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The History of Agriculture in Ethiopia  

James C. McCann

Ethiopia’s highlands and their lowland peripheries offer a distinctive and, in many ways, ideal setting for human habitation and the evolution of agricultural ecologies. The ranges in climate variability by season and over time framed a sophisticated set of crops, agricultural practices, and local political ecologies. Chief among these was the development and use of the single-tine ox-plow (i.e., the ard or scratch plow) that integrated endemic annual crops with secondary crop introductions and, in some areas, cultivated or intercropped with perennial crops such as ensete and coffee. Animal husbandry to sustain animal traction and pastoral livelihoods in regional ecologies was essential, over time, to regional economies and their political ecologies. Agricultural patterns existed at the heart of cultural diversities and periods of political conflict and accommodations. In some areas of the south (Sidamo), southeast (Harar highlands), and southwest (Jimma), coffee cultivation complemented annual grain cropping. Yet the plow in its current form as a dominant tool appears in rock painting dating as far back as 500 ad. That technology was both efficient and persistent. While Ethiopia’s plow agriculture dominated the region’s political ecology over more than two millennia, in the late 20th century Ethiopia’s agrarian economy began an inexorable set of changes. New crops (such as maize), urbanization, and global migration of peoples and commodities (oil seeds, fibers, and grains) brought new seeds, inputs, and pressures to adapt to change, particularly for smallholder farmers and new enterprises. Heavy investments in dams and irrigated agriculture also foretell new agricultural landscapes of riverain areas that will need to coexist with the classic highland smallholder farms. The story of maize in Ethiopia’s agricultural history is emblematic of the struggle between pressures for change and the inertia of tradition felt by farmers. Their agrarian adaptation to new methods, new materials, and a new climate will play itself out in existing geographies and natural contours.

Article

Mahdist Omdurman  

Robert S. Kramer

It is tempting to seek an auspicious beginning for the Sudanese city of Omdurman, given its eventual significance, but there is none to be found. From its humble origins as a watering place for local pastoralists on the west bank of the Nile, and a mere hamlet and waystation for travelers by the early 19th century, it grew rapidly in the 1880s into a crowded market center, an administrative capital, and even a holy city: all due to the tumultuous events of the Sudanese Mahdist movement (or Mahdiyyah) of 1881–1898. And while it was not the intention of Muhammad Ahmad al-Mahdi to found anything—he considered Omdurman just another “spot” (buq‘a) among the many he had camped at—the policies of his successor and the devotion of his followers enlarged and ennobled the place, transforming it into the dominant urban center of the Nilotic Sudan. As a holy city, Omdurman can hardly be compared to such places as Jerusalem, Rome, or Mecca, with their centuries or even millennia of existence; and although it resembles Shaykh ‘Uthman dan Fodio’s city of Sokoto in northern Nigeria as the capital of an expansionist jihadist state, it also differs from it in some important ways. Ultimately, whether one considers its messianic or economic importance, its military or administrative functions, its planned or spontaneous origins, Omdurman is remarkable for becoming, in just over a decade’s time, one of the most important cities across Sudanic Africa. Moreover, the experience of the Sudanese people in so tribally and ethnically diverse an urban environment, under such concentrated and extreme conditions, both impelled by the policies of the state and inspired by fervent Mahdist belief, helped to accelerate ongoing social changes, which ultimately led to the formation of a more coherent national identity.

Article

The 1924 Revolution in Sudan  

Elena Vezzadini

The 1924 Revolution marked the first time in Sudanese history a nationalist ideology became the language of politics and was successfully employed to mobilize the masses. It was a part of a broader movement of anticolonial nationalist agitation that merits studying this Sudanese event as an illuminating example in world history of the period. Thousands of people from all over Sudan protested in the name of principles such as self-determination and the will of the Nation, and the right of citizens to choose their own destiny. Moreover, the movement that led it, the White Flag League, explicitly sought to include people from different backgrounds, statuses, professions, and religions, to counteract the colonial policy of reliance on ethnic affiliations and social hierarchies. Even though it was bloodily put down after only six months, the events of 1924 represent a revolutionary departure in the in the history of modern Sudan.

