Two Books About Sudan

January Books 30) Southern Sudan: Too Many Agreements Dishonoured, by Abel Alier

I have read a fair bit of conflict literature, but this is quite an unusual book of general interst in conflict resolution as well as being an important primary source on the history of Sudan between 1965 and 1989 (published 1990, 2nd edition 1992). Alier, who had managed to make himself the indispensible southerner to the government in Khartoum, successfully managed a peace process with the southern rebels which ended the first Sudanese civil war of 1955-72 and set up an autonomous government in Southern Sudan for the south, which Alier himself then ran for more than half of its life. Without using any jargon, Alier goes into considerable detail of how the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement was negotiated – particularly interesting with regard to the security guarantees; a tortuous and at times underhanded process, the delegations at one point appealing directly to the Emperor, Haile Selassie, to settle an important point of disagreement. He discusses the rest as well, but once you have settled on autonomy within the state as the solution, and identified the negotiating parties in the dispute – though neither of those processes was straightforward – security was the key outstanding problem.

Alier then describes the successes and problems of the southern government between 1972 and its abolition in 1983, with a depressed coda on the failure of the following years to reach a peace settlement and the elements which he (correctly) predicts such a settlement must contain. He also includes the primary documents from the pre-1972 process.

February Books 1) War of Visions: Conflict of Identities in the Sudan, by Francis M. Deng

Deng is more of an academic than Alier, though he too is also a practitioner. In this 1995 book he covers a lot more ground in time and space than Alier, though generally in less detail; and he pulls in evidence from anthropology, cultural studies, and political science in support of his thesis that the Sudan conflict should be understood as a struggle between identities, not all of them Sudanese. I was impressed by his lucidity in explaining the various perspectives; I am more used to the discourse of nationalisms around Europe, and there are rather different nuances in both the Arab world and Africa (which of course intersect in Sudan). Deng, like Alier, was writing long before the 2005 peace agreement but, also like Alier, he expresses doubt that Sudan can be held together.

The most useful section for me was on the district of Abyei, the “crossroads of the conflict” as Deng puts it, where local dynamics between the Dinka and Arabs (to simplify the identities rather drastically) escalated over the 1970s and 1980s to the point where it became a significant factor in the destabilisation of the whole country. Alier says nothing at all about Abyei, but it is of course subject to a whole separate set of provisions in the 2005 Agreement.

The big mystery remaining for me is why Nimeiri, the Sudanese leader from 1969 to 1985, first allowed the Addis Ababa agreement to happen in 1972 and then reneged on his commitments in 1983. Alier and Deng have very different views on this. Alier sees Nimeiri as guided by popular dissatisfaction with the long war and taking his (Alier’s) advice on how to end it; and then later undergoing a personal religious re-commitment to Islamism from which it followed that the powers of the non-Muslim south must be removed. Deng believes that the Addis Ababa agreement was never more than a tactical ploy by Nimeiri, who shared the general northern prejudice against southerners but spotted a way of using the south as a supportive factor in northern politics. On this interpretation, when Nimeiri found that he could cut a deal with the northern Islamists, the southern settlement, to which he was never really committed, became dispensable. Both writers knew Nimeiri well and worked with him at the time; Deng also cites private conversations with him after his overthrow. No doubt the truth lies somewhere in between; Alier of course naturally believes in the importance of his own earlier work, but Deng could perhaps have been more sceptical of Nimeiri’s retrospective imagining of his earlier actions.

Anyway, both strongly recommended for Sudanists, and Alier I think is of more general interest for its case-study of peace-making with a popular insurgency.

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1 Response to Two Books About Sudan

  1. raycun says:

    Four mehs and a facepalm for me.
    Oddly enough, though I thought the Resnick was a much worse story, I found the Scalzi unreadable. Couldn’t get past the ‘it was very dark’ bit.
    I thought the ending of the wasps one was weak – I didn’t understand why the new colony failed. Was it ignorance, bad luck, or the inevitable result of their chosen mode of organisation?
    The paper menagerie one was okay, as a story of a second-generation immigrant etc etc and blah blah blah, but the SF element was tacked on. it would have been the same story with regular origami.
    Movement I just didn’t believe.

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