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The causes of the Mahdist Resistance War are rooted in the effect of Egyptian and subsequently British efforts to exert control in the Sudan.
Initially under Egyptian/Ottoman Rule, the people in the Sudan were already feeling the adverse impact of forced Military conscription, Egyptian taxes, efforts to curtail the Slave Trade and the loss of control over Trade routes.
When the British took over the Sudan in 1873, the anti-slavery campaign only intensified, and the Sudanese interpreted British control as a form Christian Cultural Imperialism reminiscent of the Crusades.
In response to the ‘Christianisation’ of the Sudan, in June 1881, Muhammad Ahmad an Islamic Cleric proclaimed himself the redeemer or Mahdi, and began agitating Jihad against British controlled Egypt.
Out-Break Of The Mahdist Resistance War
From 1882-1885 the Mahdist resistance was successful with the capture of Khartoum and the decisive defeat of the British under Commander General Charles Gordon.
However, in June 1885 the Mahdist resistance was dealt a fatal blow when its charismatic leader, the Mahdi died.
Internal divisions immediately surfaced which gave the British the opening they were looking for, and in 1896, an expedition under Kitchener was sent in to finally suppress the Mahdi resistance.
The final battle was fought at Karai in 1898, and by 1899 the Mahdi’s successor was captured and killed marking a decisive end to the rebellion.
Why The Mahdist Resistance Was Defeated
From the outset, the Mahdist resistance was led by Muhammad Ahmad who was a self-proclaimed Charismatic figure.
The religious nature of the revolt probably meant that its success depended on the continued leadership and charisma of the Mahdi.
For this reason, the Mahdist resistance lacked a firm foundation beyond the leadership of one individual who had managed to cast political questions in appealing Religious terms.
Sadly, no-one else was able to articulate the Political questions in Religious language in the same convincing and inspiring manner as the Mahdi had previously done.
As such, whilst the Mahdist Resistance movement was at its weakest and in a state of Transition, the British pounced and their Military superiority carried the day because they faced an uninspired and divided Opponent.
In the final analysis, the Mahdist resistance is an example of the dangers of Resistance Movements built around individuals and not Principles.
Perhaps if the principles of the Mahdist Revolution had dominated over the Charismatic Leadership of the Mahdi, the resistance would have been successfully carried on by another leader who could inspire loyalty not on personality but on principle.