Books to Help Understand Sudan

The situation in Sudan remains violent and unpredictable. Fighting intensified yesterday as warplanes bombarded the center of the capital, Khartoum. It remains unclear who, if anyone, is in control of Africa’s third-largest country.

This morning, the army commander, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who was Sudan’s de facto leader and one of the two rival generals whose factions have been fighting since last weekend, said that he is committed to a peaceful transition to civilian rule. But repeated attempts at cease-fires have broken down, and there is no sign that his faction would commit to talks with its rivals, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is moving troops into position in Djibouti so that they can help with a possible evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum. However, a State Department official said that it is currently not safe to begin an evacuation because of the severe fighting at the Khartoum airport.

For the news, obviously, you know where to go.

But for a deeper understanding of what’s going on, you could start with the two books about coups that I mentioned in Wednesday’s column: “Seizing Power: the Strategic Logic of Military Coups,” by Naunihal Singh, and “How to Prevent Coups D’État: Counterbalancing and Regime Survival,” by Erica De Bruin.

Having those frameworks in mind will be useful as you read “Sudan’s Unfinished Democracy: The Promise and Betrayal of a People’s Revolution,” by Willow Berridge, Justin Lynch, Raga Makawi, and Alex de Waal, which tells the story of the 2019 uprising that Sudan’s ousted longtime dictator, Omar al-Bashir. The book details the historical events that led up to the revolution and the troubled, fragile regime that followed — and later gave way to a 2021 military coup and the violence that erupted this week.

And for a fair-minded but critical look at the foreign response to the catastrophic war in Darfur at the beginning of this century, I recommend “Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide,” by Rebecca Hamilton. She skillfully reported from refugee camps and political negotiations where Sudanese citizens struggled to stop a war that posed an existential threat to many of their communities.

The book juxtaposes those efforts against the foreign grass-roots campaigns in which activists, well-intentioned but often blind to realities on the ground — and always safely insulated from the consequences of their actions — tried to pressure the international community into halting the violence.

Reader responses: Books that comfort, surprise, or enlighten you

Kristen, a reader in Los Angeles, recommends “Surrender” by Bono, the U2 frontman. (A particularly timely suggestion given Bono’s history of activism against the war in Darfur):

I listened to Bono read his book and not only did it enlighten me about the band, the meanings of their songs, and his own dedication to a variety of causes, it surprised me his commitment to faith and family. A true rock star and activist with traditional values and humble reflections. Inspiring and refreshing. One to return to many times.

John Toren, a reader in Minneapolis, recommends “The Serpent Coiled in Naples” by Marius Kociejowski:

Kociejowski describes various aspects of a city he seems to know quite well, including the working-class neighborhood where he lives, the history of the city, the lives of famous (and less famous) inhabitants, the street music, the changing role of the Mafia (locally known as “the System”), the looming presence of Vesuvius, the lingering significance of Greek and Roman habits and institutions, the food, and much more. The author himself is quite a character, and he digresses often, but the narrative remains lively and free of academic pretensions.

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