- Sudan, Civil War and Terrorism, 1956–1999
O'Ballance's text presents an overview of conflict in the Sudan from the country's independence from Britain to the end of the last century. The book presents a roughly chronological survey of what the author considers to be key events, with individual chapters focusing on specific themes such as "Southern Politics" (chapter 3) or "The Bashir Regime" (chapter 13).
The strength of O'Ballance's work is in its narrative structure, which general readers may find easier to follow than the complex prose of many academic texts. The focus on events and personalities provides an apparently thorough account of "what happened when and where." Indeed, it is no surprise that the author is a journalist, for the book actually reads like a very long newspaper account of the Sudanese conflict. Unfortunately, O'Ballance's account is so focused on telling the reader what happened when, that he never explains why anything happens in the Sudan. There is no central argument to this book—a fact highlighted by the absence of any real introduction or conclusion. Conflict begins in the Sudan and continues simply because of a whole host of events that come and go, but without any clear cause or connection.
One source of this failing is that the author clearly dwells in the journalistic "present." The review of the region's history takes the reader from the Kingdom of Kush to decolonization in a single page. Indeed, the legacy of British colonialism, perhaps the most pressing of all political and economic legacies in the Sudan, is generally left out with independence. Further, global politics are given only peripheral status to the focus on internal Sudanese politics. The Cold War pops up here and there but does not seem to play a significant role in the country's conflict—an assertion many academics and political specialists would find disconcerting. In fairness, O'Ballance does consider the regional politics of relations with Sudan's neighbors on several occasions. Moreover, he deserves credit for showing no clear bias to any single Sudanese constituency.
Yet, just as he seems to take limited account of historical or international factors, O'Ballance's work takes economic factors into consideration only occasionally. [End Page 146 There are only passing references to Sudan's general poverty, and little examination of how economic stress might fuel conflict. The issue of Sudan's oil reserves appears only twice, and there is no mention of famine as a political tool. Indeed, the topic of famine seems to have been left out of the book altogether.
Another concern to academic readers is the absence of citations. The text is bereft of footnotes or endnotes, though on rare occasions the author makes passing reference to a source by noting the name of an individual or newspaper. The bibliography consists of only thirteen sources, none of which are cited anywhere in the text. While such formats are perhaps permissible in the world of "popular history," St. Martin's claims this book is the work of their "scholarly and reference division"—of which this reviewer would like to have higher expectations. Given such a painful absence of citations, the scholarly use of O'Ballance's text could only be minimal. All told, O'Ballance's work is disappointing and of little use for either research or instruction.