Darfur's Sorrow: A History of Destruction and Genocide

By Cordell, Dennis | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Darfur's Sorrow: A History of Destruction and Genocide


Cordell, Dennis, The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Darfur's Sorrow: A History of Destruction and Genocide. By M. W. Daly. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xix, 368; 19 illustrations, 2 maps. $22.95 paper.

This thorough and thoughtful book plumbs the histories of Darfur, Sudan, and the region from Libya to Ethiopia, and Egypt to Chad to discover the roots of the current crisis. Darfur's Sorrow is balanced accordingly. Unlike many histories, which end with a few pages on the contemporary era, or many political analyses, which open with a few pages on earlier history, half of Darfur's Sorrow deals with the history of Sudan and Darfur up to independence in 1956, and half with the independence era. I begin by listing the titles of Daly's dozen chapters, because they outline the contents, and because so doing frees space to comment on several of his most important points: (1) The "Abode of the Blacks"; (2) Lords of the Mountain and Savanna: The Origins and History of the Fur State to 1874; (3) The Ends of the Turkish World; (4) Darfur at the End of Time: The Mahdiyya, 1885-1898; (5) Between an Anvil and a Hammer: The Reign of Ali Dinar, 1898-1916; (6) "Closed District": Anglo-Egyptian Colonial Rule in Darfur, 1916-1939; (7) Unequal Struggles, 1939-1955; (8) Colonial Legacies and Sudanese Rule, 1956-1969; (9) Darfur and "The May Regime," 1969-1985; (10) Third Time Unlucky: Darfur and the Restoration of Parliamentary Rule; (11) The State of Jihad; and (12) The Destruction of Darfur.

The book's most important point is that the factors that have led to "destruction and genocide" are numerous, complicated, and interrelated. They have built up over time, but it is possible, nonetheless, to identify episodes in the past that were, quite clearly, harbingers of the present. The upheaval may not be reduced solely to a racial conflict between raiders who identify themselves as "Arabs" and Black African farmers who live on the land. Underlying issues, each with its own history explored by Daly, include the marginalization and "underdevelopment" of Darfur since the Turkiyya, fostered by successive Sudanese regimes focused on the Nile region; ongoing upheavals in neighboring Chad that led people of several ethnic groups to seek refuge in Sudan; drought and famine in the 1980s that pushed nomads in Darfur south from the desert edge; artful equivocation on the part of Khartoum governments, learned during decades of negotiations with rebels in the south; earlier examples of ethnic cleansing such as the campaign against the Nuba in 1992 that the government failed to stop (p. 255); and the injection of racism by the "Arab Alliance" and later by Libyan Arabs and others associated with the Islamic Legion.

Daly's second major point, made forcefully in his last two chapters, is that even if the underlying historical causes are multiple, it is possible to assign responsibility for recent death and devastation in Darfur. He marshals impressive evidence to support his charges, despite the great difficulty of collecting material on such recent and tumultuous events. …

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