Schayegh on Young, 'Transforming Sudan: Decolonization, Economic Development, and State Formation'
Alden Young. Transforming Sudan: Decolonization, Economic Development, and State Formation. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2017. pp. (hardcover), ISBN 978-1-107-17249-4.
Reviewed by Cyrus Schayegh (Department of International History, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies) Published on H-IslamInAfrica (June, 2018) Commissioned by Saarah Jappie (University of the Witwatersrand)
Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=51782
Tackling various narratives about the Sudan, Africa, and the decolonization-development-state formation triad, Transforming Sudan should be of interest to scholars of each of these three fields, and of Africa and the Middle East. Young shows that modern Sudan is about more than identity-based conflicts. He questions West-to-Rest diffusion narratives of modernization and development theories and practices. He points beyond decolonization historians’ focus on political grievances, to foreground economic matters. And in his conclusion, he insists that a long-standing question about postwar Africa—why is it poorer than other continents?—should be replaced by “why [were] economic policies put in place that created localized sites of poverty and how [have] policy officials and the societies they represent come to tolerate such high levels of inequality?” (p. 150).
Tackling these issues, Young makes two serious contributions to the literatures on decolonization, development, and state formation, on which this review concentrates. One is the slowness of, and alternatives to, Sudan’s transition out of an imperial economy. The “conceptualization of the Sudanese economy as an independent [nation-state] object of planning was a gradual process” (p. 50). This was partly due to the extraordinary fact that Sudan was not simply a European colonial territory. Ottoman-Egyptian from the early 1820s to the early 1880s and after a hiatus the target, in 1898, of an Anglo-Egyptian conquest, Sudan was per the 1899 Anglo-Egyptian Condominium Treaty under the protection of the Egyptian as much as the British crown; the League of Nations confirmed this situation when Egypt became the last country to join it, in 1937, following the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. World War II did not change this fact. Into the 1940s, “Sudan was of interest to Egyptian policy makers because of its potential resource base and its ability to serve as a market for Egyptian goods” (p. 40). And into the 1950s, “compelling alternatives” (p. 47) existed to the Sudan as a nation-state economic unit. “Sudan remained more of an economic frontier of other countries than a distinct and autonomous economic space” (p. 50), an insight applicable to other postcolonial countries. This was because of its “underdeveloped [domestic] transportation network,” “irrigation works [that] were scattered across the territory” and that functioned as “part of the transnational Nile river basin,” and because of the continued use of the Egyptian currency (p. 50). The first economic plan (1945-51) did not see the Sudan as a distinct “primary unit of economic development” (p. 55), and the second (1951-56) plan’s assertion of authority and limitation of surveying made it more difficult to imagine Sudan as a unified economy.
Young’s second contribution is to show how powerfully imperial infrastructure and logic shaped postcolonial Sudanese policymakers’ “habits of mind” (p. 91), and, related, to analyze their centralistic, inequality-aggravating “economizing logic” (p. 10). At the spatial core of this logic stood a “triangle from Omdurman [next to Khartoum] to Kosti and Sennar,” about two hundred miles southward, on the White and the Blue Nile, respectively (p. 12). This area had become central when the Sudan’s conquest, in 1820-22, by the Ottoman Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali allowed the Shagiya, Danagla, and Ja’alin ethnicities to “spread out and … dominate other regions of the country, as merchants, slave traders, missionaries, and political leaders” (p. 32). First a bread basket, from the later nineteenth century a cotton hothouse, that area was colonial Sudan’s economic core.
It was here, too, that early postcolonial policymakers decided to heavily invest—in export-oriented cotton production, often updating late colonial schemes. To them, cotton would, could, and should drive Sudan’s economy after independence as before. There was no reason to accommodate historical grievances and peripheral needs or to seek center-periphery equality within Sudan. Rather, one wanted to become the equal of other Arab economies, by maximizing the core’s economic growth. It helped that transport was well developed in the cotton area and that the cotton harvest was easily countable—and that the opposite held for other regions and for lifestock which, though vital to many, was seen by Khartoum’s planners as a traditional family subsistence activity and by definition not part of “the economy.” This was a loop—the postcolonial state invested in areas it continued making visible by transport and in a product it could count well; and it could count well where and in what it invested itself—a loop that peripheries could hardly break into. “Finance officials did not consider local development to be legitimate aims of economic policy” (p. 99). The late colonial past was basically the early postcolonial present. Khartoum abstained from a “dramatic reordering of the world economy or even a massive program of industrialization; instead [it] articulated a conservative vision of development” (p. 128), a path quite unlike many other postcolonial countries in the late 1950s to 1960s such as, for instance, Ghana, Young correctly argues. The only change Khartoum did wish to see was Sudan’s better inclusion in the world economy. All this, Young holds, amounted to an “economizing logic” (p. 10). The aforenoted aspects aside, this logic also included a belief in statistical predictability and, hence, in a future-oriented vision of the cost and benefit of cotton investments by the state. It meant that while Sudan was by the late 1950s most certainly seen as a single unit of economic analysis, within it persisted crass economic-spatial hierarchies. It was only in the mid-1960s that discussions started about the limits and problems of state-led planning, and that, Young holds, the very roots of the 1970s/80s neoliberal turn can be found.
