Sudan: Darfur and the failure of an African state

Sudan: Darfur and the failure of an African state

Sudan: Darfur and the failure of an African state was published by Yale University Press in July 2010. I am updating the book now to take account of the break-up of the country in 2011 and the civil war in the south that had raged since then. The new edition should be coming out in the Spring of 2016.

It was selected as a “Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2010” in the the Africa Studies category in America, and has been widely used on university and college courses in both the UK and America. The UN and other international agencies working in Sudan have used it as their general introduction to the country for new arrivals. I would recommend it as good one-volume background for tourists to the country – but there aren’t very many of those. 

Here are what some of the reviewers said:

“In this informative, eminently readable history and analysis of Sudan’s failure as a state, Cockett draws on interviews with many of the main players. There is plenty of blame to go around, he says, citing ‘meddling western politicians, over-simplifying activists, spineless African leaders, shamelessly silent Muslim countries… and myopic Sudanese politicians”
    – The Guardian, choosing it as one of their two most informative books on the country.


“Peace has eluded Sudan since its inception in 1956. Sudan was technically the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from a colonial power, but it immediately descended into civil war, so that Ghana became, for the world at large, the first true post-colonial African state. Britain, upon leaving Sudan, intended to create a separate southern state, to serve as a bulwark against the Islamic north’s expansionist tendencies. But Britain dithered and finally threw the south in with the north to form a unitary state.
    Immediately the Christian south rebelled against the imposition of Islamic rule by the northern Arabs. The ensuing civil war—ignored by the rest of the world—went on for decades, claiming more than four million lives. And just as a peace deal seemed imminent, in 2004, war erupted in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, resulting in a humanitarian disaster—so far, more than a million dead and three million displaced. Amid the chaos, Sudan has intermittently served as a home for radical Islamists, including Osama bin Laden.
    In “Sudan,” Richard Cockett, who served for five years as Africa editor for the Economist magazine, hopes to explain “how Sudan came to implode so catastrophically, and to suggest what the often well- intentioned foreigners who tried to help the country can learn from their collective failure to do much about it.” He does so brilliantly in a book that is well- researched, beautifully written and thoroughly absorbing, despite the wrenching tragedies it must chronicle.”
    – George Ayittey,
The Wall Street Journal


“The great merit of this history of Sudan since independence is Cockett’s skill at integrating the crises in southern Sudan and Darfur with the politics of Khartoum. Each of the rebellions against central rule, he explains, is a product of growing resentment over the centralization of political power in a narrow part of the country around the capital. Much of the book is devoted to the crisis in Darfur, and Cockett discusses both the complex web of racial and ethnic aspects and the elite personal conflicts that shaped the collapse of the province. Examining the international dimensions of the conflict, he finds that the Sudanese government’s cooperation with American and British intelligence after 9/11 led the U.S. and British governments to “go soft” on Khartoum regarding the deteriorating situation in Darfur. It was only once the massive ethnic cleansing started that U.S. and British policy changed.”
Nicolas van de Walle, Foreign Affairs May/June 2011


“Cockett’s account, as befits an editor at the Economist, is unsentimental, well sourced and eminently readable. Not for Cockett the platitudes of western guilt and consequent, pious aid: there are no easy solutions to the problems of Sudan. But a clear understanding of their genesis is a good place to start.”
    – Colin Murphy,
The Irish Times


“For those readers who know nothing more about the country than what is reported in the Western media, his book will be a revelation.”
The Gunboat


“Darfur continues to be a tragically under-addressed international challenge. Cockett’s fine book, then, warrants a grimly wide readership.”
    – Jonathan Stevenson,


“…a fascinating and immensely readable book in which Richard Cockett gives an absorbing account of Sudan’s descent into failure and possible disintegration.”
    – Elfatih A. AbdelSalam,
The Muslim World Book Review


“Richard Cockett’s Sudan: Darfur and the Failure of an African State is probably the single most insightful recent book about both Sudans”
Professor Anna Simonsessor of Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, War on the Rocks blog

You can also see my pick of the five best books on Sudan here at the website Five Books.


Related Blogs

View all blogs

No big deal

15th October 2015

The long awaited “nationwide ceasefire agreement” has finally been signed, on October 15th. Except that it was by no means...

Related Articles

View all


Browse through my previous books, associated articles and reviews

Blood, Dreams and Gold: The Changing Face of Burma
Sudan: Darfur and the failure of an African state
Anatomy of Decline: The Journalism of Peter Jenkins
Thinking the Unthinkable: Think-tanks and the Economic Counter-revolution 1931-1983
David Astor and the Observer
My Dear Max: The Letters of Brendan Bracken to Lord Beaverbrook, 1925-58
Twilight of Truth: Chamberlain, Appeasement and The Manipulation of the Press