“Colonial and postcolonial politics of religion and ethnicity: Making capitalist economy of local elites in Kassala, Eastern-Sudan” – by Abdaljbr Alhaj Mustafa – 2 October 2019

Abstract: For two centuries, Kassala has been the stronghold of the Khatmiyya order, the religious wing of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) which has historically dominated, with the other sectarian party (UMMA), all democratic periods in postcolonial Sudan. Kassala also represents the historical stronghold for most of the Bejawi Nazrats (Native administrations). Religion and ethnicity in Kassala are apparently the most important institutions upon which the colonial indirect rule, that came to be known in postcolonial Sudan “the local governance”, has been depended. 

Starting from the argument that the better we understand the colonial-Kassala, the better we understand postcolonial-Kassala, the study aims to understand the socio-economic and political situations in Kassala (Eastern-Sudan) in relation to colonial state-policies of religion and ethnicity. In doing so, the study starts by ethnographically studying politics of religion and ethnicity in colonial Kassala, its impacts on a process of the colonial state formation, and its outcomes in postcolonial Kassala. It goes on to investigate the relationships between the colonially formed Kassala and post-colonially formed Kassala in terms of institutions, structures, and politics (co-existence and conflict). The study ends with analytically explaining how such colonial politics of religion and ethnicity have made capitalist economy, led by variously local leaders, concentrated on side, and social exclusion, marginalization and exploitation on another side.

The study employs an approach that has not been previously adopted by Anthropological studies on Islam in postcolonial-Sudan (Al-Dawwi, 1969; Osman, 1978; Eltom, 1983;Al-Shahi, 1981;Holy, 1991; Ali, 2004 et al.), mixing Postcolonial and Marxist perspectives. The goal of such mixing is to deeply dig in socioeconomic and political history of colonization in Kassala. This focus on the micro-level gives the study an aspect of originality; particularly there has been no anthropological study in postcolonial Sudan that clearly tackled overlapping and connections between colonization, religion, ethnicity and economy in the micro-scale. The socio-economic and political history of colonialism has been very often, if not always, derived from historical documents and reports that were left by colonizers. Uniquely, this study focuses on an ethnographic field, written and oral history of colonialism in Kassala, to understand dialectical relationships between colonialism, religion, ethnicity, and capitalist economy in Kassala.

Accordingly, the study provides new perspectives on colonization and decolonization in postcolonial Kassala. Colonization did not stop at the old station in 1956, and neither did decolonization. Colonization and decolonization are ethnographically re-conceptualized. Thus, this gives the study another aspect of originality through its contribution to general debate on what colonization means, and where (how) decolonization should go and stop. 

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