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Map of central and east Africa ca. 1898 during the course of the Fashoda Incident.

The Fashoda Incident or "Fashoda Crisis" (1898) was the climax of imperial territorial disputes between Britain and France in Eastern Africa. A French expedition to Fashoda on the White Nile sought to gain control of the Nile River and thereby exclude Britain from the Sudan, and possibly force the British out of Egypt as well. The British held firm as Britain and France were on the verge of war. It ended in a diplomatic victory for the British. It gave rise to the 'Fashoda syndrome' in French foreign policy, or seeking to assert French influence in areas which might be becoming susceptible to British influence.


During the late 19th century, Africa was rapidly being occupied by European colonial powers. This period in African history is usually called the Scramble for Africa. The two principal powers involved in this scramble were Britain and France, along with Germany, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Spain.[1]

The French thrust into the African interior was mainly from the continent's Atlantic coast (modern Senegal) eastward, through the Sahel along the southern border of the Sahara, a territory covering modern Senegal, Mali, Niger, and Chad. Their ultimate goal was to have an uninterrupted link between the Niger River and the Nile, hence controlling all trade to and from the Sahel region, by virtue of their existing control over the caravan routes through the Sahara. France also had an outpost near the mouth of the Red Sea in Djibouti (French Somaliland), which could serve as an eastern anchor to an east-west belt of French territory across the continent.

The British, on the other hand, wanted to link their possessions in Southern Africa (modern South Africa, Botswana, Malawi, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, and Zambia), with their territories in East Africa (modern Kenya), and these two areas with the Nile basin. Sudan (which in those days included modern South Sudan and Uganda) was the key to the fulfilment of these ambitions, especially since Egypt was already under British control. This 'red line' (i.e. a proposed railway, see Cape-Cairo railway) through Africa was made most famous by the British and South African political force Cecil Rhodes, who wanted Africa "painted [British] Red".

When one draws a line from Cape Town to Cairo (Rhodes' dream) and another line from Dakar to French Somaliland (now Djibouti) by the Red Sea in the Horn (the French ambition), these two lines intersect in eastern South Sudan near the town of Fashoda (present-day Kodok), explaining its strategic importance. The French east-west axis and the British north-south axis could not co-exist; the nation that could occupy and hold the crossing of the two axes would be the only one able to proceed with its plan.

Fashoda was also bound up in the Egyptian Question – a long running dispute between the United Kingdom and France over the legality of the British occupation of Egypt. Since 1882 many French politicians, particularly those of the parti colonial, had come to regret France’s decision not to join with Britain in occupying the country. They hoped to force Britain to leave, and thought that a colonial outpost on the Upper Nile could serve as a base for French gunboats. These in turn were expected to make the British abandon Egypt. Another proposed scheme involved a massive dam, cutting off the Nile’s water supply and forcing the British out. These ideas were highly impractical, but they succeeded in frightening many British officials.


Contemporary illustration of Major Marchand's trek across Africa.

A French force of just 120 tirailleurs soldiers and 12 French officers (Captain Marcel Joseph Germain - Captain Albert Baratier - Captain Charles Mangin - Captain Victor Emmanuel Largeau - Lieutenant Félix Fouqué - teacher Dyé - Doctor Jules Emily Major - Warrant Officer De Prat - Sergeant George Dat - Sergeant Bernard - Sergeant Venail - the military interpreter Landerouin) set out from Brazzaville in a borrowed Belgian steamer, under Major Jean-Baptiste Marchand with orders to secure the area around Fashoda, and make it a French protectorate. They steamed up the Ubangi River to its head of navigation and then overland through jungle and scrub to the deserts of Sudan. They travelled across Sudan to the Nile River. They were to be met there by two expeditions coming from the east across Ethiopia, one of which, from Djibouti, was led by Christian de Bonchamps, veteran of the Stairs Expedition to Katanga.[2]

After an epic 14-month trek across the heart of Africa the Marchand Expedition arrived on 10 July 1898, but the de Bonchamps Expedition failed to make it after being ordered by the Ethiopians to halt, and then suffering accidents in the Baro Gorge.[3] On 18 September, a powerful flotilla of British gunboats arrived at the isolated Fashoda fort, led by Sir Herbert Kitchener and including Lieutenant-Colonel (later General) Horace Smith-Dorrien. As the commander of the Anglo-Egyptian army that had just defeated the forces of the Mahdi at the Battle of Omdurman, Kitchener was in the process of reconquering the Sudan in the name of the Egyptian Khedive. Both sides were polite but insisted on their right to Fashoda.[citation needed]

