Making the Best of a Rotten Deal: Tenant Realities and Resistance

  • Maurits W. Ertsen


New Syndicate inspectors received detailed information about the rhythms of Gezira in the shape of a booklet with notes. The booklet served as their first encounter with Gezira tenants, “the most important factor contributing to the success of the Gezira Scheme,” as well. Knowing tenants’ “background and characteristics” was considered “essential to ensure smooth collaboration between Inspector and Tenant.” As much as the notes given to inspectors “would be incomplete without some remarks”1 on the tenants, this book needs to pay dedicated attention to the tenants and laborers in Gezira. Obviously, as with any other story on the colonized that has to be largely reconstructed from the perspectives left in the sources by the colonizer, my discussion on tenants is heavily influenced by those sources. Gezira is not different from other colonial histories.


Government Official Village Community Village Council Cotton Picking District Commissioner 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 4.
    W. Beinart and L. Hughes (2007) Environment and empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    J. M. Scott (1985) Weapons of the weak: Everyday forms of peasant resistance (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).Google Scholar
  3. J. A. Briggs (1978) “Farmers’ Responses to Planned Agricultural Development in the Sudan,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, New Series, 3, 464–475CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. S. H. Lees (1986) “Coping with Bureaucracy. Survival Strategies in Irrigated agriculture,” American Anthropologist, 88, 610–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. A. Memmi (1991) The colonizer and the colonized (Boston, MA: Beacon Press).Google Scholar
  6. R. Oldenziel and M. Hard (2013) Consumers, tinkerers, rebels: The people who shaped Europe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)Google Scholar
  7. D. W. Adams and E. W. Coward (1971) Small farmer Development strategies. A seminar report (Columbus, Ohio State University)Google Scholar
  8. W. M. Adams and D. M. Anderson (1988) “Irrigation before Development: Indigenous and Induced Change in Agricultural Water Management in East Africa,” African Affairs, 87, 519–535Google Scholar
  9. C. Reij and A. Waters-Bayer (2001) Farmer innovation in Africa: A source of inspiration for agricultural development (London: Earthscan)Google Scholar
  10. M. Widgren and J. E. G. Sutton (eds) (2004) Islands of intensive agriculture in Eastern Africa: Past & present (London: British Institute in Eastern Africa; Athens: Ohio University Press).Google Scholar
  11. 6.
    For example, Barnett in the 1970s, who presents extremely useful field research on resource use and accessibility of tenants, but explains everything within the Neo-Marxist model of (under) development—see the Epilogue. T. Barnett (1977) The Gezira Scheme: An illusion of ‘development (London: Frank Cass).Google Scholar
  12. 19.
    See C. Lund (2013) “The Past and Space. On Arguments in African Land Control,” Africa, 83, 14–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 31.
    NA, F0141/579: Howell to First Secretary Cairo 8/11/1923. Perhaps Irrigation Adviser MacGregor was asked about his experience, as he had come from the Punjab Irrigation Service to Sudan in 1922. See Ali I. (1988) The Punjab under imperialism 1885–1947(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 53.
    SA, 418/5/109-126: The future administration of the Gezira Scheme, Governor’s Office, dated 1/2/1948; SA, 498/10/24-27: Note on Village Councils, undated, probably post World War II, as it mentions the “Wartime Samads Scheme” (498/10/26); nevertheless, the document will be representative of the instructions based on Schedule X. See Gaítskell A. (1959) Gezira: A story of development in the Sudan (London: Faber and Faber).Google Scholar
  15. 54.
    SA, 498/10/29: Governor Gezira Province, Notes on the Hosh experiment, dated 8/7/1941; SA, 418/5/109-126: The Future Administration. A quite similar note is dated 10/1/1948 entitled Gezira Scheme: Memorandum on some limitations at present affecting development (SA 418/7/1-21). The Governor basically confessed he copied much from Gaítskell: “You will see that I have quoted yours in extension to which Gaitskell answers “I am particularly delighted that you should have found so much common ground with me” (SA, respectively 418/5/108: Letter from Bredin (Governor Blue Nile Province) to Gaitskell, dated 28/1/1948; and 418/5/107 Letter from Gaitskell to Bredin; dated 3/2/1948). See also Clarkson (2005) and Willis J. (2011) “Tribal Gatherings: Colonial Spectacle, Native Administration and Local Government in Condominium Sudan,” Past & Present, 211, 243–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 72.
    SA, 498/10/24: Note on Village Councils, not dated. As if nomadism is something easy or less valid. However, civilizations (or those that claim they are) have often regarded nomadism as less worthy. See P. Heather (2010) Empires and barbarians: The fall of Rome and the birth of Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press)Google Scholar
  17. J. M. Scott (2009) The art of not being governed: An anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press)Google Scholar
  18. S. Stuurman (2009) De uitvinding van de mensheid: Korte wereldgeschiedenis van het denken over gelijkheid en cultuurverschil (Amsterdam: Bert Bakker).Google Scholar
  19. 93.
    J. Robertson (1974) Transition in Africa: From direct rule to independence, London, Hurst & Company.Google Scholar
  20. 109.
    SA, 408/1/33: Gezira Information Service, Report of a Press Conference, dated 7/2/1951. Although not for social development, the spoon-feeding theme had been used in the 1920s by Financial Secretary Schuster to characterize the SPS approach to train the tenants. How people initiative and pre-selected policies by the Board were related to each other was a debate ignored, but then, the Contested Development book had not been written yet (P. Barron, R. Diprose and M. Woolcock (2011) Contesting development: Participatory projects and local conflict dynamics in Indonesia [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press]).Google Scholar
  21. 136.
    SA, 42 8/1/1: The humanfactor. See P.F.M. McLoughlin (1962) “Economic Development and the Heritage of Slavery in the Sudan Republic,” Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 32, 355–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 137.
    Clarkson (2005). See also P. Cross (1997) “British Attitudes to Sudanese labour. The Foreign Office Records as Sources for Social History,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 24, 217–260CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. J. Spaulding (1988) “The Business of Slavery in the Central Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1910–1930,” African Economic History, No. 17, 23–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 141.
    SA, 408/2/16: Morgan. See J. Tait (1979) “Interner Kolonialismus und ethnisch-soziale Segregation im Sudan. Nigerianisch-Westafrikanische Arbeitsmigranten und das Arbeitsmarktsystem in der Gezira,” Africa Spectrum, 14, 361–382.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Maurits W. Ertsen 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maurits W. Ertsen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations