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To what extent did British policymakers pursue a paternalist policy in the Sudan after 1945?
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Joseph Noutch

Essay Title: To what extent did British policymakers pursue a paternalist policy in the Sudan after
Student ID Number: 4086866
School: Cultures, Languages and Area Studies
Module: V13247 - Suez and the End of Empire
Word Count: 2990


Joseph Noutch

The case of British involvement in the Sudan is one rife with anomaly.1 From 1899 until its
independence in 1956 the Sudan held the unique position of being a colony of Egypt primarily
administered by Britain. In addition, due to its unusual condominium arrangement, the Foreign Office
assumed responsibility for the governance of Sudan rather than the Colonial Office.2 In order to
answer this question it is first necessary to define what is meant by `paternalist policy'. Paternalist
policy relates to the interference of the independence of peoples with benevolent intention towards
those peoples. This essay will argue that previous to 1953, British policy in the Sudan can be seen to
be notably paternalist. This was predominantly thanks to the unrelenting efforts of the Sudan Political
Service who battled successfully against the influence of the Foreign Office and the diplomats in
Cairo whose intent it was to pursue a policy more favourable to British strategic and economic
interest. Yet, as a result of the influence of the Foreign Office, the British in Egypt and other factors
such as the rise of Sudanese nationalism, there was a significant acceleration of the tutelage of the
Sudanese towards self-government and self-determination during the period. Finally, however, the
cession of Egypt's claim to right over Sudan effectively ended Britain paternalist influence in thtute
Sudan. This essay will consider the paternalist nature of British policy in the Sudan after 1945 before
examining other features of British policy in the country. This will include analysis with regards to
Britain's national interest, the greater autonomy and tutelage of the Sudanese, and a look at the
closing stages of British influence.
Throughout its existence, the Sudanese Political Service, and therefore the Sudanese government,
proved the primary influence on British policy in the Sudan. The British dominated the Sudanese
government during the condominium period; `British officials routinely held all the key
administrative posts' and the `pretence' of joint Egyptian rule `was almost dropped altogether' after
the murder of a senior British official in the Sudan by Egyptian nationalists in 1924.3 In addition,
despite the overall responsibility for the country lying with the Foreign Office, the Sudanese

1 D. H. Johnson (ed.), Sudan, pt. 1. (London, 1988), p. xxxv
2 Johnson, Sudan pt. 1, p. xxxv
3 M. T. Thornhill, Road to Suez: The Battle of the Canal Zone (Stroud, 2006), p. 107

Joseph Noutch

government had become very much autonomous.4 This was as a consequence of a number of factors
but chiefly, the lesser importance of the Sudan within the Foreign Office, the fact that Whitehall was
not `organized to supervise the kind of administration needed to rule such a vast territory' and the
belief amongst the British stationed in the Sudan `that Britain's priorities lay in Egypt and that
London would `sell out' the Sudanese to secure a settlement to the Canal Zone dispute'.5 Over time,
the Sudan Political Service had `gradually' become responsible for the `entire affairs of the country'.6
Furthermore its members had often `committed themselves to lifetime careers in the Sudan' and
`developed an attachment to the land and (obtained) a knowledge of the peoples of the Sudan'.7 The
end result was that the service came `to define its role as being to protect the interests of the
As a consequence of its `compact' nature (under 400 officials in all), the structure of the
administration and the general strong nature of certain personalities within the service, the large effect
on British policy by certain individuals within the service is noteworthy.9 Both Sir Hubert
Huddlestone who was Governor-General from 1945 to 1947 and Sir James Robertson who was Civil
Secretary from 1945 to 1953 `were men of outstanding quality' and dedicated themselves to the
Sudanese cause.10 In particular both these men proved influential in the so called `revolt' of the
Sudanese Political Service against the Bevin-Sidky protocol.11 This included pressure placed upon the
Foreign Office by Huddlestone and Robertson to not acquiesce control of Sudan to Egypt and publicly
voiced displeasure over the eventual wording of the Sudan Protocol.12 Collins has nevertheless found
it necessary to nuance the role of the Sudan Political Service after the Second World War. He has
argued that the war `had irreparably damaged ... the wisdom of British paternal rule' and that those
recruited to the service after the fact were `unconsciously inclined to think that the Sudanese could

