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Post Death of Sudan's Former PM, Sadiq al-Mahdi
Created by John Eipper on 12/02/20 3:43 AM

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Death of Sudan's Former PM, Sadiq al-Mahdi (Martin Storey, Australia, 12/02/20 3:43 am)

The WAIS community has been talking a lot about Diego Maradona's death, leaving in the shade another man, who passed almost at the same time: former Prime Minister of the Sudan, Sadiq al-Mahdi. He died of Covid aged 84, a little more than a year after retiring from public life.

He became prime minister of the Sudan for the second time, in May 1986, leading a precarious coalition of cosmopolitan parties until he was overthrown in a coup that put Omar al-Bashir in power for the next 30 years.

I know only a little about him, even though I was living in Khartoum when he became prime minister again--an event overshadowed in the news by the Chernobyl disaster of a few days earlier. Still, I remember distinctly that he was liked by people in all layers of the society, including the many foreigners / refugees living in the Sudan at the time, even if, to quote Wikipedia, "Sadiq proved to be a weak leader and incapable of governing Sudan. Party factionalism, corruption, personal rivalries, scandals, and political instability characterized the Sadiq regime."


Might other WAISers have memories of al-Mahdi?

JE comments:  Martin, so happy to hear from you.  Have you weathered the entire Covid crisis in Perth?  Has Western Australia been hard hit, or relatively fortunate?  Geographic isolation can be a good thing during pandemics, or quite the opposite.

I knew that you're a genuine citizen of the world, but I don't recall you ever telling us about living in Khartoum.  Could you give more details?

Lots of questions I know, but now that I have your ear, I don't want to let go!

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  • Sadiq al-Mahdi, the "Chosen One" (Edward Jajko, USA 12/02/20 12:10 PM)
    Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi had an interesting link with history, in that he was the great-grandson of Muhammad Ahmad, called by himself and his followers "al-Mahdi," the guided one, the Muslim equivalent of a Messiah, one chosen by God and "rightly guided" to head and spread the community of Islam.

    Muhammad Ahmad, al-Mahdi, had a remarkable impact on history, defeating Ottoman, Egyptian, and British military forces, and building a state that extended from the Red Sea into Central Africa. For the West, his singular victory was the defeat and death of General Charles Gordon in the 1884-1885 Siege of Khartoum. The Mahdi did this all despite a short life, 1844-1885.

    One thing of minor, philological, interest is how the religious title applied to Muhammad Ahmad, al-Mahdi, the guided one, became a family name. It is almost a mirror image of usage of the name and title "Caesar." The current decedent Sadiq has left children with the Mahdi surname.

    I may be wrong--it is years since I had anything even remotely to do with Sudan--but membership in the family of The Mahdi may convey some prestige. I believe that Sadiq al-Mahdi may have drawn on that family standing in running for office.

    JE comments:  Fascinating; Sudan is definitely one of the lacunae in my history knowledge.  I found this map of the Mahdi state in 1891, which corresponds almost exactly with the Sudanese state prior to the independence of S Sudan.

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    • Mahdist Wars and Italy's Role (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/04/20 3:08 AM)
      About the Mahdist wars, I remember the film The Four Feathers of 1939, the first color film that I ever saw.

      But it may be more interesting to remember that in order to fight the followers of the Mahdi, the British Government in 1885 invited Italy to occupy Eritrea (quite a difference from 1935).

      Italian forces (2200 men), mainly consisting of the first brave, loyal Eritrean Ascaris, defeated a Mahadist Army (10,000 men) led by Ahmed Wad Alì at Agordat on 21 December 1892.  They triumphed again at the important town Kassala.  However, after five years of Italian occupation, it was given back to the British Empire in December 1897. (Italy has quite often been silly.) By the way, the same town was occupied by the Italian Forces in 1940 but this time the British/Sudanese forces reoccupied the town by force the following year when they also reoccupied the previously lost British Somaliland.

      The war in the Horn of Africa was a good fight by the Italians and its brave, faithful local troops, but in the new republic--lay, democratic and anti-fascist, born from the resistance--it is a forbidden topic.

      Finally In Ethiopia, the hate among Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and why not Muslims and Christians is alive again (if it ever was dead) as in 1935, but at that time the only "bad" people were the Italians. Nobody now pays attention but behind this new fight probably is the problem of the new Ethiopian Dam desperately opposed by Egypt and Sudan, which may organize a proxy war.

