3 November 1898: The Fashoda Incident between Britain and France ends

War between Britain and France was narrowly averted on this day in 1898 when France agrees to withdraw from modern-day South Sudan, ending the Fashoda Incident.

Marshy and pestilential, Fashoda isn't the kind of place you want to hang around. But it was right here in 1898, in today's Kodok, South Sudan, that Britain and France almost came to blows. If they had, the First World War would have looked very different.

In the late 19th century, Britain was salivating over the prospect of spanning the length of the African continent with a railroad linking Cape Town in South Africa all the way to Cairo in Egypt. It would have taken a massive feat of engineering, but as far as the British were concerned, the commercial rewards were worth it.

What they didn't fully realise was that the French had had the same idea a railroad linking their colonies from Senegal, West Africa to Djibouti, on the East African coast. Like crosshairs, the two axes met at Fashoda. And so did the two opposing armies.

The French, led by Major Jean-Baptiste Marchand, set off east in grand procession, laden with champagne. The British, with Lord Kitchener at the head, was marching down, fresh from its victory in Khartoum. At Fashoda, the French dug in. The British told them to leave.

Marchand refused, arguing that the territory had been abandoned by Egypt (the British) during the course of the Mahdist War. But Kitchener had come to take it back. Exasperated, Kitchener told the French major, "I cannot argue these points, but I would suggest you consider the preponderance of the force at my disposal"

That was no idle threat. The British army, backed up by the navy on the Nile, vastly outnumbered the small French force. So, the two sides agreed to sit it out quietly, and wait for word from London and Paris on what to do next.

Over in Europe, a full-blown crisis broke out. It got so bad that the Royal Navy was readied for action. The French made overtures to the Russians, but they weren't much interested. While some on both sides called for calm, hotter heads called for war.

But for France, the danger was, in fact, much closer to home. While Kitchener and Marchand were merrily swapping war stories over whisky and champagne, the Dreyfus Affair exploded in Paris an anti-Semitic political scandal that brought down the government. Kitchener was only too happy to keep Marchand supplied with newspapers brought down from Cairo.

France had been shaken. The new French government, formed on 2 November, wasn't much in the mood for fighting a war, and the next day swallowed its pride and ordered Marchand to withdraw. The British threw a banquet for their guests', and played La Marseillaise. For the French, there was no drinking away the reality that it was a humiliating climb down.

Still, fearful of Germany, the Fashoda Incident didn't stop France from signing the Entente Cordiale with Britain a few short years later in 1904. The stage was now set for the First World War. As for the British in Africa, they never did quite succeed in building their transcontinental railway.

 

Recommended

Why the cost of living crisis could be a boon for this cheap retailer
Retail stocks

Why the cost of living crisis could be a boon for this cheap retailer

Like many retailers, B&M is facing the dual headwinds of lower sales and higher costs as inflation bites. But its business model has proved hugely suc…
29 Jun 2022
The ten highest dividend yields on Aim
Income investing

The ten highest dividend yields on Aim

Rupert Hargreaves picks the highest-paying dividend stocks on Aim, London’s junior market for small and medium-sized growth companies.
29 Jun 2022
The best cash Isas on the market now
Cash ISAs

The best cash Isas on the market now

With high inflation, low interest rates, and declining tax benefits, cash Isas are less popular than they were. But don’t dismiss them just yet, says …
29 Jun 2022
The best cash Isas on the market now
Cash ISAs

The best cash Isas on the market now

With high inflation, low interest rates, and declining tax benefits, cash Isas are less popular than they were. But don’t dismiss them just yet, says …
29 Jun 2022

Most Popular

Market crash: have we hit bottom or is there worse to come?
Stockmarkets

Market crash: have we hit bottom or is there worse to come?

For a little while, markets looked like they were about to embark on a full-on crash. And that could still happen, says Dominic Frisby. Today, he look…
27 Jun 2022
Prepare your portfolio for recession
Investment strategy

Prepare your portfolio for recession

A recession is looking increasingly likely. Add in a bear market and soaring inflation, and things are going to get very complicated for investors, sa…
27 Jun 2022
Interest rates are rising, here are the best savings accounts on the market
Savings

Interest rates are rising, here are the best savings accounts on the market

With inflation at more than 9%, your savings are not going to keep pace with the rising cost of living. But you can at least slow the rate at which yo…
24 Jun 2022