4 T. W. Hanes, Imperial diplomacy in the era of decolonization: the Sudan and Anglo-Egyptian relations, 1945-
(Westport,1995), p. 4
5 Hanes, Imperial, p. 4 / Thornhill, Road to Suez, p. 113-4
6 A. S. Sidahmed, Politics and Islam in Contemporary Sudan (New York, 1996), p. 11 / Hanes, Imperial, p. 14
7 Hanes, Imperial, p. 5-6
8 Thornhill, Road to Suez, p. 113-4
9 A. H. M. Kirk-Greene., `The Sudan Political Service: A Profile in the Sociology of Imperialism', The
International Journal of African Historical Studies
, 15 (1982), p. 22 / Hanes, Imperial, p. 14
10 G. Balfour-Paul, The End of Empire in the Middle East. (Cambridge, 1991), p. 24
11 Hanes, Imperial, p. 5-6
12 Johnson, Sudan pt. 1, From: J. W. Robertson To: G. H. Hancock, 9 October 1946, p. 175

Joseph Noutch

manage just as well without British officials to guide them'.13 He then however goes on to explain that
only a small number of men were recruited to the service after the Second World War reinforcing the
administrations paternal nature.14 Furthermore, Collins assertion agrees with this essay's argument of
a modified paternalism involving greater and more intense tutelage of the Sudanese Political Service
after 1945.
However, despite the greater sentiment of those serving in Sudan and their belief that the British in
London and Cairo did not care enough for the welfare of the Sudanese, there was paternal sentiment
outside of the British policymakers within the Sudan. Indeed, the public statements of the British
government give the impression that the welfare of the Sudanese was most certainly a priority.15 In
1946, Bevin stated that `His Majesty's government have no object in the Sudan other than the true
welfare of the Sudanese' whilst later, in an address to the House of Commons on the 20th November
1950, the Foreign Secretary declared that `the Sudan is a really remarkable development and is an
example to the world of what can be done in such territories and we would do nothing at all to set it
back and leave the people at the tender mercy of others'.16
Yet, despite this rhetoric, those in London and Cairo principally attempted to pursue a policy in the
Sudan shaped by British strategic interest in Africa, the Middle East, and in particular with its
negotiation with Egypt. After the Second World War, whilst there was a growth in `both the fear of
Soviet expansionist aspirations in the Arab world and Africa, and related uncertainties about the
security of Britain's military domination of the Near East', Egypt was demanding the further removal
of British military interests from their country.17 It has been traditionally argued by historians such as
Balfour-Paul that Ernest Bevin was a man of great principle and distinctively refused to `sell out' the
Sudan.18 This however has been subject to revision by Hanes amongst others who has argued that

13 R. O. Collins, `The Sudan Political Service: A Portrait of the 'Imperialists', African Affairs, 71 (1972), p. 302
14 Collins, `Sudan Political Service', p. 302
15 M. Abbas, The Sudan Question: The Dispute over the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, 1884-1951 (New York,
1952), p. 97
16 Johnson, Sudan pt. 1, Statement by Mr. Bevin, 26 March 1946, p.137 / Abbas, Sudan Question, p.99
17 Balfour-Paul, End of Empire, p. 20-1
18 Thornhill, Road to Suez, p. 113-4

