Dervish: The Rise and Fall of an African Empire, Philip Warner

Dervish: The Rise and Fall of an African Empire, Philip Warner

The Dervish Empire of the Sudan was founded after a series of victories over Egyptian and British forces in the 1880s, and survived until 1898, during that time fighting against the Abyssinians, the Italians in Somaliland and even attempting to invade Egypt. At its peak this empire covered most of the same area as the modern Sudan.

Warner focuses on three elements of the story: the original creation of the empire under the leadership of the Mahdi, a religious reformer who rather impressed the author; life in the empire under his successor, the Khalifa Abdulla, who took over after the Mahdi's death in 1885; and the conquest of the Sudan by General Kitchener. Much of the information for the middle section comes from three European prisoners of the Khalifa, and focuses on the cruelty of his rule, probably accurately.

The final section makes it clear that Kitchener's task was rather more difficult that is often believed. He led an outnumbered army across very difficult terrain against a brave opponent who had demonstrated some significant military skill in the past.  

The tone is perhaps a little dated in places, although not in a problematic way (the book was originally written in 1973). Sadly less dated are the 1973 references to a long civil war between the north and south of the Sudan that appeared at that point to be coming to an end.

The book provides us with a valuable complete history of one of the most fascinating, if short-lived, nineteenth century empire, and reminds us that the European powers didn't have things entirely their own way in Africa even at the height of their Imperial ambitions.

1 - The Setting
2 - The Mahdi
3 - The Hicks Expedition
4 - Suakin
5 - The Fall of Khartoum
6 - After Khartoum
7 - In the Dervish Camp
8 - The Reconquest of Dongola
9 - Doldrums in 1897
10 - Closing in
Appendix: The Dervish Army

Author: Philip Warner
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 235
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2010 edition of 1973 original

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