Current Scholarship
The Intellectual Origins of Sudan’s “Decades of Solitude,” 1989–2019

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Author: Alden Young

The three decades between 1989 and 2019, when the National Salvation regime of Islamists and the military ruled Sudan, are now frequently remembered by international and Sudanese policymakers, politicians, intellectuals, and business elites as “lost decades” or “decades of solitude” marked by poor policymaking, corruption, and international isolation. These standard accounts, as well as much of the scholarly literature, assume that ideas played very little role in the development of Sudan’s political economy. Instead, most observers of Sudan’s political economy assume its evolution between 1989 and 2019 was shaped by happenstance and competing interests that settled into brief moments of equilibrium. This dismissal of the role that ideas play in shaping the political economy of Sudan in particular, and that of African states in general, is not only a result of prejudice or historical myopia, but also the result of recent trends that privilege the analysis of material, class, or sectoral interests over ideas in scholarship on political economy. These explanations obscure the intellectual traditions that gave rise to the particular contours of the Sudanese economy between 1989 and 2019. This article argues that the idea of tamkeen, or economic consolidation, guided the economic policies put forth by the National Salvation regime between 1989 and 2019. To explicate tamkeen—its origins and its meaning—this article examines the writings of two Sudanese intellectuals: Fatima Babiker Mahmoud and Muhammad Abu al-Qasim Hajj Hamad. In publications from the 1980s, these two wrote extensively about the failures of the Sudanese developmental state in the 1960s. In their critique of this earlier Sudanese state, we discover the preconditions for the idea of tamkeen, which guided the political economy of Sudan during the so-called “decades of solitude.”

Young, Alden. “The Intellectual Origins of Sudan’s “Decades of Solitude,” 1989–2019.” Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics 2, no. 1 (2021): 196-226. doi:10.1353/cap.2021.0007.