In the early 1880s Sudan suffered under the heel of the Ottoman empire. Military occupation and heavy taxes led to widespread discontent that eventually led to a religiously-infused rebellion. Muhammad Ahmad styled himself as the Mahdi or “expected one,” a prophesized Islamic figure, and drawing on discontent, Ahmad led a rebellion throughout the country.
The British officer Charles George Gordon (pictured below) was put in charge of evacuating Egyptians and other foreigners from the Sudan. But, because of his poor relations with the British and the Ottoman-Egyptian governments, Gordon ended up holed up in Khartoum, under siege by the rebel forces, and eventually dead at the hands of the Sudanese. The Mahdi had successfully defeated the foreign occupiers, and a new state formed under his religiously-inspired revolutionary power.
The British Empire and other colonial powers did a lot of things wrong, and they famously ignored actual human patterns when drawing borders of Africa. In 1899, the British drew a border between Egypt and Sudan that simply ran in a straight line across the 22nd parallel, ignoring how people in the area moved and identified. A few years later, in 1902, they corrected their mistake and re-drew the boundary.
The result has led to a border dispute between Egypt and Sudan where Egypt claims the 1899 border, and Sudan the 1902 border. This dispute means that a small patch of desert, Bir Tawil, is not claimed by either nation. In 2014 a man from the United States attempted to claim the land and declare it to be the Kingdom of North Sudan. Why? So his daughter could be a princess, of course.
The image below shows Bir Tawil on Google Maps, with the pin in its location. Next to it is the Hala’ib Triangle, which both countries claim.
In the late 1600s Scotland, in an attempt to start an international trade empire, founded a small settlement in what is now modern Panama. The venture was frustrated at every turn by the English, who did not want their northern neighbor competing on the international scene, and the Panamanian jungle proved to be an inhospitable environment. The settlers were plagued by starvation and malaria, and eventually the Scots were ousted by the Spanish.
The dramatic failure of the colony led to the end of Scottish independence, and a few years later 1707 that country would permanently join with England. Had the colony succeeded, the map of Europe and Central America could look very different today, but as it is Scottish ambitions and independence vanished hundreds of years ago in the jungles of Central America.
The Anglo-Zanzibar war comes up all the time on lists of curiosities, records, weird things, etc., as the shortest war in recorded history. It certainly is a historical curiosity, but it was still an actual, real war, with stakes and politics behind it. This week’s episode gets into a few details about the shortest war in history, and why (for Zanzibar at least) it was more than just a curiosity.
The photograph below shows a part of the Sultan’s palace complex after the war which, depending on which source you read, lasted either 38, 40, or 45 minutes.
Before and during World War II Japan (just like Britain, France, and the United States) had a considerable empire. The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere encompassed the Korean peninsula, several Pacific Islands, and holdings in China. Probably the strangest part of the Japan’s empire was Manchukuo, an artificial country in northern China that Japan made by (among other things) bombing a train and kidnapping the former Chinese emperor.