Joseph Noutch

`Bevin was in fact fully prepared to buy his treaty at the expense of the Sudan'.19 Whilst there is little
question that Bevin's `formal recognition of the Egyptian's crowns claims to sovereignty over the
Sudan' was meant to be `purely symbolic', both the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister Attlee were
willing to some extent to tolerate Sidky Pasha's interpretation if it meant they would get their treaty.20
Indeed, it was largely a result of the persuasion, insistence and political nous of Huddlestone and
Robertson that the treaty was not eventually signed.Yet, at the same time, `Britain had effectively
admitted Egyptian titular claims over the Sudan and the ultimate failure of the negotiations could not
cancel out this admission' or the repercussions it had towards British integrity in the Sudan.21
It should also be noted that as well as Bevin's somewhat preparedness to relinquish the Sudan, the
reasons he held for maintaining British influence in the Sudan were hardly paternalist. The Sudan had
become even more important strategically for the British as if she `removes her forces from Egypt, her
strategic interests make it imperative for her to station them somewhere else in the Middle East' with
Sudan `regarded by experts as a possible alternative'.22 During Anglo-Egyptian negotiations over the
Sudan protocol, in a meeting between Bevin and Sidky, the secretary of state for Foreign affairs
elucidates this very point towards his counterpart explaining `now that we were withdrawn from
Egypt it was very important for the whole strategic arrangement in the Middle east that Great Britain
should be able to retain troops in the Sudan'.23
The third major group which affected British policy in the Sudan were the British diplomats in Cairo
whose aims often coincided with those of the Foreign Office.24 Yet, while those in Cairo and
Khartoum were both equally distrustful and full of dislike for the `Egyptian ruling classes and
administrative integrity ... they disagreed (with the Sudan administrators) over the ordering of
imperial priorities and procedures for pursuing them'.25 The diplomats in Cairo saw the Sudan

19 Hanes, Imperial, p. 2-3
20 Thornhill, Road to Suez, p. 113-4 / Hanes, Imperial, p. 91
21 Thornhill, Road to Suez, p. 113-4
22 Abbas, Sudan Question, p. 97-98
23 Johnson, Sudan pt. 1, 4th Meeting between Mr. Bevin and Egyptian delegation, 24 October 1946, p. 193
24 Balfour-Paul, End of Empire, p. 16
25 Balfour-Paul, End of Empire, p. 25

Joseph Noutch

administrators as `parochial dinosaurs incapable of appreciating that Britain's strategic necessities
outweighed all other considerations'.26 This clash often resulted in
In addition to Britain's national strategic objectives impinging on its benevolence in the Sudan,
Britain also held several economic interests in the country which contradicted with its paternalist
ideal. In particular, Britain was interested in Sudanese Cotton.27 In 1925, Britain established the
Gezira scheme in the Sudanese state of Al-Jazrah which had the aim of `providing cotton for textile
factories ... in Great Britain'.28 In addition, the Sudan Plantations Syndicate, who managed the scheme
up and till 1950, was a British company and received `about 20 per cent of the net proceeds in
cotton'.29 At points, there were even attempts in British parliament to stipulate that Sudanese cotton
had to be sold to Britain.30 And although no such condition was ever put in place, Sudanese cotton
during the period invariably went `to Great Britain and India when it was British'.31
The period after 1945 however did see a shift in British policy, largely caused by those in the Foreign
Office and the British diplomats in Cairo, with acceleration in the education towards independence far
more prominent than in previous times which resulted in somewhat greater autonomy for the
Sudanese.32 Whilst tutelage is most certainly associated with paternal policy, the speed of its
application represents a divergence with the previously highly paternalist British policy. The shift was
predominantly as a result of the Anglo-Egyptian dispute as `from 1946 until the overthrow of King
Faruq in Egypt in 1952,' the British in the Sudan `were very conscious of having to keep ahead of the
momentum for self-government, leading to independence'.33 The Sudan Political Service, motivated
by the fear that the British Government in London would sell them out for their treaty, attempted `to
keep a large section of the northern nationalist movement on their side against Egypt's claim of

