With the referendum on southern Sudanese independence slated for January 2011, Collins’ concise history of Sudan since the onset of British colonialism offers a useful perspective on contemporary events in the country. Collins emphasizes the permanent estrangement between national elites in Khartoum and those in the marginalized peripheral areas of what is a huge country with very poor infrastructure. Regional inequalities and the absence of economic development outside Khartoum’s immediate vicinity have fueled a succession of regional revolts, the most famous of which have taken place in the south and, more recently, Darfur. Collins is particularly informative when he discusses the origins of the north-south divide, from the precolonial tradition of Arab slave raiding in the south to the incoherence of British colonial policy, which simultaneously encouraged the Christian missions in the south and the propagation of English as the language of administration, even as it allowed the Arabization of the Muslim north. Following independence, the cleavage was exacerbated by the combination of northern cultural imperialism and developmental neglect of the south. Collins also masterfully disentangles the endless petty squabbles of the Khartoum politicians that have resulted in instability and shortsighted policies for most of the country’s postcolonial history. The last chapter offers a succinct overview of the conflict in Darfur.
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