Book Review: The Root Causes Of Sudan’s Civil Wars

The Root Causes Of Sudan’s Civil Wars:  Old Wars And New Wars, by Douglas H. Johnson

If you happen to have an interest in Sudan and South Sudan and their seemingly intractable problems [1], this book does a good job at pointing out those issues in grim detail.  It should be noted, though, that this book makes for pretty grim reading.  Even if the book is somewhat short, it deals with a lot of very unpleasant issues and seems aimed at an audience of Western policymakers and pressure groups.  I do not know whether or not I would be considered among the target audience of this book, but I was able to understand it and find a great deal of worthwhile information not only in the civil wars of Sudan (and there are many of them, even now), but in the way that the problems this book discusses are relevant to other situations outside of Sudan that demonstrate the root causes of other nations that have struggled to develop a unified national culture because of their political and historical problems.  This book does not indicate that Sudan’s problems are likely to be resolved, or even openly acknowledged, anytime soon, which makes for some rather unhappy reflection on the fate of these unhappy countries and others like them.

This particular volume consists of eleven chapters, an epilogue, and various supplemental materials that are a bit more than 200 pages of reading.  The author begins with a discussion of the historical structure of North-South relations in Sudan (1) with a look at the traditional view of peripheral regions as a source for raw materials and slaves for export down the river to Egypt.  After this the author looks at the period of British overrule from 1899-1947 and looks at how South Sudan and its issues were frequently ignored or neglected by the British, who never developed a coherent plan on how to develop the region (2).  The author then looks at Nationalism, Independence, and the First Civil War, pointing out that given the way that nationalist fervor was limited to the North and that Sudanese national identity was seen as tied up with issues of race and religion, conflict was rapid to develop (3).  After this the author looks at the largely unsatisfactory Addis Ababa Agreement and the short period of regional government from 1972-83 (4) before looking at the beginnings of the Second Civil War from 1983-1985 (5).  A short interlude follows before the author looks at the increasing momentum towards the liberation of South Sudan from 1986-1991 (6), the SPLA split and how South Sudan’s revolutionary movement survived factionalism (7) before turning to the ugliness of the Nuer Civil War after the pro-government factions of South Sudan split themselves (8).  After this the author looks at the complexity of multiple civil wars in Sudan (9), the war economy and the politics (and geopolitics) of relief (10), and the question of whether the comprehensive peace was only a temporary truce (11) before closing with an epilogue that shows how Sudan’s civil wars have continued in both Sudan and South Sudan after the latter country’s independence in 2011.  After this comes an annotated bibliography as well as a detailed timeline showing the chronology of Sudan’s troubled history, especially post-independence.

When it comes to examining the root causes of Sudan’s civil wars, there is no shortage of blame to go around.  Sudan (and to a much lesser extent South Sudan) are faulted for not having built a national identity on positive grounds or a state that served to respect the rights and freedoms of all citizens.  Patterns of exploitation of the resources of peripheral areas, land expropriation, and the failure of Sudan’s elites to respect non-Arab and non-Muslim citizens and allow them and their regions to reap the benefits of Sudan’s resources are pointed out over and over again.  The international community is faulted for being supine to the military governments of Khartoum and blind to the systemic patterns of exploitation and oppression by Sudan, while corruption relating to foreign aid and development is discussed as well.  Historical problems in the development of leadership among the Dinka, Nuer, and various relatively privileged groups from the Equitorial region of South Sudan are also discussed.  The author does not stint in talking about the problems of Darfur and the Nuba Mountains, where non-Arabic Muslim peoples face death, exile, and land expropriation themselves based on Khartoum’s strategies, making this area a “new South.”  Overall, this book makes for depressing reading and one wonders whether or not the governments of Sudan and South Sudan will ever manage to build trust and unity within their states.

[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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