26 Balfour-Paul, Empire, p. 25
27 Abbas, Sudan Question, p. 97
28 E. El Tahir Eltigani, War and drought in Sudan: Essays on Population Displacement (Gainesville, 1995), p.25
29 Abbas, Sudan Question, p. 95
30 Abbas, Sudan Question, p. 97
31 Abbas, Sudan Question, p. 97
32 Hanes, Imperial, p. 38-39
33 J. Robertson, Sudan in Transition, African Affairs, 52 (1953), p. 324 / D. H., Johnson, The root causes of
Sudan's civil wars: updated to the Peace Agreement.
(Oxford, 2007), p. 22

Joseph Noutch

continued sovereignty over the Sudan' with progress towards independence.34 In particular, this
became far more pertinent after the Protocol `debacle' as Bevin himself stated he was `all in favour of
intensifying Sudanisation', the process in which Sudanese would replace British administrators.35
Thus the origin from the Foreign Office was twofold; not only had they sent the Political Service into
action with the threat of handing over Sudan to Egypt but both the Foreign Office and those in Cairo
demanded greater Sudanisation themselves in the hope that this would mean the replacement of those
in the Sudan Political Service who often stood in the way of British strategic interest. Either way, as
the Cabinet stipulated, it had now become the explicit aim of the British `to enable the Sudanese to
attain self-government at the earliest practicable opportunity'.36 The Sudanese Political Service
response was to create new administrative bodies which were largely inconsequential in an effort to
give the appearance of acceleration to both the Sudanese Nationalists and the Foreign Office whilst
maintaining parental control.37 Amongst measures undertaken was the establishment of an Advisory
Council and later on, in 1948, the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council were created. Yet, as
much as the Political Service made sure the `civilising mission was not rushed' and the fact `very little
legislation was ever produced by these two bodies, noteworthy progress was in fact made.38
The reversal of British Southern Policy also demonstrated an acceleration of tutelage in a way which
was detrimental to British paternalism. Throughout the condominium period southern Sudan was
administered in a very different way to the North of the country. The southern provinces of the
country were isolated from the outside world.39 This `administrative pattern', which was confirmed in
the Civil Secretary's statement on Southern Policy in 1930, was `justified' by the British `by claiming
that the south was not ready for exposure to the modern world'.40 In June 1947, at the Juba
conference, Robertson `in a decisive statement of policy' however reversed the Southern Policy partly

34 Johnson, root causes, p. 22
35 Thornhill, Road to Suez, p. 113-4 / Johnson, Sudan pt. 1, From: Mr Bevin To: Mr Attlee, 12 November 1946,
p. 215
36 R. Hyam (ed.), The Labour Government and the End of Empire 1945-1951 pt.1 (London, 1992), `Egypt:
Anglo-Egyptian Treaty': Cabinet conclusions on negotiations, 5 April 1951, p. 85 / Johnson, Sudan pt.1, p. xlv
37 Hanes, Imperial, p. 38-39
38 Thornhill, Road to Suez, p. 113-4

