The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW


The Fashoda Incident - 1898

With the intention of linking her possessions in east and west Africa across the territory of the Upper Nile, France penetrated to Fashoda, a fortress on the Upper Nile, in 1898, at just the time that Kitchener, after defeating the Dervishes at Omdurman, was proceeding up river to complete the conquest of the Sudan. Extreme diplomatic tension was created by the meeting of the rival military forces, and actual hostilities were averted only with great difficulty. The outcome was the withdrawal of the French and hence a British victory.

Ever since 1894, when Captain Dreyfus was convicted of treason in a trial which left much to be desired from the point of view of justice, the Dreyfus affair hovered like a bird of ill omen over successive ministries, refusing to be driven away. Even in discussions on foreign affairs in the Chamber the "affair" was dragged in. M. Jules Guesde, the Socialist, declared that the Quai d'Orsay was subject to occult influences, "that the French Republic has a king who is named Rothschild," and M. Finnin Faure asserted that the government of M. Brisson was established with one purpose,—namely to obtain the acquittal of Dreyfus, a traitor, and recommended a French policy instead of a Jewish policy. The Franco-Russian alliance itself was being undermined, and Russia could rightly question whether France with the Dreyfus incubus attached to its war department was a very valuable partner.

So it was with the Dual Alliance weakening, with Italy jealous and disgruntled, with Germany dubiously friendly, and with Great Britain openly hostile, that France put her foreign policy into the hands of M. Delcasse on 28 June 1898, who for seven years was to guide her destinies and finally lead her into a friendly entente with Great Britain, the one power which for centuries had been her open and avowed enemy.

The battle of Omdurman, 02 September 1898, struck the deathblow to Mahdism in the Sudan. A few days after General Kitchener's victory at Omdurman a Dervish steamer descended the Nile from the south and surrendered to the Egyptian authorities at Omdurman, the captain of the steamer reporting that a few days before the arrival of the Anglo-Egyptian army the Khalifa had been informed that a force of white men had occupied Fashoda. He had sent two of his steamers to investigate; and they had found the report to be correct, had been fired upon and had come back for reinforcements. An examination disclosed the presence of many French bullets in the hull of the steamer.

Immediately General Kitchener himself proceeded up the Nile with four gunboats and a considerable military force, and on 21 September 1898 he arrived at Fashoda, where he discovered the tricolor waving in the breeze. Evidently an international incident of extreme gravity was transpiring—an incident which, as shown by the sequel, could not be settled then and there, but was destined to arouse the British nation to its depths. Major Marchand, with a half-dozen French officers and a hundred Senegalese troops, had crossed the country from French Kongo to the Nile region. Though it was General Kitchener's duty to request Major Marchand to evacuate the dominions of the Khedive of Egypt, and though it was Major Marchand's duty to decline to do so without orders to that effect from his government, the two military representatives of their respective nations treated each other with the utmost courtesy and civility, Major Marchand politely refusing to comply with General Kitchener's polite request to withdraw. As Major Marchand declined to move, General Kitchener "peacefully established posts at Fashoda and Sobat and withdrew to Omdurman," whence he communicated with Lord Cromer in Egypt and with the British home government in London.

The settlement of the Fashoda episode as told in the official dispatches of the time, as published by Lord Salisbury on October 9, 1898, recognized that he was sustained by the British nation and that it was highly important that France should know that such was the case. The Blue Book showed that successive French Ministries had been informed of Great Britain's resolution not to admit "+hat any other European power than Great Britain has any claim to occupy any part of the valley of the Nile," as stated in a communication made by Sir Edmund Monson, the British ambassador at Paris, to M. Hanotaux on December 10, 1897, followed by Sir Edward Grey's declaration in Parliament that Great Britain would consider such an occupation to be "an unfriendly act."

