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Le pouvoir des chiffres : les pratiques comptables de l’autorité mahdiste au Soudan-Est (1883-1891)

Abstract : This article examines the activities of the Mahdist administration in the Eastern Sudan and particularly the production of accounting documents by the Treasury (bayt al-māl) of Tūkar. It falls within a larger attempt at rebalancing the historiography of the Mahdist movement in the Nilotic Sudan (1881-1899) which has favoured sources emanating from the central government to the detriment of those produced by the provincial authorities. The documentary corpus presented in this article was seized in February 1891 following an expedition led by British and Egyptian troops. This is an exceptional collection because of its coherence. Indeed, this operation caught unawares the governor (ʿāmil) of the Eastern Sudan, ʿUthmān Diqna, who had neither the time to transfer those documents nor to destroy them, as it had partially been the case in Omdurman in September 1898. We thus have at our disposal a “snapshot” of the production of a Mahdist provincial administration between 1889 and 1891. In the first part, this article traces the steps of the foundation of the provincial administration in the Eastern Sudan. It sheds light on the relatively late formation of a structured administration and its relocation, in line with the strategic priorities of the Khalīfa ʿAbdullāhi, from Kassala to Tūkar at the end of 1888. The second part deals with the structure of the accounting system established by the Treasury administrators of Tūkar in order to to articulate the document presented, that is,, the daily monetary accounts for Dhū al-Qaʿda 1307 (June–July 1890), with the other fields of accounting. The scriptural technique highlights the strong influence of the Egyptian administrative practices, but also the hybrid aspect of this accounting, characterized by both an incomplete modernity and the claim of an Islamic tradition. This makes it possible, in a third part, to approach this document from a quantitative perspective and to reconstruct the dynamics that governed the revenues and expenses of the Treasury of Tūkar. These reflect more broadly the socio-economic conditions prevailing in the province in the early 1890s. The last part is devoted to an analysis of the administrative operation itself. It aims to show that the major efforts put into the recording of accounts can only be understood if we consider it as an act of power and the assertion of a legitimate authority.
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Anaël Poussier. Le pouvoir des chiffres : les pratiques comptables de l’autorité mahdiste au Soudan-Est (1883-1891). Sources. Material & Fieldwork in African Studies, IFRA Nairobi, 2020, pp.199-272. ⟨halshs-02865383⟩

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