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  • The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process by John Young
  • Christopher Day (bio)
The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process, by John Young London: Zed Books, 2012; pp. 284. $29.95 paper.

If the fate of Sudan—or more accurately, Sudan and South Sudan—is not necessarily certain, things are not looking particularly good. In The Fate of Sudan, John Young takes on the daunting task of telling the complicated story of how the 22-year civil war between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) came to a close through the imperfect and contentious Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005. Based on years spent in Sudan, Young’s book documents his extensive experience there, his deep knowledge of its history, and his observations of the many actors involved in both war and peace. Yet the book is not simply a memoir. At its core it is a forceful statement that Sudan’s peace process is likely to fail and lead to persistent instability. Young argues that the political expediency of liberal peacemaking elevated elites at the expense of civil society. Rather than addressing the authoritarian roots of the conflict and the nature of the Sudanese state, the CPA’s architects remained fixated on forging any deal, following a one-size-fits-all, liberal internationalist checklist. As a result, the peace process actively sidelined multiple actors and reified the very elite-based power structures responsible for decades of [End Page 162] civil war and political instability in Sudan. What was actually needed, Young argues, was a process that facilitated the total democratic transformation for all of Sudan.

The book contains six substantive chapters, the first of which grounds the story in its authoritarian roots by highlighting the main characters in historical perspective. By 2005, Khartoum’s incumbent National Congress Party (NCP) had emerged as the dominant clutch of elites that ruled Sudan through shifting coalitions and appeals to political Islam. In the other corner stood the SPLA, a rebellion that endured for more than two decades despite rickety governance structures, internal factionalization, disruptions in resources, and predatory relations with ordinary Southern Sudanese. This background sets the scene for chapters two through five, which meticulously narrate how the NCP and SPLA maneuvered their interests through the CPA’s different moving parts, sometimes opting to “resolve” issues on the battlefield alongside ongoing negotiations. In chapter two, Young historicizes the peace process by clarifying that it was simply the latest installment in a series of failed bids. Here is where Young’s argument is clearest—that core principles of previous agreements were routinely compromised for the CPA, with key actors excluded when they became inconvenient for the only two who mattered: the NCA’s Ali Osman and the SPLA’s John Garang. It is also here where Young addresses the SPLA’s fundamental shift from demanding a unified, democratic Sudan to laying the groundwork for a separate, independent state for southerners.

Chapter three highlights the key problems with the elections of April 2010. Riddled with logistical nightmares, boycotts, and malfeasance, these elections, rather than providing a real choice for ordinary Sudanese, consolidated the existing power structure and served only to move the implementation of the CPA forward with the dominant actors at hand. In a similar vein, chapter four describes the referendum in which ordinary Southern Sudanese could choose secession or unity, the outcome of which was overwhelmingly for the former. Chapter five outlines the serious and persistent issue of the “three areas.” The status of Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Kordofan States, and the Abyei region on the shared border was not sufficiently addressed by the CPA and thus continues to be problematic. While these three areas played significant roles in the civil war, their awkward geography and ethnic heterogeneity posed problems for peacemakers who preferred straight lines and unambiguous politics. The issue of the three areas is [End Page 163] emblematic of how civil society was abjectly ignored and how key actors avoided solutions to inconvenient issues, all to be dealt with at a later date. Chapter six and the book...


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