African Bureaucrats and the Exhaustion of the Developmental State: Lessons from the Pages of the Sudanese Economist

In the popular and scholarly imagination, Sudanese history is framed as a story of successive failed states, war, and destruction. This impression is aided by the fact that with the division of the country into the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan became one of only two states in postcolonial Africa formally partitioned. Additionally, Sudan was embroiled in civil wars for more than two-thirds of its history.1 Given this legacy, is it possible to write of a functional Sudanese state, let alone a developmental Sudanese state?

The legacy of postcolonial violence in Sudan makes it easy to forget the political triumph of Sudanese nationalists on January 1, 1956, when their manipulation of the political rivalry between Britain and Egypt secured political independence for the largest country in Africa.2 Sudan was the first country to win its independence in Sub-Saharan Africa, several years before the great wave of decolonization swept the continent during the 1960s, christened the “Development Decade” by the United Nations to welcome the new states into the family of nations.3 Reflecting on that decade, Mahmood Mamdani astutely notes that for the “Independence Generation,” those who went to school during the last days of colonialism yet began their professional careers during the first days of independence, the guiding assumption was that “the impact of colonialism on their societies was mainly economic.”4 Consequentially, they believed that by following a deliberate economic strategy, planners as the vanguard of the state could quickly pull their societies from backwardness to modernity.5

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