February 4th, 2010


Two Books About Sudan

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The big mystery remaining for me is why Nimeiri, the Sudanese leader from 1969 to 1985, first allowed the Addis Ababa agreement to happen in 1972 and then reneged on his commitments in 1983. Alier and Deng have very different views on this. Alier sees Nimeiri as guided by popular dissatisfaction with the long war and taking his (Alier's) advice on how to end it; and then later undergoing a personal religious re-commitment to Islamism from which it followed that the powers of the non-Muslim south must be removed. Deng believes that the Addis Ababa agreement was never more than a tactical ploy by Nimeiri, who shared the general northern prejudice against southerners but spotted a way of using the south as a supportive factor in northern politics. On this interpretation, when Nimeiri found that he could cut a deal with the northern Islamists, the southern settlement, to which he was never really committed, became dispensable. Both writers knew Nimeiri well and worked with him at the time; Deng also cites private conversations with him after his overthrow. No doubt the truth lies somewhere in between; Alier of course naturally believes in the importance of his own earlier work, but Deng could perhaps have been more sceptical of Nimeiri's retrospective imagining of his earlier actions.

Anyway, both strongly recommended for Sudanists, and Alier I think is of more general interest for its case-study of peace-making with a popular insurgency.

February Books 2) Da Nije Bilo Oluje / Who Saved Bosnia, by Vitomir Miles Raguž

I got to know the author ten years ago while he was the Bosnian ambassador to the EU and NATO, and he did one thing for me for which I will forever remain grateful: he introduced me to sushi. In 2000 he resigned his diplomatic position and returned to his career in banking, and most of the essays collected here were written after that, as opinion pieces for the WSJ Europe, European Voice, etc, drawing on Miles' experience as an adviser to the wartime Croatian, Bosnian and Bosnian Croat leadership.

The two best sections were at the beginning and the end. The first couple of essays are the two title pieces - "If There Had Been No 'Storm' [Da Nije Bilo Oluje]" and "Who Saved Bosnia?" which make the case that, whatever Croatia's previous or subsequent errors, the 'Storm' offensive by the Croatian army of August 1995 effectively ended the war on terms that Bosnia could live with.

I was less grabbed by the middle sections, a large number of pieces attacking the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague and also arguing that Croatia ought to be given a free pass to EU and NATO integration. These issues will be of historical interest only very soon (as ICTY closes and as EU accession talks near completion), but the pieces rather demonstrate how little even the best-informed observers from the region grasped what was really going on with the international community's strategy. There are also a couple of pieces about that perennial chestnut, Bosnian constitutional reform.

But the final essays are back on form, looking at trade integration for the Balkan states, both with each other and with the EU, and also proposing rather cheekily that the Kosovo diaspora should simply purchase their homeland from Serbia. The book won't be on any best-seller lists but I'm glad to have it on my shelves.

February Books 3) Prisoner of the Daleks, by Trevor Baxendale

I have been listening to the massive 5-CD audiobook of this Tenth Doctor novel, as read by Nicholas Briggs, and enjoyed it very much. I think I saw another review somewhere pointing out that we have not really had a good Tenth Doctor story with Daleks on TV (bar perhaps Doomsday which they shared with the Cybermen; the New York two-parter was possibly the weakest of all Tenth Doctor stories, and the climax to Season Four certainly the most self-indulgent of all RTD's finales). So I felt that Prisoner of the Daleks filled a void. Once again, we have Ten, post-Journey's End, travelling still on his own, encountering Dalek bounty hunters in a separate time track (one of them comes from Gauda Prime, which made me smile). It's an exotic crew, who first suspect and then cooperate with the Doctor; an early success against the Daleks turns into a debacle with the survivors captured (given the title of the book, this is hardly a spoiler) at the mercy of a particularly memorably nasty individual, nicknamed "Dalek X". Baxendale captured the Tenth Doctor and the other characters well, and Briggs uses his talent for different voices to the maximum. Looking back at other work of Baxendale's which I have read, I always felt he was pretty good but not always terribly even in execution; I think it comes together well in Prisoner of the Daleks.