- The Post-Colonial State and Civil War in Sudan: The Origins of Conflict in Darfur by Noah R. Bassil
Noah Bassil’s The Post-Colonial State and Civil War in Sudan: The Origins of Conflict in Darfur confronts traditional explanations of the social-political conflict in Darfur. Previous theories centered on ethnic and racial disparities as a main driver of the crisis between Khartoum and its regions. The issue of Arab racism is advanced under this particular research agenda. Scholars like Gérard Prunier underscore the role of ethnicity and racism in explaining the causes of the conflict. Bassil, however, argues that the disparities rooted in race and ethnicity are not the causes of the crisis, but symptoms. Too often scholars cast blame on the role of race and ethnicity without unpacking the underlying conditions from proximate causes of conflict.
The purpose of Bassil’s work is to address the origins of conflict in Darfur. He does so by undertaking an in-depth description of state formation in Sudan. He begins with the rise of the Keira Sultanate, its assimilation and integration into the region via commerce and trading routes, the construction of the colonial state under Anglo-Egyptian rule, and efforts at state-building following independence. He concludes by chronicling the collapse of the Sudanese state throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, which gave rise to increasing tensions between Khartoum and Darfur.
Bassil eliminates race and ethnicity as a cause of the conflict and moves to the question of culture. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of intrastate war, many scholars have turned to cultural differences to explain the rise of conflict. These culture wars should be understood as a symptom of inequality, exclusionary policies, and internal struggles for control. According to Bassil, cultural disparity is not the cause of conflict any more than race and ethnicity, but is a symptom of a larger struggle within the state. He devotes an entire chapter to addressing mainstream representations of the conflict in Darfur and re-introduces the role of the state as primary driver of tensions. Race, ethnicity, and culture are structural factors, but Bassil introduces agency into the mix by examining the struggle for control of the state and its territory, as the central causal factor of the conflict.
The Post-Colonial State and Civil War in Sudan examines these [End Page 243] origins of the conflict through institutional struggles and uses the role of domestic power politics in constructing its analysis of the causes for violence. There are many explanations of the conflict. The complex and multifaceted nature of this power struggle requires an equally complex and multi-dimensional analysis. Bassil argues, “The Sudanese political framework was largely shaped by the exigencies of control,” which led to disputes within the Sudanese state over the issue of “how to preserve the power and further the geo-strategic and economic interests of the metrople” (pp. 7–8). After unpacking many underlying conditions of war and conflict in Darfur, Bassil finds that it is not the role of race, ethnicity, culture, or economics in spurring conflict in Darfur. Instead, the origins are found within the very nature of politics where agents strive to gain and maintain power over the state and all of its territories that are at the root of this struggle. He assigns most blame to the tension between center and peripheral actors that have unfolded over decades and culminated in the crisis of the early 2000s.
Bassil’s analysis focuses on the state as the primary actor in Sudan. The causes of war in Darfur have their origins in the creation of a post-colonial state and the present crisis has its causes in the problems of “state collapse and regime preservation” (p. 194). The war in Darfur is a result of internal power struggles within the National Islamic Front and the collapse of an Islamist state, which left Darfur’s future hanging in the balance.
This reviewer has one substantial reservation about Bassil...