrogordato, Deputy Legal Secretary and Advocate General, writing at a desk from the collection of P.P. Howell

J.G. Mavrogordato, (SAD.59/6/)

Following the victory at Omdurman in 1898, the new Anglo-Egyptian administration was faced with the daunting prospect of administering the largest country in Africa, covering nearly one million square miles, and inhabited by almost 600 different tribes speaking over 400 different languages and dialects. Vital issues needing to be addressed by the new Sudan government included: infrastructure - without which effective governance was not possible; industry - developed to help the country achieve self-sufficiency; and justice - essential for ensuring a peaceful future. Whilst the heart of government power lay in Khartoum, the successful administration of the Sudan's many and disparate tribes was largely a result of the work of the Governors, District Commissioners and Assistant District Commissioners, stationed in locations all over the country. Through their initiative and relative independence from the central government, this unique body of men generally achieved good relationships with the diverse Sudanese communities.


(Please click on the thumbnail images below to see the full image and any additional pages)

(R.L. Hill, SAD/PF 26/5)

Map showing mission spheres, 1926

Christian missionary activity had the potential to be an explosive issue in the Anglo-Egyptian-Sudan. In order to avoid controversy in the predominately Muslim northern provinces, the Sudan Government banned missionaries from operating there. Instead, the missionaries concentrated on Southern Sudan but even here sectarian conflict was evident, most notably between Protestant and Catholic missionaries over rights to minister in certain areas. This colour-coded map illustrates the agreed demarcation of mission spheres for the respective missionary denominations in the southern provinces.

(J.W.E. Miller, SAD.969/7/31-32)

Extract from a trek diary written by J.W.E. Miller, describing his attendance at a tribal gathering at Malaliyafa in the Red Sea Province, 1922

Miller was, at this time, Assistant District Commissioner of Port Sudan. Working under the system of 'Indirect Rule' the role of District Commissioners and Assistant District Commissioners was to advise and oversee the traditional Sudanese tribal authorities. Owing to the relative isolation of many of their postings, DCs and ADCs had to use their initiative and the scope of their duties varied widely.

(P.P. Howell, SAD.59/5)

Photograph of Sir Stewart Symes, Governor-General, (seated centre) with his personal staff in the Governor-General's palace, Khartoum, ca. 1940

As the Sudan was a sovereign state and not a colony, the authority of the Governor-General was greater than that of any colonial governor in the British Empire. By the 1930s the only check on his power came from the Foreign Office which, by and large, took little interest in the Sudan. Symes himself served for 6 years from 1934-1940 and his rule, characterised by bold plans for reform, marked the beginning of a shift towards Sudanese nationalism and later independence. P.P. Howell, the creator of the collection from which this photograph comes from, is seated to the right of Symes, in his role as Aide-de-Camp.

(A. Baring, SAD 65/5)

Memorandum from E.H. Nightingale, District Commissioner for the Southern District of Darfur, to J.A.A. Blaikie, D.C. Southern District of Darfur, on a boundary dispute involving the Ma'alia tribe, 26 October 1937

The administration by provincial Governors of the myriad of tribes under their jurisdiction was not an altogether easy task, particularly as administrative control needed to be balanced against the rights of tribes to manage their own affairs. The question of the demarcation of tribal boundaries could, on occasion, cause disagreements between tribes, as this memorandum illustrates.

(J. Carmichael, SAD.998/1/1)

General map of the Gezira, showing a proposed extension to the Gezira scheme, 19 December 1943

Cotton was, for a long time, the Sudan's main export - until surpassed by oil in the 1990s. Under Anglo-Egyptian rule much was done to maximise production of cotton and other crops and to overcome the difficulties posed by the Sudan's swamplands (sudd). The Gezira irrigation scheme, designed to increase the agricultural potential of the plains between the White and Blue Niles just south of Khartoum, was the first and most ambitious project undertaken by the government. Begun in 1913 (though hindered until the end of the war and the completion of the Sennar Dam in 1926) the Gezira scheme proved an enormous financial success and was widely praised as a model irrigation scheme. With further extensions it now covers an area of 2.5 million acres.

(R.L. Hill, SAD.961/4/3)

Photograph of Atbara bridge under construction, 1909

Building the infrastructure of the Sudan was vital to ensure the successful administration of the country. The railways played an essential role in this regard, not least by improving communications between central government and the provinces.  As the home of the Sudan Railways department, Atbara became a very important centre for the management of railway operations and the transport network in general.

(K.H.J.O. Hayes, SAD.959/13/37)

Table of civil cases in the 'Khartoum Circuit', 1915-1950

Judicial courts played an important role as instruments of power in the towns and cities of Northern Sudan. At the head of the Legal Department was the Legal Secretary, one of the most powerful positions in the Sudan Government. However, the day-to-day administration of justice was carried out by the Civil Courts and the Mohammedan Law Courts. This table shows the relative number of civil cases brought before the Khartoum and Omdurman Civil Courts between 1915 and 1950.

(H.B. Arber, SAD.90/11)

Photograph showing Sudanese prisoners resurfacing the tennis court at the house of H.B. Arber, Assistant District Commissioner of Rashad, Kordofan, 1936

Prisoners were widely used by the British as free labour and were even employed in the households of officials.