Article

Second Intermediate Period  

Danielle Candelora

The Second Intermediate Period of ancient Egypt was the second of three eras of political fragmentation in pharaonic history, traditionally spanning from approximately 1773 to 1550 bce. It encompasses the late 13th–17th dynasties of Egypt, which ruled semi-contemporaneously from several different political centers. The beginning of the era was a continuation of the proceeding unified period, the Middle Kingdom, and was also marked by the increased influx of immigrants from Southwest Asia, the Eastern Desert, and Nubia. At the height of the Second Intermediate Period, a dynasty of foreign kings known as the Hyksos (Dynasty 15) ruled the north of Egypt from Avaris, modern Tell el Dabʿa, in the Eastern Delta, while a native Egyptian dynasty ruled from Thebes (Dynasty 17). These Theban kings began a war to expel the Hyksos from Egypt, formally ending this period and ushering in the New Kingdom. Although this period has long been characterized as one of decline and crisis, it actually featured an unprecedented level of innovation and regionalism, not least of all due to the impact of immigrants on Egyptian society and culture.

Article

Urban Society in Colonial Sudan  

Ahmad Alawad Sikainga

As in the rest of Africa, the establishment of colonial rule has accelerated the pace of urban growth in the Sudan. During the period of British colonial rule (1898–1956), a number of new administrative centers, ports, and railway stations were established and metamorphosed into full-fledged cities. Among the most important towns and administrative centers were Khartoum, the capital of the Anglo-Egyptian administration; Atbara, headquarters of the Sudan Railways; the port city of Port Sudan; and Khartoum North, the headquarters of the steamers division of the Sudan Railways. These towns grew from small administrative headquarters into major urban centers and became the home of a diverse population that included Sudanese as well as immigrants from the Middle East, Europe, and neighboring African countries. The inhabitants of these towns engaged in a wide range of economic, social, and political activities that shaped the character of these towns and developed a distinctive urban culture.

Article

Youth Activism in 21st-Century North Africa  

Christoph Schwarz

In the 21st century, North African societies have been counting with the largest cohorts of young people worldwide. These demographics, in combination with the highest youth unemployment rates worldwide, have been a cause for concern since the turn of the millenium. But in the respective debates in social research and among policy makers, the political subjectivities of young people themselves were rather overlooked. Instead, the situation of young people was often discussed either as a question of deficit—they were regarded as lethargic and apolitical and in need of help—or security—they were discussed as potential adherents of radical interpretations of Islam, as prone to political violence and as a threat to “stability.” However, in 2010 and 2011, mass protests initiated mostly by young people, starting in Tunisia and soon spreading to Egypt, Morocco, Libya, and, to a lesser extent, Algeria and Sudan, very quickly and effectively mobilized large swaths of the population and thus illustrated young people’s social agency, political relevance, and capacity for inclusive solidarity. To many observers, the events that were soon dubbed the “Arab Spring” came out of the blue and appeared as a sudden “generational awakening.” But the region-wide protests, and in particular the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, not only mobilized people from all walks of life, they were also the result of at least a decade of persistent experimentation by young and not-so-young activists with different forms of collective action under extremely unfavorable conditions. Youth activism in 21st-century North Africa has been operating and strategizing under the constraints of authoritarianism, surveillance, and violent repression. Young people, particularly young women, have long been excluded from most institutional forms of politics. Against this backdrop, many political activists eschew the terms politics or the political, which they associate with corruption, manipulation, and illegitimate rule. Many other young people who appear at first sight “apolitical” have nevertheless engaged in different meaningful endeavors to improve everyday lives in their communities. Following a critical youth studies and youth cultures perspective, as well as a feminist perspective, young people’s activism can thus be analyzed along a spectrum that ranges from rather innocuous forms of everyday quiet encroachment, to public, but “apolitical” forms of mobilization, to highly committed and exposed social movement activism, as well as digitally networked forms of engagement and explicitly political demands for new forms of citizenship. A decade after the Arab Spring, and despite a “Second Wave of the Arab Spring” in Sudan and Algeria from 2018 to 2020, authoritarian rule has gained the upper hand in the region, even in Tunisia, the country that, for a long time, was considered “transitioning” to a representative democracy. Despite these setbacks, the experience that young people, as part of an organized citizenry, were able to oust long-ruling authoritarian presidents within a matter of a few weeks has arguably had an impact on political culture in the region. In the mid-2020s, their example continues to inspire youth activists in North Africa and elsewhere and will likely continue to pose a challenge to authoritarianism.