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Sudan in Crisis: The Failure of Democracy by Norman G. Anderson Essay

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Norman G. Anderson in his book “Sudan in Crisis: The Failure of Democracy” focuses on the period from May 1986 to June 1989 during which a promising North African democracy brought its own overthrow by Islamic militants that resulted from its inability to solve domestic and foreign problems. Sudan received its independence in 1956 and since then attempted to establish a democratic form of government. Norman G. Anderson, a former American ambassador in Sudan, tells the story behind the failure and attempts to explain the causes.

The major reason of the failure, as stated by the author, is the lack of coherent government followed by the political fragmentation that resulted from alliances between tribes, political fractions, religious orders, and military outside states. As a result of the civil war, neighbouring states were intervening with the regional processes, whereas population displacement resulting from the war contributed to the level of fragmentation and intervention. As the choice of regional alliances was complicated, it further contributed to fragmentation. Finally, religious issues between North and South, Arabs and Africans, Muslims and Christians stimulated the tensions between government and the local fragmented alliances.

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Even though Norman G. Anderson never brings up the issue explicitly throughout the book, Sudanese democracy failed because of the lack of unity among the people. Eventually, it becomes doubtful whether elections can create a strong body politic: “Sudan’s electoral system was also at fault. Dominated by northern religious sects voting as blocs, it produced simply another generation of the same type of leaders who had bungled Sudan’s first two democratic experiments,”(Anderson, 1999, pp. 247).

Among other issues, Norman G. Anderson focuses on religious and ethnic antagonisms, political instability, economic deterioration, Libyan terrorists and their influence on the forming democracy. Essentially, the book gives an overview of the politics of personalities, which is what should be expected considering the occupation of the author, as diplomacy is essentially the skill of reading behind the gestures and lines. The analysis of politics in Sudan is based on the account of al-Mahdi’s actions and decisions, democratically elected Prime Minister of Sudan.

Anderson points out on the shortcomings of the too personality focused of the Prime Minister of Sudan. A lot of hope was placed on the newly elected Sadiq al-Mahdi, whereas he never succeeded in his beginnings. There were numerous attempts to bring the civil war to an end. The situation was so bad, that government had to accept humanitarian assistance in order to resolve the situation with the famine in the country. Eventually, Sudan managed to replace the traditional alignment with Egypt and Saudi Arabia in order to develop the political alliances with Libya and Iran.

The book is divided into 8 sections from the perspective of United States relationship with Sudan. Division of the book is not conducted in terms of the analysis, but rather from the chronological perspective on the events. The subsections within the 8 major sections reveal the pattern of analytical though of the order and highlight the turning points in history, relationship of Sudan with the United States, and authors’ analysis. The failure of democracy, as previously stated, is viewed from the person focused perspective and resulted from al-Mahdi’s rejection of United States interests, which led to increasing decentralization, lack of internal resources to cope with the emerging problems, and the increasing influence of al-Mahdi in Sudan.

The Prime Minister mistakenly shifted his favouritism towards Libya and Iran as the potential sources for ideological, political, and military support. Anderson’s perspective remains pro democratic; author obviously favours further democratization and pro US and Western policy. As United States policy in Sudan was aimed at promoting pro-US military, the newly formed democracy in Sudan was to be supported though financial help and controlled by the fear of potential direct intervention from the side of United States. Access to loans, arms, and food support was offered to regions that supported US style of democracy, whereas this support was cut off for regions which did not want to play by the rules established by United States.

When it comes to speaking about efficiency of the United States policy in Sudan, Anderson doubts that the policy of direct intervention offering potential support and cutting it off in case if states of Sudan did not act in accordance with the US standards was the most efficient solution. According to Anderson, the support offered was not substantial enough to bring fruitful results. Consequently, the efforts we wasted, as they were insufficient to shape the orientations and development in Sudan.

While United States had been over involved in Numayri dictatorship, on which it spent most of economic and military assistance, it was under involved with Sadiq’s democracy, which was cut off from aid for six months. As such, resources were also not efficiently spent among the different regions in Sudan. In fact, such policy even contributed to further fragmentation in Sudan: “America pulled back out of distaste, frustration, and its own legal and fiscal constraints, contributing indirectly to creation of the successor junta,” (Anderson, 1999, pp. 249).

Undoubtedly, “Sudan in Crisis: The Failure of Democracy” by Norman G. Anderson presents an insightful view on the process of democratization of Sudan, which is in many ways unique due to the background of the author. On the other hand, uniqueness of the information covered in the book, as it is a combination of history, personal observations, and political interpretation, makes it virtually impossible for assessment of the validity due to lack of references and sources from which information can be drawn. For instance, the book by Edgar O’balance (2000) “Sudan, Civil War and Terrorism 1956-99” also focuses on the strive of Sudan for democratic future; however, covers a larger historic period and views the subject matter from a global standpoint expanding analysis to influence of USSR and Europe.

In this book, the role attributed to al-Mahdi in failure of democracy in Sudan is smaller, whereas the role of United States policy is also viewed as secondary to the ongoing internal events. Mahgoub El-Tigani (2001), on the other hand, offers an opposite perspective on international policy of United States in Sudan. While according to Anderson United States placed too much emphasis on Numayri dictatorship, which led to lack of resources in other parts of Sudan, Mahgoub El-Tigani (2001) insists that dictatorship is the major source of human rights violation: “authoritarian regimes tend to manipulate gross human rights violations against individuals and groups to consolidate political power,” (pp. 41) and, therefore, has to remain the primary focus of international policy and subsidies.

Finally, Larry Diamond (2003) views the subject matter from an entirely different perspective. The scholar doubts the fact that democracy can be stimulated, but rather should come by itself resulting from the process of trial and error in a community. Going even further, democratic form of government is not universal and does not fit every country, one of those countries, is Sudan. As such, the subject matter discussed is to much extent is a matter of own belief and value system.

Anderson, G. N. (1999). Sudan in Crisis: The Failure of Democracy. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.
Diamond, L. (2003). Universal Democracy?. 3.
El-Tigani, M. (2001). Solving the Crisis of Sudan: The Right of Self-Determination versus State Torture. Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), 23(2), 41.
O’Ballance, E. (2000). Sudan, Civil War and Terrorism, 1956-99. Houndmills, England: Macmillan Press.

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