News of the meeting was relayed to Paris and London, where it inflamed the imperial pride of both nations. Widespread popular outrage followed, each side accusing the other of naked expansionism and aggression. The crisis continued throughout September and October, and both nations began to mobilise their fleets in preparation for war.[citation needed]


In naval terms, the situation was heavily in the United Kingdom’s favour, a fact that French deputies acknowledged in the aftermath of the crisis. Though the French force was larger, the British had them outgunned. The French army was far larger than the British one, but there was little it would have been able to do against Britain without efficient naval support. Significant credit has been given to Marchand for remaining calm.[4]

The military facts were undoubtedly important to Théophile Delcassé, the newly appointed French foreign minister. He saw no advantage in a colonial war with the British, especially since he was keen to gain their friendship in case of any future conflict with Germany. He therefore pressed hard for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. The reopening of the Dreyfus Affair had done much to distract French public opinion from events in the Sudan and with people increasingly questioning the wisdom of a war over such a remote part of Africa, the French government quietly ordered its soldiers to withdraw on 3 November.


Kodok, formerly Fashoda, lies on the banks of the White Nile. Shown here within the former borders of Sudan (Kodok is now in South Sudan).

Major Marchand at Fashoda.

In March 1899, the French and British agreed that the source of the Nile and the Congo rivers should mark the frontier between their spheres of influence.

The Fashoda incident was the last serious colonial dispute between Britain and France, and its classic diplomatic solution is considered by most historians to be the precursor of the Entente Cordiale.[5]

See also

  • Berlin Conference
  • Algeciras Conference
  • Fashoda syndrome
  • Fashoda, the village in South Sudan, is now known as Kodok


  1. Thomas Pakenham, Scramble for Africa: The White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876-1912 (1991)
  2. Michel Côte, Mission de Bonchamps: Vers Fachoda à la rencontre de la mission Marchand à travers l’Ethiopie, Paris, Plon, 1900.
  3. Levering Lewis, David: The Race to Fashoda, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, New York (1987, 1995) pp. 133, 135, 210.
  4. E.g., "Marchand of Fashoda: He Arrives at Toulon and is Greeted with Immense Enthusiasm", The Deseret Evening News, May 31, 1899.
  5. Horne, Alistair (2004). La Belle France. USA: Vintage. pp. 298–299. ISBN 978-1-4000-3487-1. 

Further reading

  • Bates, Darell The Fashoda incident of 1898: encounter on the Nile. Oxford: OUP, 1984, ISBN 0-19-211771-8.
  • Churchill, Sir Winston (1902). The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan. Chapter 17 is devoted to Fashoda, covering actions on the ground more than international diplomacy. It is available online at: Project Gutenberg Edition of The River War.
  • Eubank, Keith. "The Fashoda Crisis Re-Examined," Historian, Spring 1960, Vol. 22 Issue 2, pp 145–162
  • Levering Lewis, David The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism & African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987,ISBN 1-55584-058-2. (UK, Bloomsbury, 1988)
  • Riker, T. W. "A Survey of British Policy in the Fashoda Crisis," Political Science Quarterly Vol. 44, No. 1 (Mar., 1929), pp. 54–78 in JSTOR
  • Smith-Dorrien, Sir Horace, Memories of Forty-Eight Years' Service, John Murray, 1925. — Eyewitness in charge of British artillery.
  • Taylor, A.J.P. "Prelude to Fashoda: The Question of the Upper Nile, 1894-5," English Historical Review Vol. 65, No. 254 (Jan., 1950), pp. 52–80 in JSTOR
  • Wright, Patricia Conflict on the Nile: the Fashoda incident of 1898. London: Heinemann, 1972, ISBN 0-434-87830-8.
  • *Andrew, C. M.; Kanya-Forstner (1975). "Gabriel Hanotaux, the Colonial Party and the Fashoda Strategy". pp. 22–104. 

Coordinates: 9°53′N 32°07′E / 9.883°N 32.117°E / 9.883; 32.117

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