Africa Today 47.2 (2000) 178-179
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Scholars who write books about contemporary issues most often labor under the handicap of not having access to the first hand, vivid information available to those who have participated directly in the events under discussion. Those who do participate rarely write. Sudan in Crisis is the work of a participant, but the author's direct involvement with the events under discussion unfortunately fails to translate into new insights into events that are already well known to students of the Sudan.
G. Norman Anderson, a former career Foreign Service officer, was United States Ambassador to the Sudan from August 1986 until 1989, thus witnessing the troubled regime of Sadiq el-Mahdi and the military coup that overthrew it on 30 June 1989. The book covers only this short period, except for a thumbnail sketch of the history of Sudan as an independent country. Rather than benefitting from the author's direct experience in this period, the book suffers from it. Even in retrospect, Anderson cannot rise above the day-to-day concerns of the practitioner who has to document events as they unfold, and is obliged to react immediately, thus necessarily piecemeal. Even in this book written with the benefit of hindsight, Anderson remains a chronicler of events and provides little analysis. The book provides a wealth of details, although no surprising revelations. Most importantly, the book does not provide an answer to the fundamental questions: Why did Sadiq fail? Was it because of his personal flaws, particularly his indecisive personality? Or was it because of the deeply embedded characteristics of the Sudan, which doomed this third attempt at establishing a democratic state as it had the previous ones?
The author is inclined to blame Sadiq and his policies. He puts an in-ordinate emphasis on Sadiq's relationship with Libya, and his foreign policy in general--the foreign policy chapter is one of the longest in the book and references to Libya pepper the rest of the book--but asks few questions about the domestic conditions that hampered the building of a democratic state.
Anderson's conclusion is that during the three short years of the Sadiq's regime Sudan had "the most authentic, vibrant democracy in existence at that time in the region." This is a very misleading conclusion. Yes, the Sudanese regime was more open, and in that sense more democrat- ic than those of neighboring countries--not a major feat in that neighborhood at the time. But it was not a democratic regime, and it was not brought to power by free and fair elections, as the author claims. The Sadiq [End Page 178] regime, in its various and ever-changing incarnations, was an uncertain coalition of parties that were coterminous with religious organizations. For most Sudanese, and particularly for Sadiq's supporters, party affiliation was not a choice; rather, party affiliation was ascribed, together with religious affiliation, by birth. Sadiq himself was not only the leader of a party and of an elected government, but the hereditary leader of a religious sect. This dual identity made it extremely difficult for him to embrace wholeheartedly, rather than just in words, the concept of a secular state that was, and remains, the only basis on which a united Sudan can exist and settle down to a stable peace and to democracy. Furthermore, the elections Anderson considers to have been "free and fair" elections might have been reasonably free of cheating in the areas where they were contested, but they certainly did not produce democratic results; much of the population of the South did not participate, because the war prevented elections from being organized in many areas. The Sudanese government might have been democratic in a narrow procedural term, but it was not representative of the entire Sudanese population.
Despite the author's familiarity with the problems of the Sudan, the book throws very little light on the essential question that must be asked about the Sudan: Will the balance of forces ever allow...