Review by B P Pothecary
(Gold Coast 1950-55. Sudan 1963-68)
Imperial Echoes provides the reader with a detailed and authentic picture of life in
rural areas of the Sudan during the late 1940's. In those days support for
agricultural production was largely dependent on the efforts of dedicated and
enthusia.stic individuals such as Arthur Staniforth working with limited resources.
The Sudan is a vast country with huge environmental and cultural differences between
North and South but Arthur Staniforth seems to have been equally at home wherever he
went. He writes with a light touch, interspersing descriptions of his day to day tasks and
personal life with accounts of his relationship with the Sudanese people with whom he
worked so closely.
His initial experiences with Nile pump irrigation were followed by early attempts to
promote flood irrigation in seasonal rainfed areas and then in the rainfed areas near the
Southern border. Such diversity provided an ideal background for his final posting as a
lecturer in the School of Agriculture where his wide practical knowledge would have been
invaluable. The book is completed by a number of anecdotal de.scriptions of his visits to
the Mahdi's successor at Abba Island on the White Nile, his journey by steamer to the
South and a spell with a desert locust control unit in Northern Sudan.
The whole story will surely evoke memories for all those who served in remote areas of
pre-independence Africa. The spartan surroundings, lack of communication with the
outside world, indifferent food and sometimes disease made for a hard life by modern
standards. Compensation lay in the challenge of the job itself, relationships with the local
people and an interest in their culture as well as the stimulation of receiving outside
visitors. All these aspects are clearly brought home in Arthur Staniforth's excellent book.
It is tempting to contrast the situation in the 1940's with present day Africa where
enormous pressure is placed on rural communities due to increase of population, drought
and flooding, land degradation and uncertainty in marketing any surplus production for
income. This is quite apart from fear of disease and political pressures. In the relatively
stable 1940's life was simpler and much could be achieved with the straightforward
improvement of practices based on traditional methods. Formal research was in its infancy
and large scale post-war projects and development schemes had yet to come.
In summary an excellent read not only for those interested in agriculture but everyone
with a wider interest in social development and history.