The veteran Sudanese internet forum Sudaneseonline posted lately a poll asking its audience to choose their favourite head of state or prime minister since independence. To the list of fame was added the option “I would have preferred the continuation of British colonial rule”, the necessary twist to complement the probe since the majority of voters actually chose that option. According to the Sudanese online the most popular national ruler is the faceless British colonial administration, independence being but a moment of degeneration.
There are two obvious way of reading this outcome, which irrespective of the poll expresses a recurring theme in the debates of the Sudanese intelligentsia, namely the fantasy of a colonial Sudan where the civil service functioned like a Swiss clock, the economy flourished unhindered, and the government, its colonial nature aside, served the best interests of the supposedly ‘infantile’ population. One possible explanation is the pervasive disillusion with the post-colonial order, best captured by Mansour Khalid’s assertion of the global and perpetual failure of the Sudanese elite, a diagnosis to which he dedicated his two volumes ‘The Sudanese elite and the addiction of failure’. In this book, probably the bible of Khartoum’s liberal opposition, Khalid lashes out at his fellow effendiya in their best style, anecdote and diatribe, for desecrating the colonial paradise they inherited unscathed.
The second I suppose is the proposition that the liberal opposition, robbed of the advantages inherited from its colonial patrons by the serial ruptures of the postcolony, has no other horizon to entertain but a fantasised golden age of colonial discipline where their quasi-aristocratic distinction of birth and education reigned unchallenged. In that lost world the effendi, naturally a graduate of Gordon College/Khartoum University, urban in habits, cosmopolitan in outlook, and nervously attached to the advantages of kinship and male gender in a society he incessantly mocked as ‘backward’, lavished in the joys of the state, his employment and pension guaranteed by exclusive access to its resources, and his hegemony secured by the obedient firepower of its forces.
In that sense the effendi, Fanon’s straw-man, can only bemoan the post-colony as a history of degeneration, the undercurrent of its contradictory tale being the sustained challenge to its colonial origins, grievances and honours alike. One conclusion to be drawn from Sudaneseonline’s poll, to paraphrase Abd el-Khalig Mahjoub, Sudan’s counter-effendi if ever there was one, is that the colonial state has not been smashed enough. It still survives in the imagination of Sudan’s ‘elite’. In that sense it is truly, to twist Mansour Khalid’s dictum, ‘the government they deserve’.