      JE comments: Eugenio, was the British "invitation" of 1885 the origin of Italy's historic role in Eritrea?  Why would the Eritreans agree to fight alongside the Italians?

      I fear the US attention span can focus on only two things at a time, and here we have Covid and the election aftermath.  Meanwhile, a civil war is brewing in Ethiopia, and we've barely noticed.  Who can walk us through the events?

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      • Italy's History in Eritrea (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 12/08/20 8:51 AM)
        Our esteemed moderator asked me some questions about Italy's historical role in Eritrea.

        1) Were the British responsible for Italy's arrival as a colonial power in Eritrea?

        Eritrea in Greek means red (erytros), and from it comes the name of the Red Sea.

        In antiquity, it was the kingdom of Punt, followed by the Sabean kingdom and then the kingdom of Aksum. Unfortunately in 1557, following a short Portuguese presence, it fell under the control of the Ottoman Empire, which in 1865 left it to its ally Egypt.

        In the middle of the 19th century, many Italian missionaries were active in the area, and Father Giuseppe Sapeto in 1869 arranged for the Italian shipowner Raffaele Rubattino to have access to Bay of Assab in order to have a supply port for his ships.

        In 1882, Assab Bay was purchased by the Italian government, but it was only from 1885 that the Italians expanded their territory.  In that year they landed 1500 Bersaglieri at Massawa following an invitation from London.

        2) Why would Eritreans agree to fight alongside the Italians against the Mahdi?

        Very simple, because the Italians were much better than the previous rulers.

        The Italians abolished slavery, as they later did after entering Abyssinia in 1935, and started a great work of modernization, with new roads, railroads, industries, agricultural projects, ports, towns, villages, with churches, mosques, and synagogues.  This was quite a difference from other colonial empires. Due to its architecture under Italian rule, Asmara was named a Unesco Cultural Heritage site. There were four cinemas: Roma, Capitol, Impero, Oden. All were open to locals and Italians (quite a difference from the US in the same years, and all the way until 1964, but we have to be grateful that the US invaded us to bring their "democracy"). The Eritreans at a certain point were better Italians than the actual Italians, and I have already written about Amin, my marvelous Eritrean skipper in Mena Saud.

        Dogali still has a well-kept monument to the Italian soldiers, and there is an Italian military cemetery at Asmara.

        In 1945 following the end of WWII the port of Massawa, the pearl of the Italian colonial period, suffered damage as the occupying British troops either dismantled or destroyed much of the facilities. See the book by Sylvia Pankurst, Eritrea on the Eve or Michela Wrong's I Didn't Do It for You, How the World Betrayed a Small African Nation.

        The Italian population in Eritrea reached 100,000 in 1940.  There are only a few at present, but many Eritreans (3300 in 2018 alone) have moved to Italy.

        There is also a great stain in the relations between the two peoples. The relations between an Italian men and women were fairly common even outside of regular marriage, which resulted in many children without fathers when the bad father would return alone to Italy, leaving behind the partner and kids. To avoid such crimes, in 1938 a law was enacted which was probably even worse: the infamous Law for the Protection of the Race (remembered generally only for the separation of the 76% of the Italian Jews) that prohibited such relations. Theoretically the children of these unions have been able to obtain Italian citizenship in recent years. A famous Italian Officer with a young local partner was the newsman/writer Indro Montanelli, who related that before leaving East Africa he "gave" her to another local man under his orders.

        The story of Italian Eritrea and its people is very long, but I hope to have provided some relevant information.

        JE comments:  I'm realizing just how little I know about Eritrean history:  Punt?  The Sabeans?  Most WAISers are equally clueless I'm sure.

        Appreciate the history lessons, Eugenio.  As for Asmara's art deco architecture, I came across the Fiat Tagliero service station from 1938, which would be right at home in LA or Miami Beach.  Image below.

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        • Indro Montanelli and Eritrea: Controversy Today (Roy Domenico, USA 12/09/20 3:15 AM)
          In response to Eugenio Battaglia's interesting post on Eritrea, I would add the recent controversy over Indro Montanelli--one of Italy's most prominent journalists of the past century.

          Because of his "marriage" to an Eritrean girl (she was 12 years old), a statue to Montanelli in Milan has been attacked with red paint and graffiti. Montanelli was a complex figure with a lot of ties to the Fascists. The mayor of Milan, however, has condemned the attack on the statue.

