Book Review: A Concise History Of South Sudan

A Concise History Of South Sudan:  New And Revised Edition, edited by Anders Breidlid, Avelino Androga Said & Astrid Kristine Breidlid

This book is the answer to a question that few people would ask but which is worth asking:  what would it be like if a young and deeply divided country wanted a worthwhile and serious textbook for its few secondary school students to learn an insider’s view of the history of South Sudan?  Given that South Sudan has seldom been seen from a favorable perspective given its marginal status within the British Empire and then within the nation of Sudan, it would make sense that this book provides a perspective, but it happens to be a pretty honest one that points out the divisions within the society of South Sudan in history as well as in the contemporary period as well as the weaknesses of the education system of the young nation, of whom I am a fan [1].  I do not think this book is likely to be a popular one, but this book should be praised as a solid textbook that encourages some critical thinking about history from its readers, and that is something worth appreciating and celebrating.  There may only be about ten high school students in all of South Sudan to take this course on their nation’s history, but they have a great textbook.

The slightly more than 350 pages of this book (including its two appendices) are divided into ten chapters that focus (perhaps predictably) on the harrowing recent history of the country as it fought for independence against various Arab-dominated Khartoum governments.  After a call for photo rights owners to communicate with the book’s authors and editors, the book opens with a short chapter on what historians do introducing readers to questions about sources and bias (1).  After this comes a look at the ancient history of Kush and Meroe before the Arabization of the area (2), with a focus on the Kingdom of Funj and the migration of various peoples to what is now South Africa.  After this there is a look at the turning point of South Sudanese history, namely the Turkish-Egyptian conquest, known as the Turkiyya (3).  A couple of chapters then look at South Sudan under the Anglo-Egyptian condominium (4) and the marginalization of South Sudan in the struggle for independence given its lower level of political development (5).  Most of the rest of the book is pretty grim reading:  a look at the first civil war and the armed resistance after broken Sudanese promises for federalism (6) to the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972, a look at the agreement in operation from 1972-1983 (7), a discussion of the second civil war (8), and then two chapters that look at the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 (9) and then a chapter on the referendum for independence and its aftermath (10) before two appendices that look at the Addis Ababa Agreement and the Machakos Protocol.

For readers interested in the recent history of South Sudan this book provides a great deal of discussion about various leaders within South Sudan over the course of the 20th and 21st century that are worth knowing and an honest admission of the struggles of the nation to provide an opportunity for advancement for women as well as peace and stability for its population as a whole, even after independence.  Even for those readers who lack a strong interest in South Sudan on its own considerable virtues, though, this book is an interesting case study in the importance of international agreements and broken promises in the development of frozen conflicts that never seem to be resolved.  Over and over again this book talks about agreements and peace talks and negotiations and compacts and treaties and constitutions, but nowhere does it talk about people abiding by them or thinking of constitutions and laws and treaties and agreements as something that need to be followed in order to build trust in places where trust is lacking.  This book is a reminder that so much of South Sudan’s troubled history would be a lot better with institutions and behavior on the part of governments that built up trust in the integrity of institutions.  Perhaps the nation can build such trust in the future.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: A Concise History Of South Sudan

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Africa And Africans In The Making Of The Atlantic World, 1400-1800 | Edge Induced Cohesion

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