a1 United States Naval Academy
The recent thesis propounded by Fisher and Rowland regarding the role of firearms in the Central Sudan requires considerable modification. While one must concede that the observable effects of firearms in the nineteenth century were not profound, this statement must be qualified to account for the incipient revolution in military technology, army organization, and political structure that occurred in many of the Central Sudanese states in the last quarter of the century. The relative ease with which European imperial powers conquered these states has tended to obscure from historians the dynamics of internal change that became manifest during the last decades of their independent existence.
It is clear from the evidence presented in this article that the increasing use of firearms intensified the tendencies toward bureaucratization and the centralization of power in the states of the Central Sudan. The creation of regular standing armies, the formation of slave musketeer units commanded by slave officers, and the progressive devaluation of feudal institutions in favour of bureaucratized political and military structures, were the distinguishing characteristics of this period. Although history is irreversible, it is interesting to ponder the possible alternative outcomes of this nascent revolution. Its directions were clear, its destination unknown. In this article we have argued that these developments in politico-military organization did in fact represent a new departure which, if permitted to run its course, would have radically affected the subsequent history of the Central Sudan. It is our contention that the Fisher-Rowland thesis underestimates and misinterprets the nature of these changes.