39 M. H. Fadlalla, Short History of Sudan (Lincoln, 2004), p. 31
40 Johnson, root causes, p. 11 / Fadlalla, Sudan, p. 31

Joseph Noutch

as a result of `Egyptian and northern Sudanese nationalist insistence on a united Sudan'.41 Robertson
concluded that the `South must be administered as an integral part of a united Sudan' despite
objections from his colleagues in the South who feared `Northern domination and infiltration'.42
Whilst Britain's intent was to further the Sudanese progress into statehood, it had at the same time left
vulnerable the less educated southerners to the more politically aware northerners and abandoned the
policy in the south which had promoted `impeccable justice' thanks to the `paternal British
The Egyptian Revolution of the summer of 1952 proved decisive for British influence in the Sudan.
The new regime in Egypt relinquished their claim to sovereign rights over the country and instead set
about making agreements with the Sudanese political parties ensuring Sudanese self-determination.
`On 12 October 1952 an agreement was reached between Naguib and Umma Party... this was
followed by another, signed on 10 January1953 by all leading Sudanese parties'.44 The new President
of Egypt Naguib had `outmanoeuvred' his British counterparts and gave the British no choice but to
accept the path to Sudanese independence devised by Neguib and the Sudanese political parties. This
effectively signalled both the conclusion of any real semblance of British paternal policy in the Sudan
and any ability in which the British could use the Sudan for its own national interest. `A new Anglo-
Egyptian Agreement was consequently reached in short order'.45
Ultimately, British policy in the Sudan was a combination of paternalism and national interest with
relation to economic and strategic interests specifically in Egypt. It should be noted thought that the
Sudan Political Service, much to the dismay of the Foreign Office and the British diplomats in Cairo,
managed to prolong British paternalist policy in the Sudan for years after World War Two. Whilst
many within the service contributed to this policy, mention should be given to Governor-General
Huddlestone and Civil Secretary Robertson who fought passionately to prevent the British from

41 P. M. Holt & M. W. Daly, A History of the Sudan (5th edn., Harlow, 2000), p. 131 / Johnson, root causes, p.
42 Johnson, Sudan Pt.1, JW Robertson on the first report of the Sudan Administration Conference, 29 July 1947,
p. 265
43 R. O. Collins, Civil Wars and Revolution in the Sudan: Essays on the Sudan, Southern Sudan and Darfur,
(Hollywood, 2005), p. 33
44 Holt & Daly, Sudan, p. 137
45 Holt & Daly, Sudan, p. 137

Joseph Noutch

handing over the Sudan to Egypt for their treaty. Yet, as a result of numerous factors but in particular
the threat of a treaty with the Egyptians and the insistence of the Foreign Office and British Diplomats
in Cairo, the speed in which the Sudanese were educated towards self-government was increased and
the supposed timeframe for eventual independence shortened. The revolution in Egypt however
prematurely signalled the concluding stages of British influence in the Sudan. Thanks to Naguib's
tactics, the independence of Sudan was no longer in control of the Sudan Political Service and the
Foreign Office any leverage over the Egyptians in their ongoing negotiations.


Joseph Noutch

Johnson, D. H. (ed.), Sudan, pt. 1. (London, 1988).
Hyam, R. (ed.), The Labour Government and the End of Empire 1945-1951 pt. 1 (London,
Robertson, J. Sudan in Transition, African Affairs, 52 (1953), pp. 317-327
Abbas, M., The Sudan Question: The Dispute over the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, 1884-
1951 (New York, 1952).
Balfour-Paul, G., The End of Empire in the Middle East. (Cambridge, 1991).
Collins, R. O., Civil Wars and Revolution in the Sudan: Essays on the Sudan, Southern Sudan
and Darfur, 1962 - 2004 (Hollywood, 2005).
Collins, R. O., `The Sudan Political Service: A Portrait of the 'Imperialists', African Affairs,
71 (1972), pp. 293-303.
Fadlalla, M. H., Short History of Sudan (Lincoln, 2004).
Hanes, W. T., Imperial diplomacy in the era of decolonization: the Sudan and Anglo-
Egyptian relations, 1945-1956 (Westport,1995).
Holt, P. M., & Daly, M. W. A History of the Sudan. (5th edn., Harlow, 2000).
Johnson, D. H., The root causes of Sudan's civil wars: updated to the Peace Agreement.
(Oxford, 2007).
Kirk-Greene, A. H. M., `The Sudan Political Service: A Profile in the Sociology of
Imperialism', The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 15 (1982), pp. 21-48.
Rothwell, V., Anthony Eden: a Political Biography 1931-1957 (Manchester, 1992).
Sidahmed, A. S., Politics and Islam in Contemporary Sudan (New York, 1996).
Thornhill, M. T., Road to Suez: The Battle of the Canal Zone (Stroud, 2006).

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