Sir Lee Stack Assassinated

As governor-general of Sudan, Stack exercised the same moderating influence and diplomatic skills he had demonstrated in successive subordinate posts. In the highest echelons of the Sudan government, bureaucratic structures had never replaced the personal relations of officers and officials in setting policy. Nor was Stack jealous of his position and perquisites; far more than Wingate he consulted officials, both formally within a rejuvenated governor-general's council, and in the field. While his policy essentially maintained that set down during the era of Kitchener, Cromer, and Wingate, there were important transitional elements that owed much to his personal influence. Foremost of these was insistence on a ‘dual policy’ of decentralization, by which the statutory empowerment of rural sheikhs demanded by the rising doctrine of indirect rule (or native administration) would be balanced by continuing and increasing devolution of responsibility to an educated élite of riverain townsmen.

That the ‘dual policy’ was itself controversial was owing to the tide of Egyptian nationalism, the first stirrings of its Sudanese counterpart, and the apparent revival of militant Mahdism. British opinion generally held that educated Sudanese must inevitably oppose British rule, and that therefore it was self-defeating to empower them. Far better, it was argued (in India, Egypt, Nigeria, and elsewhere), to forge alliances with local aristocrats, in defence of whose own traditional and newly endowed powers the British would find potent allies. Stack, a career soldier, was perhaps surprisingly the last important defender in his generation of the ‘civilizing mission’ represented by the Gordon Memorial College.

The nominal independence of Egypt in 1922 had complicated but not essentially changed the status of the Sudan. But in 1924 the election of the first Wafd government in Egypt brought that status to the centre of Anglo-Egyptian relations. Disaffection among Egyptian troops in the Sudan and sympathetic demonstrations by Sudanese cadets and civilians were ominous. In the autumn negotiations between the Wafdist leader, Sa‘d Zaghlul, and the Labour government in London broke down, and the British prepared for ‘drastic action’. In the end this was justified when, on 19 November, Stack was shot in his car while driving through the streets of Cairo. He died the next day at the Anglo-American Hospital there. A British ultimatum, the forced evacuation of the Egyptian army from the Sudan, and the fall of the Wafd government ensued. The political reaction in the Sudan was dramatic; Stack's ‘dual policy’ died with him, and reactionary administrative and educational policies won the day. He was buried in Cairo; his wife survived him.

Stack's contribution to the development of modern Sudan has been eclipsed by his famous predecessors and obscured by his own modesty. The last sirdar to be governor-general, he presided over and perhaps epitomized the transition from the era of conquest to the period of nationalist politics that would end in independence. Unaffected by ideological certitude or dislike for the ‘new men’ that British rule had helped to create, he was above all practical and sympathetic in his approach to administration in the Sudan. The huge Gezira scheme, one of the largest irrigation projects ever undertaken, was largely completed under him.

Images courtesy of Maged Farag

The Road to Suez | Sudan | The Wafd: Egypt 1918 - 1927

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by Stephen Luscombe