Academic journal article African Studies Review

Darfur's Sorrow: The Forgotten History of a Humanitarian Disaster

Academic journal article African Studies Review

Darfur's Sorrow: The Forgotten History of a Humanitarian Disaster

Article excerpt

M. W. Daly. Darfur's Sorrow: The Forgotten History of a Humanitarian Disaster. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 2nd edition, xxii + 376 pp. Figures. Maps. Glossary. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $85.00. Cloth. $24.99. Paper.

Editor's note: The first edition was published as Darfur's Sorrow: A History of Destruction and Genocide (Cambridge University Press, 2007).

In Darfur's Sorrow, Martin Daly does a masterful job applying history to a crisis that has become synonymous with suffering and conflict in Africa, much as Rwanda and Biafra were in earlier generations. At first, considering the subject of this book, Daly's background may seem odd. He is fundamentally a historian of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1898-1956), the Sudanese equivalent of the colonial period. Indeed, he is successor to P. M. Holt, author of A Modern History of Sudan (1961), later editions of which Daly has co-authored (6th ed., Longman, 2011). Their book is rooted in the records produced by British administrators during the Condominium and supplemented by a very thorough reading of the secondary literature on the Sudan.

One might assume that the dynamics of Darfur would be best explained by historians like Lidwien Kapteijns doing research based on extensive oral work among the people. That said, Daly does make extensive use of the recent historical literature on Darfur, but his thorough knowledge of the Condominium system lets him paint a rich picture of the skeletal system of administration established between the fall of the Darfur Sultanate in 1918 and the independence of Sudan in 1956. Two striking themes emerge in chapters on the Condominium era: the vestigial nature of the administration that left Darfur with only a tiny number of people with nontraditional educations; and a clear record of declining rainfall and desertification that would serve as the foundation of strife and population movements that spurred the conflict of the early twenty-first century.

The process of desertification and the resulting shifts of population are crucial in providing a meaningful historical foundation for the conflict between agrarian people such as the Fur and pastoral ethnicities such as the Baqqara Arabs, a conflict so often simplified as one between "black" Africans and "Arabs." This ecological baseline for the conflict is very similar to themes in other works of African history in the Sahel region, notably James L. A. Webb's Desert Frontier (Wisconsin, 1994), which focuses on a similar conflict between the Arabs and Africans of what is now Mauritania and Senegal. Daly also demonstrates that the gradually unfolding ecological crisis was made much worse by the neglect of first the Condominium government and later the Sudanese government, which engaged only halfheartedly in developing Darfur.

Daly also ably explains the ethnic complexity of Darfur. Darfur is a province historically dominated by non-Arab, Muslim African populations such as the Fur, who share Darfur with pastoral, mainly Arab groups who had traditionally managed catde in the south and camels in the north of die region. …

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