Hengameh Ziai

Middle Eastern, South Asian and African StudiesColumbia University

Award Information

2017 IDRF Program

Middle Eastern, South Asian and African StudiesColumbia University

The Indebted Peasant: Debt, Capitalism and Political Resistance in the Gezira Plain of Sudan

This project takes debt as a vantage point through which to consider histories of economic extraction, political subjectivation and resistance amongst the peasantry in the Gezira plain in northern Sudan--a historical hub of revolution and political resistance, being the home of both the Mahdist revolution in the 19th century and one of the strongest labour movements in the Middle East and Africa. It foreground the creditor-debtor relation in differentiating between the various and overlapping modes of "colonial" rule in the region—whether Ottoman, Egyptian, British or "neocolonial." In doing so, it considers the ways in which debt operates—not merely as an economic relation but—as a political technology, one the produces forms of life, political subjectivity and modes of resistance. Furthermore, this project aims to depart from accounts of capitalism as based primarily on industrial production and the extraction of raw materials from the colonies for that purpose. Rather, through the vantage point of creditor-debtor relations, it aims to trace a different and perhaps more long-standing form of economic extraction at the centre of histories capitalism as they have unfolded in a (colonial) periphery. In light of the present crisis of indebtedness amongst peasants in the economic and political heartland of northern Sudan—the Gezira plain—this project situates the 'neoliberal' present by tracing technologies of debt across four historical moments over the course of Sudan's late 19th and 20th centuries: the Mahdist uprising and its prelude (circa. 1870-1898); the building of the Gezira Scheme under British colonial rule (circa. 1912-1930); the rise of the labour/communist movement on the Scheme out of the ashes of Mahdism; and the World Bank interventions in the Gezira Scheme (1970-1980s).