British East / Central Africa
Three illustrated pages from Illustirte Zeitung on the lesser known exploration of Richard Buchta. T
Note: Richard Buchta (1845-94) was an Austrian explorer, born in Radlow, Galicia. In 1877 he visited Khartum, where Chinese Gordon, then Governor-General, facilitated his journey to Emin Pasha at Ladó, on the Upper Nile. In 1885 he made another tour through Egypt and through the desert to Fayum. He was a collaborator on the first volume of Junker’s work on Africa and published the following works: Die obern Nilländer, etc., with 160 photographic views (1881); Der Sudan und der Mahdi, Das Land, die Bewohner und der Aufstand (1884); and Der Sudan unter ägyptischer Herrschaft (1888).
A collection of 39 illustrations from English, French and Italian periodicals on the Mahdist Jihad in the Sudan, 1881-1885.
Note: After the British removal of the the Egyptian Khedive Ismail in 1877, Gordon ( who had appointed him to the post) resigned as Governor General of Sudan in 1880. His successors lacked direction from Cairo and feared the political turmoil that engulfed Egypt. As a result, they failed to continue the policies Gordon had put in place. The illegal slave trade revived, although not enough to satisfy the merchants whom Gordon had put out of business. The Sudanese army suffered from a lack of resources, and unemployed soldiers from disbanded units troubled garrison towns. Tax collectors arbitrarily increased taxation.
In this troubled atmosphere, Muhammad Ahmad ibn as Sayyid Abd Allah, a faqir or holy man who combined personal magnetism with religous zealotry, emerged, determined to expel the Turks and restore Islam to its primitive purity. Sometime in 1880 Muhammad Ahmad revealed himself as ‘the Mahdi’, sent from God to redeem the faithful and prepare the way for the second coming of the Prophet Isa (Jesus). Even after the Mahdi proclaimed a jihad, or holy war, against the Turks, Khartoum dismissed him as a fanatic, that is until his zealotry turned to denunciating tax collectors. To avoid arrest, the Mahdi and a pary of his followers, the Ansar, made a long march to Kurdufan, where he gained a large number of recruits.
Early in 1882, the Ansar, armed with spears and swords, overwhelmed a 7,000 man Egyptian force not far from Al Ubayyid and seized their rifles and ammunition. The Mahdi followed up this victory by laying siege to Al Uyayyid and starving it into submission after four months. The Ansar, 30,000 men strong, then defeated an 8,000 man Egyptian relief force at Sheikan. Next the Mahdi captured Darfur. These successes threatened to cut off garrisons at Khartoum, Kassala, Sannar and Sawakin and in the south. To avoid a costly conflict, the British government ordered an Egyptian withdrawl from Sudan. Gordon, who had received a reappointment as governor general, arranged to supervise the evacuation of Egyptian troops and all foreigners from Sudan.
Upon reaching Khartoum in February 1884, Gordon realized he could not extricate the garrsions and called for reinforcements from Egypt to relieve Khartoum. He argued that Sudan was essential to Egypt’s security and that to allow the Ansar a victory there would invite the movement to spread elsewhere. Increasing popularity of Gordon at home forced Prime Minister Gladstone to mobilize a relief force under the command of Lord Wolseley. The relief column got bogged down at Abu Klea where the so-called Fuzzy Wuzzies broke the British line. Another advance unit that had gone by river reached Khartoum on January 28, 1885, only to find the town had fallen two days earlier. The garrison was slaughtered and Gordon’s head was delivered to the Mahdi’s tent. Kassala and Sannar fell soon after and by the end of 1885 the Ansar had begun to move into the southern region. In all Sudan, only Sawakin, reinforced by Indian troops, and Wadi Haifa on the northern frontier, remained in Anglo-Egyptian hands.
Six months after the fall of Khartoum, the Mahdi died of typhus. The task of establishing and maintaining a government fell to his deputies – 3 caliphs chosen by the Mahdi in emulation of the Prophet Muhammad. Rivalry among the three continued until 1891, when Abdallahi ibn Muhammad, with the help primarily of the Baqqara Arabs, overcame the opposition of the others and emerged as unchallenged leader of the Mahdiyah. Abdallahi – called the Khalifa (successor) – purged the Mahdiyah of members of the Mahdi’s family and many of his early religous disciples.
Note: Britain decided to reconquer the Sudan, which was controlled by the Mahdists under the khalifa Abdullah (1846?-1899) and which was of increasing colonial interest to the Italians and French in Africa. An Anglo-Egyptian army, led by General Kitchener (1850-1916) advanced south from Egypt up the Nile River into the Sudan. Accompanied by a river gunboat flotilla, Kitchener constructed a railway as he moved and encountered stiff resistance from the Mahdists. The Anglo-Egyptian force captured Dongola (September 21, 1896) and Abu Hamed (August 7, 1897) and was victorious against the Mahdists at the Battle of Atbara River (April 8, 1898). A 40,000 man army of dervishes and Mahdists, under the command of the khalifa, savagely attacked Kitchener’s army of about 26,000 men at Omdurman on the Nile, just north of Khartoum, on September 2, 1898. The attack was repelled with machine guns, and the khalifa suffered heavy casualties. Kitchener counterattacked, and his cavalry – the 21st Lancers, among whom was Winston Churchill (1874-1965) – bravely drove the dervishes from the field. During the five hour battle, abut 11,000 Mahdists died wheras Anglo-Egyptian losses amounted to 48 dead and fewer than 400 wounded.
The khalifa and his remaining forces took flight and were pursued into Kordofan, where they managed to hold their ground for more than a year. On November 24, 1899, the Mahdists forces were completely destroyed, and the khalifa was slain in battle. The condominium government of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was then established.
Mopping-up operations required several years, but organized resistance ended when the khalifa was killed. Sudan’s economy had been all but destroyed during his reign and the population had declined by approximately half because of famine, disease, persecution, and warfare. Moreover, none of the country’s traditional institutions or loyalties remained intact. Tribes had been divided in their attitudes toward Mahdism, religous brotherhoods had been weakened, and orthodox religous leaders had vanished.