A keen observer of the unfolding South Sudan crisis and participant in the peace effort chronicles the making of the fledgling state and its subsequent disintegration.
Having worked in Sudan and South Sudan between 2009 and 2017, specifically as a government envoy on behalf of President Barack Obama’s Department of State during the crucial South Sudan peace process of 2014-2016, Vertin displays enormous affection and concern for the fate of this fragile new state. Seceding from Africa’s then-largest country, Sudan, by overwhelming popular referendum on July 9, 2011, after “generations of repression and neglect,” South Sudan was created in a blur of U.S.–supported optimism. However, the new country, dominated by the ethnic groups Dinka and Nuer and led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, suffered the “resource curse” of many oil-rich African countries and descended quickly into corruption and poor nation-building strategies. Employing numerous interviews with key players, the author divides his work into two parts. In the first part, he chronicles the forging of the young country, initially under the Marxist rhetoric of “national liberation” formulated by the SPLM’s founder, John Garang, whose first commitment was to the Soviet Union before its fall and subsequent reorienting of power dynamics. Following Garang’s sudden death in a helicopter crash in 2005, there was “an eight-year factional battle inside an ethnically, ideologically, and professionally heterogeneous SPLM,” henceforth steered by the “accidental president” Salva Kiir. The SPLM power struggle and continuing tension with Sudan propelled South Sudan into chaos and violence by the summer of 2013. The second part of the book examines the peace talks begun in January 2014, which lasted two years, largely forged by diplomats in the U.S., Ethiopia, and the U.N. The author deftly explores how the “deal left much to be desired” in terms of state formation.
Despite daunting challenges facing the new nation, Vertin offers hope that a viable state can prevail.