*** the Fashoda Incident

Sudan History: The Fashoda Incident (1898)

Fashoda Incident
Figure 1.--The Fashoda Incident was an international incident in East Africa that brought France and UK to the brink of war (1898). General Jean-Baptiste Marchand (1863-1934) commanded the French expeditionary force from French Congo. This French postcard depicts a soldier who participated in the expedition receiving a military medal. He is shown with his wife and their three children all clothed in European clothing, but barefoot. While missionaries and colonial authorities pressed to impose western style clothing, the footwear was a tough sell. That was due to several reasons. There were no modesty reasons to be shod, and even in Europe many people, especially the children, went barefoot. The footwear was expensive and the people were used to going shoeless.

The Fashoda Incident was a potentially tragic diplomatic dispute between France and Britain at the end of the 19th century that brought the two countries to the brink of war. Both countries were major participants in the 19th century European Scramble for Africa. Some British leaders wanted to complete Cecil Rhodes's dream of a continuous strip of colonial possessions from Cape Town north to Cairo. France in contrast wanted an overland route from the Red Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. The French Government (Third Republic) ordered Major J. B. Marchand (1863-1934) with a small force from Brazzaville (French Congo) to move west and seize Suda, the needed territory (May 1, 1897). The Sudan at the time was Egyptian territory and not a British colony. The British were, however, involved because of their protectorate over Egypt and effort to end the slave trade in Sudan. A British-led Egyptian force was in the process of retaking the Sudan after the Mhadist Revolt from Mhadi's successor, the Khalifa. The British Government warned the French not to proceed with this enterprise. Major Marchand's small force crossed over 2,000 mi (3,200 km) of virtually unexplored wilderness. Marchand's force reached Fashoda (now Kodok) on the Nile in the southern Sudan (July 10, 1898). Marchand managed to repel a Mahdist attack. He paused at Fashoda, expecting a Franco-Ethiopian force to reinforce him from the east. Lord Kitchener's Anglo-Egyptian army defeated the principal Mahadist force at Omdurman in the north (September 2) Learning of the French incursion, Kitchener led forces south (upriver) on orders from British Prime-Minister Lord Salisbury. He reached Fashoda (September 10). Kitchener met with Marchand. He claimed the entire Nile valley for Britain. Both forces prudently withdrew without firing a shot. The resolution of the conflicting claims was worked out by British and French diplomats. The governing factor was that Britain had a substantial army in Khartoum as a result of operation against the Mahadist forces. France in contrast had no sizeable forces in the area. France renounced all rights to the Nile basin and the Sudan in return for a guarantee of its sizeable claims in West and Central Africa. The Fashoda Incident is today a little remembered historical footnote. But it could have dramatically changed history. If Britain and France had fought a colonial war in Africa, the likelihood of a British and French rapprochement in the 20th century would have been much less likely, meaning Kaiser Wilhelm II would not have faced a powerful Allied resistance when in attempted to expand German territory West, launching World War I (1914).


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Created: 5:03 PM 8/26/2023
Last updated: 5:04 PM 8/26/2023