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Southern Sudanese Systems of Slavery  

Scopas Poggo

Prior to arrival of the Turco-Egyptian officials, Europeans, Egyptians, Syrians, Sudanese, and ivory and slave traders to the Southern Sudan, the Indigenous people of this region engaged in slave trade and had their own systems of slavery. The abundance of ivory in Southern Sudan, attracted a large number of Khartoum-based merchants into the South. As ivory depleted, these merchants shifted to trading African slaves throughout Southern Sudan and beyond. In 1805, Muhammad Ali became the ruler of Egypt, and in 1821, he sent military expeditions to the Sudan to colonize it. Because Ali came to power without any funds, ivory and slaves became the main source of revenue for his government, which led to the huge expansion of the slave trade throughout the Turkiyya. Due to the corruption, violence, and injustice that existed throughout the Turkiyya, the Mahdist Movement emerged in 1881 to destroy this alien government. In 1898, an Anglo-Egyptian military force invaded the Sudan with the primary aim of destroying the Mahdist State and abolishing the slave trade and slavery. However, in the mid-1980s, during the Second Civil War in the Sudan between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Sudan Armed Forces (1983–2005), the slave trade in South Sudan resurged under the direction of the government of the national Islamic front and Northern Sudanese ethnic groups such as the Baqqara and Rizeiqat.


Muhammad ‘Ali of Egypt and Sudan  

George Michael La Rue

Muhammad ‘Ali ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1848. Long perceived as a reforming modernizer and founder of modern Egypt, historians have more recently reconsidered the impact of his economic and social policies on Egypt’s ordinary people. To determine his place in African history (and in the history of slavery and abolition) requires a broad reexamination of his policies and Egypt’s actions, and their consequences in Egypt, Sudan, within the Ottoman Empire, and in the 19th-century balance of power. After arriving in Egypt in 1801, Muhammad ‘Ali emerged from a complex political field as the Ottoman Pasha of Egypt by 1805. He overpowered the remnants of the old Mamluk regime, pushed them to Egypt’s southern boundaries, allied with key Egyptian elites, helped to suppress the Wahhabi revolt in the Hijaz for his Ottoman overlord, and strove to reduce the power of his Albanian troops. He reestablished trade (including the slave trade) with Sudan, and planned a new army of enslaved Sudanese. Between 1820 and 1835, Muhammad ‘Ali made a series of bold moves. The invasion of Sudan (1820–1821) and its occupation caused great political, social, and economic devastation there. Egypt toppled or threatened many Sudanese rulers, redirected Sudanese-Egyptian trade, and reshaped Sudan’s urban centers. The invaders attacked Sudanese and other African populations, conducted ongoing slave raids, enslaved thousands, and destroyed their homes. Egyptians and Sudanese found challenges and opportunities within these broader patterns. Enslaved Sudanese became soldiers in the nizam al-jadid, laborers in Muhammad ‘Ali’s new industries, diplomatic gifts, and taxable trade commodities. Newly formed elites bought African slaves for domestic tasks in Sudan and Egypt. Egypt’s new medical establishment treated Sudanese slave soldiers for guinea-worm, vaccinated incoming slaves for smallpox, and purchased Sudanese and Ethiopian women to train as hakimas—fully trained nurse-midwives. Initially, Muhammad ‘Ali sent his new army to fight in Greece on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. Later, his challenges to Ottoman supremacy drew the attention of European powers, who feared any disruption to the delicate balance of power. The demographic impact of the bubonic plague epidemic of 1834–1835 on Egypt’s black slave population was notable, and led to increased demand for replacement slaves. This drew attention from European observers and added an abolitionist dimension to diplomatic pressure on Muhammad ‘Ali. By 1841, he gained Ottoman recognition as hereditary ruler of Egypt and parts of Sudan, his army’s size was capped, and he made trade concessions to Europe. With his imperial ambitions now limited to Africa, Muhammad ‘Ali renewed his interest in controlling more of Sudan and adjacent regions, and deflected abolitionist criticism by blaming supplying regions for continuing to raid and trade in slaves.


Zanj Revolt in the Abbasid Caliphate (Iraq)  

Adam Ali

In 869, slaves, mostly of African origin, revolted in Southern Iraq against their masters, living mainly in the city of Basra, and against the Abbasid caliphate. The slaves, referred to as Zanj in the sources, rebelled due to the harsh conditions under which they lived. They worked on large plantations where they were primarily employed in reclaiming land by removing the nitrous topsoil to make it arable. They toiled under terrible working conditions, received little sustenance, and suffered cruel and harsh treatment at the hands of their overseers. The rebellion was incited and led by Ali ibn Muhammad, a mysterious charismatic leader who was neither a slave nor a native of the marshy regions where he launched the movement that would cause the central authorities so much trouble for a period of 15 years. Ali ibn Muhammad and his band of followers attacked the plantations where the slaves worked and freed thousands of them. He promised the slaves that he would lead them to victory, wealth, and power. He also promised that he would treat them with respect and dignity and that he would never betray them. Ali ibn Muhammad and his followers established a polity in Southern Iraq and the region of Ahwaz (in Southwestern Iran). They constructed their capital, al-Mukhtara, deep in the marshes. The rebels utilized the marshes to conduct a guerilla war against their enemies. They defeated several armies sent by the local authorities in Basra and drove back caliphal forces sent to subdue them from Samarra and Baghdad. The Zanj were only crushed when the caliphate focused a considerable amount of its military and resources on subduing the revolt, eventually pushing the rebels back to their capital. Even after the rebel capital was besieged, it took the caliphal armies 2 years to capture al-Mukhtara. The rebellion took a heavy toll on the caliphate. The damage done to the economy, agriculture, and trade was devastating. Thousands lost their lives, irrigation systems were destroyed, and countless villages were abandoned. Even major cities such as Basra and Wasit were taken and sacked by the rebels, leaving much of the region devastated and depopulated. The caliphate suffered from losses of revenue and prestige and became further fragmented with regional dynasties and a rival caliphate rising to control much of its territory, leaving the Abbasid caliphs with little actual power beyond the capital.