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Francis M. Deng and Daniel J. Deng, Bound by Conflict: Dilemmas of the Two Sudans, (New York: The Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation and the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs, Fordham University, 2015), 424 pp.

Reviewed by: Kawu Bala (Bauchi State Judiciary, Nigeria)

In Bound by Conflict: Dilemmas of the Two Sudans, Francis M. Deng and Daniel J. Deng present a unique interpretation of the crisis that has bedevilled the world’s newest nation. South Sudan is in the news and not for the right reasons. To begin with, this is a very important book; the authors should be praised for informing the readers about the polarization and racial divides that culminated into a full-blown civil war in South Sudan. The authors’ concern is not farfetched looking at the ugly trend in the sub-Saharan Africa. One should ordinarily be more concerned as this is a region that is flooded with illegal arms, which accumulate in the hands of organized criminals, gangs, and terrorists.

Security Council visits South Sudan. photo credit: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine.

The authors provide a historical account that explains why shortly after South Sudan’s independence the country “exploded in violence” (p. 1). As it dawned on the minority groups that they have to continue with the armed struggle to achieve, what may be considered as, the “real” freedom. This concept is best understood from the perspective of the African tragedy or the colonized people; the people that fought to be free had to come back after the independence to continue fighting to avoid falling into the hands of internal colonialists. The book shows that the dilemma of South Sudan stemsfrom a “denial by the Arab centre” (p. 5).

After the independence, hopes for peace were shattered as “issues of financial mismanagement” by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny arose (p. 6). An investigative report released by The Sentry in 2016 reveals the “link between systemic corruption and violent conflict, including the mass atrocities committed during the civil war” in South Sudan (p. 6). Therefore, this internal instability has a purpose. As the Sentry report reveals, the “officials identified by the United Nations and African Union as having command authority over military operations that have resulted in widespread human rights crimes since December 2013, including President Kiir; Vice President Machar” along with a host of other officials and non-officials have connections to coteries that possess mansions and fortunes, which are believed to be acquired with illicit money. One should also mention that Vice President Machar hates Kiir and wants to oust him from power (p. 11). Kir and Machar directly or indirectly, have flung their country into what may be rightly argued to be an endless chaos. It appears as though there is no end in sight.

The hapless civilians are being stranded in the cross fire and are on a constant move from one refugee centre to another. The future appears to be gloomy for South Sudan’s refugees as the United Nations is unable to continue to feed thousands of refugees, which translate into poor rations or just simply, no food for the hungry.

The authors further shed a light on how the crisis developed. South Sudan was “neglected” by the colonialists; with no structures of organization it became a harbinger of intracommunal violence as one may say (p. 16). What do you suppose would happen when seventy-five percent of the army is recruited from one particular ethnic group, the Nuer ethnic group in the case of South Sudan? Was this deliberate or a flawed vision of the founding fathers of South Sudan and by extension those who structured the country after the referendum that pulled out South Sudan from Sudan? The writers should have helped readers with an analytical thinking. The recruitment strategy of the South Sudanese army has only made it easier for Riek Machar to mobilize foot soldiers and trouble makers.

In their analysis, Francis M. Deng and Daniel J. Deng also talk about the influence of Khartoum in its ‘divide and rule’ strategy and about the internal struggle for control of natural resources, notably oil, which in my opinion is a curse not only in South Sudan but also in many countries that are endowed with this resource in Africa (p .30). The influence of Khartoum cannot be dismissed, but, in my opinion, to place blame squarely on Khartoum is to deliberately avoid connecting the dots. The control of oil, or rather the politics of oil, should have been given more attention in the Bound by Conflict. The authors should have widened the scope of their investigation to unravel the real enemies of South Sudan and Sudan. They should have looked at the individuals who wanted to tear the country into pieces and convince the Sudanese people to forget that their strength lies in remaining politically united (p. 54). This, however, has been understated in the book though.

What then should be done to help the people of South Sudan to come out of the mess orchestrated by their own hands? The authors offer several thought-provoking ideas. I strongly agree that both the “regional and international actors” must make “unity [appear as an] attractive option for the South” (p. 55). This idea may, at least, bring an end to this senseless war (p. 61). The authors also suggest that the government should be transparent to ensure that the majority of residents will have confidence in the government (p. 110). I equally agree with the authors that “it is necessary to encourage a notion of the traditional ways of managing and resolving conflicts within a framework of peaceful coexistence” (p. 116). This is a gigantic task, but certainly not impossible if leaders in African countries are sincere.

Presidents of Sudan and South Sudan Meet at Independence Ceremony. photo credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy.

The local system of administration, a system that wields the “requisite duties and responsibilities of government” at the local level of governance, is neglected in Africa (p. 118). In contrast to the rest of the world, the meaning of independence is foreign to a majority of African people as local governance is taken with disdain. I am sure readers will agree with the authors that there should be equal rights and opportunities for all of the South Sudanese residents and discrimination should be thrown into the dustbin where it belongs (p. 138). In my opinion, Sudan should see a restive South Sudan as a threat to its socio-political survival. Sanctions against the South Sudanese regime should be avoided if innocent lives are dear to us (p. 141).

Bound by Conflict has added a profound insight into the debate on the dilemma of the two Sudans. History is a good teacher and I hope the two Sudans should learn from their mistakes. Is there anything better than peace? The answer should be negative for those who desire progress. Thus, the salient points discussed in the book must be read by the political actors concerned. Overall, I recommend the book to all. The book will be especially useful to African policy makers.


The Sentry (2016). War Crimes Shouldn’t Pay: Stopping the looting and destruction in South Sudan.