- The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars:Peace or Truce
Douglas H. Johnson's The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars: Peace or Truce is a masterful analytical history of the long-running war between northern and southern Sudan. It was this confrontation that helped propel several of Sudan's other peripheral regions into conflict with its political center. In the fifth edition of his book, the author updates his diagnosis of Sudan's inequalities and the history of its multiple civil conflicts with reflections on the implementation of Sudan's 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
The present version of the book includes a revised preface, a new final chapter, and an updated chronology of the conflict, included in the appendices. These additions have not dramatically altered Johnson's interpretation of Sudanese history. He presents a clear and reliable explanation for the country's violent past and ongoing political struggles. His text, of which his fifth edition is the most complete, is an excellent, succinct introduction to Sudanese history and politics, especially as the narrative manages to be nuanced and meticulous. While describing people and places in detail, Johnson keeps his argument accessible to a wide audience.
In the book's eleven chapters (plus the substantive preface), Johnson argues that since the nineteenth century, the state in Sudan has maintained an exploitative relationship with its periphery. Exclusionary and repressive politics have persisted across regimes, with the Mahdist, colonial, and [End Page 102] postindependence governments perpetuating inequalities between the core of their societies and their hinterlands. Since Sudanese independence in 1956, this has meant that an Arab-Muslim core, located along the Nile River in northern Sudan, has emerged as the dominant social group, seeking to assert its control over Sudan's peripheries, even as it has experienced internal divisions along sectarian lines.
The bulk of Johnson's work focuses on the details of Sudan's devastating conflicts between the central state and the south, from the Torit Mutiny in 1955 to the CPA in 2005. He describes the quest for southern Sudan's self-determination during the first civil war, the squandered promise of "qualified autonomy" in the Addis Ababa Agreement, the pressures on former President Nimairi that ultimately made him repudiate this accord, and the reemergence of conflict in the south.
The 1983-2005 war is described in detail, with Johnson focusing on the strategies and tactics—both military and political—of the various southern Sudanese factions, the northern government, and northern opposition parties. In particular, Johnson highlights divisions within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the emergence of splinter movements, as well as how this process was facilitated by Khartoum over the course of the war. Moreover, Johnson describes the dialog between the late SPLM/A leader (Dr. John Garang) and the northern opposition parties—a process that ultimately failed to come to fruition.
In addition to domestic politics, Johnson situates Sudan in the shifting context of international relations, describing in particular how Sudanese regimes interacted with the United States, the United Nations, and other foreign powers. An entire chapter of Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars is devoted to the politicization of humanitarian aid in Sudan's civil wars. Johnson documents the manipulation of aid flows by the warring parties, who viewed these assets in instrumental, strategic terms. At various points, Johnson seems to suggest that the international agencies providing aid wittingly or unwittingly played into the hands of the government and other armed groups. Both the preface and final chapter of this volume discuss the diplomatic wrangling that went into the creation of the CPA, and the domestic political struggles that marked the 2005-2011 period before the independence of South Sudan.
A critical theme in the book is how power is wielded by dominant factions to create a national identity that incorporates certain social groups into the state and excludes others from its benefits. In postindependence Sudan, Johnson makes the case that the various governments in Khartoum...