Sir Edmund Monson's phrase was quoted by Lord Salisbury in his dispatch to Lord Cromer dated August 2, 1898, containing instructions as to what General Kitchener was to do after he occupied Khartoum, and almost half the dispatch deals with the question of what should be done by General Kitchener if he should meet any French or Abyssinian authorities in his southward journey. In that case Lord Salisbury wrote that " nothing should be said or done which would in any way imply a recognition on behalf of Her Majesty's government of a title to possession on behalf of France or Abyssinia of any portion of the Nile valley." In an interview with Sir Edmond Monson, M. Delcasse, French Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that Major Marchand had been instructed to consider himself "an emissary of civilization" without any authority whatever to decide upon questions of right. In another interview with Sir Edmund Monson, " M. Delcasse laid stress upon there being no Marchand mission at all." A telegram from Lord Salisbury to Sir Edmund Monson on September 9th instructed him to inform M. Delcasse that " by the military events of last week all the territories which were subject to the Khalifa passed by the right of conquest to the British and Egyptian governments," and that "Her Majesty's government do not consider that this right is open to discussion."

The diplomacy on the Fashoda episode lasted two entire months and was marked throughout by firmness on the part of Great Britain, and Lord Salisbury never swerved from his course in this affair, in which he was supported heartily by the British nation, even by the leaders of the Liberal party, foremost of whom was Lord Rosebery, who in a speech at a meeting of the Surrey agriculturists in the middle of October uttered the following words: "Great Britain has been conciliatory, and her conciliatory disposition has been widely misunderstood. If the nations of the world are under the impression that the ancient spirit of Great Britain is dead or that her resources are weakened or her population less determined than ever it was to maintain the rights and honor of its flag, they make a mistake which can only end in a disastrous conflagration." At the same time quiet and effective measures of defense were put in operation, and finally France retired from her position, seeing that Great Britain was in earnest. The news of this decision of the French government was announced by Lord Salisbury at the Lord Mayor's banquet in honor of General Kitchener on November 4th, the general having been raised to the peerage in the meantime with the title of Lord Kitchener of Khartoum. This affair was brought to a pacific solution with less trouble than might have been anticipated, in view of all the circumstances of the case, as the French press was not unanimous in support of Major Marchand's adventure.

On 21 March 1899, an agreement between Great Britain and France as to the delimitation of their respective spheres of influence in Africa made another affair like the Fashoda incident impossible, and public opinion in both countries was satisfied, though it was not wholly satisfactory to the Sultan of Turkey, who considered it a veiled attack on his surezainty over Tripoli, or to Italy, which has well-recognized interests in that quarter of the world.

"The disgrace of Fashoda " was, from that time on, a popular phrase in France, and the Germans believed that they were now but a short distance removed from a Franco-German understanding. It was, however, a great mistake. The leading men in I France were convinced that the Fashoda " incident" I had quite another meaning. The French colonial plans, which had found their expression in the Marchand expedition, had definitely failed. Other colonial problems in Africa were still open. The French fleet would, in the future, be just as little in a position successfully to defy the British fleet as it had been in 1898. No effective help on sea could be expected from Russia, for the center of gravity of Russia's policy and maritime power lay in the Far East. It is true that France, could maintain a respectable fleet in the Mediterranean, and thus keep up a certain equilibrium there. Her fleet was sufficient to prevent France being eliminated from any settlement of Mediterranean questions. But the French statesmen were of opinion that France was henceforth too weak to continue the old historical struggle with England on the seas and beyond them. Subsequent reflection confirmed their first impression.

The Fashoda incident had, therefore, an entirely different meaning to the one which was generally attributed to it. It was not in spite of Fashoda that six years later the Franco-English entente was concluded, which has since developed into an alliance — but as a result of Fashoda. Without Fashoda there would have been no Entente Cordiale, no alliance. The old historical world-struggle between France and England reached its definite end with the Fashoda incident. Even after 1870 it was still conceivable that France might endeavor, in conjunction with Continental Powers, to resume the ancient struggle — especially in view of the burning questions arising out of the conflicting colonial aspirations of the two countries in Africa. The Fashoda incident put an end to all this. The efforts made during the preceding twenty years by statesmen on both sides of the water, in view of arriving at an understanding between Paris and London, had been temporarily frustrated by Bismarck. But now, after the tree had been vigorously shaken at Fashoda, the fruit fell spontaneously.

The Fashoda Incident - 1898 The Fashoda Incident - 1898

Join the mailing list

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias

Page last modified: 20-11-2011 19:18:09 ZULU