Water, Civilisation and Power in Sudan

At the launch of his book ‘Water, Civilisation and Power in Sudan’ in Oxford on 18 May 2015, Harry Verhoeven gave a snapshot of Africa’s most ambitious state-building projects in the modern era, where water played an important role. The book is the result of Harry’s doctoral research at Oxford University, and remarkable access to politicians, generals and intellectuals in Sudan over many years.

Worker clearing logs during the heightening of the Roseires Dam, August 2009. Photo by Harry Verhoeven

Worker clearing logs during the heightening of the Roseires Dam, August 2009. Photo by Harry Verhoeven

On 30 June 1989, a secretive movement of Islamists led by Dr Hassan Al-Turabi allied itself to a military group to violently take power in Africa’s biggest country.

Turabi organised a coup to prevent an anti-Islamist backlash in Egypt or America and formed the Al-Ingaz regime, the first modern Sunni Islamic Revolution since the seventh century AD.

The alliance of Islamists and generals sought to transform Sudan from one of the world’s poorest nations into a beacon of Islamic civilisation and prosperity across the Muslim world.

Harry Verhoeven’s book “Water, Civilization and Power in Sudan: The Political Economy of Military-Islamist State Building” reveals the centrality of water in Sudanese politics under military-Islamic rule.

The Al-Ingaz regime promised ‘Economic Salvation’ – the rescue of Sudan’s economy through a ‘hydro-agricultural mission’ with massive investment in water infrastructure and irrigated agriculture. The Nile River was seen as Sudan’s lifeline and its most important political artery.

Verhoeven describes the vast Merowe Dam as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the hydro-agricultural mission. His analysis shows how the Al-Ingaz Revolution’s use of water and agriculture to consolidate power is linked to twenty-first-century globalisation, Islamist ideology, and intensifying geopolitics of the Nile.

Harry Verhoeven is Assistant Professor of Government at the School of Foreign Service (Qatar), Georgetown University. He is an Associate Member of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford and the Convenor of the Oxford University China-Africa Network (OUCAN).