          On Eritrea--I would add that the first moves in 1869 were also the result of the (soon to be opened) Suez canal which jacked up the property values along the Strait of Aden (the Bab-el-Mandeb). The Brits, French, Turks and Italians all had pieces of the action and, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Italy secured a most favored nation status across the strait in Yemen.

          JE comments:  Montanelli's Wikipedia bio reports that he "bought" and "married" the 12-year-old to act as his sex slave while in Abyssinia, and that this was a common practice among the Italians during the Ethiopian war.  Later as a reporter in Spain, Montanelli shared a room with legendary spy Kim Philby.  He (Montanelli) lived a long, prolific and controversial life, dying in 2001 at the age of 92.

          Indro Montanelli - Wikipedia

          Montanelli also reported on the German invasion of Poland in 1939.  According to Ed Jajko (link below), he was responsible for the myth of Polish cavalry charging at German panzers.


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  • Personal Update: Western Australia, Gambia, Sudan (Martin Storey, Australia 12/08/20 3:22 AM)
    I am in Perth, Western Australia, where I shall soon be marking the 20th anniversary of my arrival to the country.

    Through a combination of geographical circumstances, luck and probably some good management by government, we have had essentially no COVID here--i.e. no public health crisis, although there is an economic crisis. My state of residence has reported 9 deaths attributed to COVID (most or all arrivals from ships) for a total of 830 cases since the beginning of the crisis. Australia as a whole has had two major incidents of community spread, both due to abysmal failure of government, and that's about it. New cases have been detected regularly until recently, but these were almost all in quarantine and contained. The total number of deaths attributed to the virus stands at 908 and the number of cases in the country at about 28K, more than 25.5K of whom have recovered.

    Full details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/COVID-19_pandemic_in_Australia#Western_Australia and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistics_of_the_COVID-19_pandemic_in_Australia .

    I wrote "probably some good management," because politicians here seem to systematically deny or deflect responsibility for bad news, take credit for good ones, and manufacture both on occasions if it will increase their number of "likes." Post-truth is probably the USA's greatest export of the past four years, and it is now more difficult than ever to know what is "true," until one or a close acquaintance is witness or party to an event. I cannot write more, of course, for fear of retribution. Australia's economy relies heavily on extractive industries, agriculture, education (to foreign students) and tourism. Directly or indirectly, most of these have been severely affected this year. Let me just refer you to the (world-famous in Australia) quote, the first few words of which you may have heard before:

    "Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second-rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people's ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise."

    Donald Horne, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lucky_Country

    Had it not been for this year's events, I would have spent some of it in The Gambia, involved in the drilling of an offshore well, only the third ever drilled in that country. Two years ago, I was there, on the offshore platform, when the second well was drilled. This was just a year after a presidential election when the country's second-ever President was voted out in more-or-less democratic elections. He had come to power in a coup, and been in power for over 20 years, but after the elections, he refused to accept defeat and to step down. Quoting from Wikipedia: "His time in office saw the authoritarian oppression of anti-government journalists, LGBT people and opposition parties. His foreign policy led to a constantly strained relationship with the sole neighbouring country of Senegal. In 2013, Jammeh withdrew the Gambia from the Commonwealth of Nations (The Gambia later rejoined under President Adama Barrow), and in 2016 he began the process of withdrawing it from the International Criminal Court (later rescinded by the Barrow government).Jammeh is accused of having stolen millions of dollars from the country's coffers to fund a life of luxury. After leaving office, his assets were frozen by many countries and he went into exile. In addition to charges of corruption and human rights violations, he is also accused of having raped a number of young women." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahya_Jammeh ).

    I was onshore in The Gambia only for a few days--ironically staying in the hotel room (palatial house) that Prince Charles and his wife had occupied just a few days earlier. I do not know if I will have a chance to return to that country, but if I do, I hope to visit Fort Bullen, a fortress across The Gambia river from the capital Banjul, "built by the British in 1826 to thwart the efforts of some European slave traders" (http://www.accessgambia.com/information/fort-bullen-barra-point.html ).

