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Re-engineering the state, awakening the nation: Dams, Islamist modernity and nationalist politics in Sudan

Maimuna Mohamud
Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, Mogadishu, Somalia; maimuna.mohamud@heritageinstitute.org

Harry Verhoeven
School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Georgetown University; hv89@georgetown.edu

ABSTRACT: This article investigates how and why dam building has fulfilled a crucial role in hegemonic projects of elite consolidation and nation-building. By drawing on the case of Sudan’s Dam Programme and the associated propaganda the Khartoum government has produced, we show how the dams have not just served to materially restructure the Sudanese political economy but have also been essential in the attempted rekindling of the identity of both the regime and the country. Massive investment in hydro-infrastructure dovetailed with the political rebalancing of an authoritarian system in crisis, turning dam-builders into nation-builders: the message of the dams as midwife to a pious, prosperous and revitalised Sudan allowed it to reconcile the nationalism of its military and security wing with the enduring ambitions for transformation of its Islamist base. Dam building in Sudan, as elsewhere, has thus meant a physical redrawing of the landscape and intensified rent creation and seeking but also embodies a high modernist narrative that matches the interests and worldviews of very different constituencies. This, we argue, helps explain its salience in earlier periods of state-building and nation-building, as well as contemporarily.

KEYWORDS: Hydropolitics, dams, nationalism, Islamism, nation-building, Sudan