Some questions remain. One is historical: how did the Cairo-based, British-run Middle East Supply Center, which administered the entire wartime Middle East market and which had considerable effects on postwar economic policymakers elsewhere in the Middle East, influence the Sudan? What is Young’s take on Indian subaltern studies scholarship? Did it influence him? Is he harking back to it, in some sense? There are overlaps or at least echoes here. Think of Young’s solid colonial-postcolonial continuities and of his postcolonial elites’ attempt, implied by Young, to dominate Sudan’s lower-class members. (However, both questions are connectable to literature, too, e.g., on neocolonialism, and Young is not marxisant and does not owe to Antonio Gramsci as subaltern studies did.)
Young does not examine specific economists’ influence on Khartoum’s economic policymakers, though he hints at this issue (p. 11) and though his “economizing logic” warrants such a examination. Did Sudan’s planners discuss (or ignore) economists like John Maynard Keynes, Walt Whitman Rustow, Raúl Prebisch, and W. Arthur Lewis, the last all the more because he gave a landmark speech in 1953 to the Egyptian Society of Economy, Statistics, and Legislation? What were key contacts with other economists in the Arab world and also beyond? (Sudanese formed a considerable contingent of students, also in the discipline of economy, at the American University of Beirut from the 1950s, for instance.) And what about the nineteenth-century German (American) Friedrich List, who influenced not only continental European policymakers and thinkers but also their contemporaries in colonies including India?
Last, it would have been fascinating to get more (quasi)-ethnographic details about the practices undergirding Khartoum’s economizing logic. Were there overlaps between quantitative and non-statistical qualitative approaches, referenced by Young (p. 77)? And how did (statistical) data-gathering happen in the field and in offices? Were there intermediaries between policymakers/data-gatherers and producers, for instance? Pursuing such questions would have even further advanced the literature on the emergence of economic measures, measurements, and statistics.
These points notwithstanding, Young genuinely advances the literature on decolonization, development, and state formation. Transforming Sudan belongs on the bookshelf of every scholar of these related fields and will be of great interest to African and Middle Eastern historians, too.
. For the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, see Eve Trout-Powell, A Different Shade of Colonialism. Egypt, Great Britain, and the Mastery of the Sudan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Heather Sharkey, Living with Colonialism. Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); as well as Peter Woodward, Sudan 1898-1989: The Unstable State (Boulder, CO: Lynne Riener, 1990).
. See Martin Wilmington, The Middle East Supply Center (Albany: SUNY Press, 1971); Robert Vitalis and Steven Heydemann, "War, Keynesianism, and Colonialism: Explaining State-Market Relations in the Postwar Middle East,” in War, Institutions, and Social Change in the Middle East, ed. Steven Heydemann (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 100-47. See also Cyrus Schayegh, The Middle East and the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017), chapter 5, on World War II.
. Gyan Prakash, “Subaltern Studies as Postcolonial Critique,” American Historical Review 99, no. 5 (1994): 1475-90; Alexander Keese, “First Lessons in Neo-Colonialism: The Personalisation of Relations between African Politicians and French Officials in sub-Saharan Africa, 1956–66,” Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 35, no. 4 (2007): 593-613.
. Robert Tignor, W. Arthur Lewis and the Birth of Development Economics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 86-87.
. Here, one should perhaps mention that Young’s critique of West-to-Rest diffusion models of modernization and development is somehow flogging a dead horse. See, for example, the almost decade-old programmatic text by David Engerman and Corinna Unger, “Introduction: Towards a Global History of Modernization,” Diplomatic History 33 (2009): 375-85.
. Manu Goswami, Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004), 215-24; see also Deniz Kılıncoğlu, Economics and Capitalism in the Ottoman Empire (London: Routledge, 2015). One may add here a question about the possible impact of the Sudanese case on the ongoing discussion about the rise of the term “the economy,” which Young hints at (2n5). For a rather British-imperial-centric vision, see Timothy Mitchell, “Fixing the Economy,” Cultural Studies 12, no. 1 (1998): 82-101, and Mitchell, “Economentality: How the Future Entered Government,” Critical Inquiry 40:4 (2014): 479-507; for insightful critiques, see two unpublished texts cited by Young (2n5): Quinn Slobodian, “Which ‘the Economy’? Complicating the Timothy Mitchell Thesis,” accessed April 25, 2018, www.academia.edu/28948215/Which_the_Economy_ Complicating_the_Timothy_Mitchell_thesis; and Adam Tooze, “The Crisis: The Unmaking of the Economy?” accessed April 25, 2018, www.adamtooze.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Tooze-unmaking-the-economy-2016.pdf.
. Nicole Sackley, “The Village as Cold War Site: Experts, Development, and the History of Rural Reconstruction,” Journal of Global History 6 (2011): 481-504 at 489; Daniel Speich, “The Use of Global Abstractions: National Income Accounting in the Period of Imperial Decline,” Journal of Global History 6 (2011): 7-28.
Citation: Cyrus Schayegh. Review of Young, Alden, Transforming Sudan: Decolonization, Economic Development, and State Formation. H-IslamInAfrica, H-Net Reviews. June, 2018. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=51782This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.