    Earlier that year, the same job had taken me to Ghana, where I was fortunate to visit the Elmina Castle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elmina_Castle ), an extraordinary record of the slave trade, in spite of its small size (about the size of a basket-ball court). Again from Wikipedia: "Without water or sanitation, the floor of the dungeon was littered with human waste and many captives fell seriously ill. The men were separated from the women, and the captors regularly raped some of the helpless women. The castle also featured confinement cells--small pitch-black spaces for prisoners who revolted or were seen as rebellious. Once the captives set foot in the castle, they could spend up to three months in captivity under these dreadful conditions before being shipped off to the 'New World.' An environment of harsh contrasts, the castle also had some extravagant chambers, devoid of the stench and misery of the dungeons only a couple of meters below. For example, the governor's and officers' quarters were spacious and airy, with beautiful parquet floors and scenic views of the blue waters of Atlantic. There was also a chapel in the castle enclosure for the officers, traders and their families as they went about their normal day-to-day life completely detached from the unfathomable human suffering they were consciously inflicting."

    A little over 35 years ago, I graduated from Stanford, seriously damaged from having crammed an undergraduate degree in just two years as that was the duration of my scholarship. At the time, military service was still compulsory in my native France, so I had to leave the USA and return to France for that reason. What ensued is a long story, but I eventually was exempted on legitimate medical grounds. By then it was too late to return to the USA for graduate school, so I volunteered for a few months with the UN (in Belgium) and put an application to volunteer for Médecins Sans Frontières, a.k.a. "The French Doctors," 1999 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. On 24th of December 1985, in the midst of a record cold winter in Belgium, I was offered a role with them over the phone, to go to Bhutan, and accepted it there and then. I rushed to France to say goodbye to my parents, wore or packed all the warm gear I had in anticipation of life in a Himalayan country, and on 25th December, I went to the airport where I was given my plane ticket to fly to ... the Sudan. Less than 10 hours later, I landed in Khartoum International Airport wearing moonboots and a fake-fur parka in 120 degree F heat. I spent there nine months of the most exciting times of my life, as the administrator of the Belgian branch of MSF there, involved in what was at the time the largest humanitarian relief effort ever, the "Air Bridge" to Darfur.

    After that, I returned to California for a MSc degree in Electrical Engineering, but by then I was keener to return to places like Khartoum than San Jose. After cramming that second degree too, for the same reason as I had crammed the first, I surprised my academic advisor by declining offers of doctoral studies and instead went back to volunteer for the UN. I have not returned to live or work in North America, nor in Europe, apart from the few months I spent in Belgium with the UN, since. No choice is without compromise, but "non, je ne regrette rien."

    Stay sound and stay safe.

    JE comments:  Likewise, Martin.  Your far-ranging travels and adventures are the stuff of WAIS legend.

    Australia by and large has been spared the horrors of Covid--the Lucky Country?--although I note that Victoria (Melbourne) has borne the overwhelming brunt of that nation's pandemic.  Sydney and New South Wales have suffered only 53 deaths so far, compared to Victoria's 820.  Still, these are tiny numbers compared to the rest of our ravaged world.

    Martin, any chance you got photos of Elmina castle?  I'd love to post them.  Built by the Portuguese in 1482, Elmina is the oldest extant European construction south of the Sahara.  Its nefarious connection to the slave trade is indicative of Europe's historical role on the continent.

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    • Haunting Legacy of the Slave Trade: Elmina Castle (Martin Storey, Australia 12/11/20 3:47 AM)
      Thank you for asking about Elmina castle, in Ghana.

      From https://visitghana.com/attractions/elmina-castle/ , which has slave trade statistics and some videos:

      St George's Castle, a Unesco heritage site, was built as a trading post by the Portuguese in 1482, and captured by the Dutch in 1637.

      The main Dutch trades were gold and slaves; they reconstructed the castle between 1770 and 1775. Until 1872, the castle served as the focal coordinating point for Dutch Gold Coast activities. In 1682, the author Jean Barbot described St. George's Castle as having "no equal on all the coast of Guinea, with respect to beauty and strength."

      On 6th April, 1872, the castle was ceded to the British. In recent years, it has served as Police Recruit Training Centre, a secondary school, and it is presently a historical museum. St. George's Castle is featured on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

      I don't usually take many photos and I don't seem to find any of that particular stop. I find it easier to speak to local people without a camera. However, below are a few photos from Wikimedia.

      JE comments:  A chilling testament to humanity's cruelty.  To think that the castle could have been celebrated for its "beauty and strength."  Thank you, Martin, for teaching us about a forgotten place that played such a significant role in world history.

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