As someone who studies genocide professionally, I can tell you there’s no modern case of ethnic conflict that’s harder to understand, particularly for Westerners, than the current crisis in Darfur. At the onset, the western press was billing the violence as religious based, or merely as spill-over from the years long Civil War in South Sudan. As the government began enlisting the aid of janjaweed militia to fight armed rebels, it became increasingly hard to understand exactly who was fighting who and why.
When Julie Flint and Alex De Waal released Darfur: a short history of a long war, I hoped to find a concise account that put the entire crisis in easy to understand terms for the average reader. And while it is a concise book, and it does follow a logical format, my major concern is that it’s so top heavy with names that it will be too dense for most people to follow.
I will say that the sections on the janjaweed (janjawiid) and the various rebel groups are filled with solid information that’s suitable for anyone with any understanding of the violence in the region. Not only do Flint and De Waal cover the basic ideas that everyone should know, they manage to pack an enormous amount of history and detail into these chapters that I’ll gladly take into the classroom with me.
By comparison, the chapters on the war and the recent conflict come across as rather thin. Even though you’d expect to see a fair amount of detail about the budding humanitarian crisis and the kind of atrocities that led the US to label Darfur a genocide, these are only touched on with a few examples before moving on to other details.
Even as someone who’s been following this crisis since 2002, there were times when I had trouble following the convoluted display of historical facts that Flint and De Waal were attempting to present. While it’s obvious they know their subject, I felt it could have been edited down and presented in a slightly easier to follow format. Nonetheless, I find myself wanting to recommend A short history of a long war, merely because it’s the best book on the subject I’ve found thus far.