Among the many recent books on Sudan’s enormous and persistent potential for violent conflict, these two deserve special notice. Natsios provides a clear and dispassionate general introduction to the country’s history and politics, designed for the lay reader. Intimately involved in the subregion as a special envoy to Darfur during the George W. Bush administration, Natsios sheds some light on the decision-making process in the Bush White House as it grappled with the Darfur crisis and the negotiations that eventually led to an independent South Sudan. He reports that Secretary of State Colin Powell and his successor, Condoleezza Rice, both took a personal interest in Africa and were instrumental in proposing ambitious U.S. policies in the region. The book’s main achievement, though, is to succinctly explain Sudan’s history of conflict and violence, with its roots in the colonial era. Natsios argues that economic and political power in Khartoum was historically concentrated in the hands of a narrow elite drawn from three small Arab tribes from the Nile River valley of northern Sudan, who composed only about five percent of the country’s population and favored the populations of their region and Khartoum. The resulting inequalities have spurred grievances elsewhere that the central government has responded to with prevarications and violence.
In the first comprehensive analysis of the world’s youngest state, LeRiche and Arnold explore the role those government policies played in leading to the birth of South Sudan. They examine the roots of the civil wars that raged for years between southern Sudanese guerrillas and the Sudanese army and chronicle the protracted negotiations that resulted in the South’s secession and independence last year. The book focuses mostly on the past, although the later chapters suggest reasons for pessimism about South Sudan’s future. LeRiche and Arnold make clear that only two things have historically held together the many different ethnic groups in the new country: the charismatic leadership of the late rebel leader John Garang, who died in a helicopter accident in 2005, and a shared distrust and anger at the authorities in Khartoum. As the two Sudans struggle over the sharing of oil resources, South Sudan’s governance has already been undermined by corruption, and ethnic fault lines have quickly appeared.