The history of Sudan encompasses more than 2,000 years, from the ancient Kingdom of Kush to the turbulent present. What was once a vast sub-Saharan region of uncertain extent became an independent country in 1956, with the withdrawal of British and Egyptian colonial rulers.
Sudan is the third largest country in Africa after Algeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is nearly one million square miles in area, spanning 18 degrees of latitude and comprising two per cent of the world’s land mass. Even so, little is known about the country that started life with a promising future, but quickly descended into civil war and ethnic conflict, a state of affairs that still casts an indelible shadow. At best, a pre-sanitised British school curriculum would have sung the praises of Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener’s victory at Khartoum in 1898, to avenge the murder of General Charles Gordon by the Mahdi’s Islamic forces.
The British-Sudanese author Jamal Mahjoub has until now explored the political events of Sudan in a series of widely-acclaimed novels. Returning to Khartoum after an absence of many years, Mahjoub turns to non-fiction to tell this story in a time frame coinciding with the six years of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that ended the civil war, and the secession of 2011 that resulted in the creation of South Sudan. The most recent conflict was, in reality, a continuation of the first civil war which ravaged the country between 1955 and 1972.
Part travelogue, part memoir, Mahjoub’s narrative is above all a testimony of impressions that draws parallels between Sudan and the problems in the world today: racial tensions in the US, the rise of the far right in Europe, the persecution of minorities in numerous countries. For the author, Sudan’s case offers a micro-study of the perils of failing to meet the challenges of harmonious coexistence. Leaving aside the wider implications, the book is a highly readable and authoritative celebration of a little-understood country and its capital city.
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