Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Russia, Book 2

Russia, Book 2

Lost and Found in Russia: Lives in a Post-Soviet Landscape

Those who know me well know that I am completely incoherent in the morning without my coffee. Subsequently, it will come as no surprise that I was a bit disengaged from my surroundings early that Saturday morning, as I traveled on the U-Bahn on the way to one of my favorite cafes on the other side of Berlin. However, even despite my incoherence, I could tell that something was afoot. There were simply just too many people and too much makeup and too many colors in that little train car. 

At the end of the line, I found myself completely overcome by the sight. The street was flooded with decorated buses, floats, confetti, and balloons – all brightly rainbow-colored. The street was packed with men dressed in either S&M or as women. Lady Gaga music was blaring. In the midst of this mental overload (and without my coffee, mind you), I noticed that all around me were young people dressed exactly as I (plain white t-shirt and white shorts). They started to congregate and ascend unto a large float. I squinted to make out the wordage on the side: DILDOKING.DE. I met the eyes of a few of the parade participants and it was clear that they thought I was one of them. In my morning exhaustion, I did not have the mental energy to do anything but run right back into the metro for refuge. 

Ironically, a mere few hours later, I was given an additional opportunity at my own “Ferris Bueller” moment. While with a friend of mine (a PhD student in math at MIT) and his friend (a Korean girl and Harvard-educated engineer), somehow I found myself in the midst of the Christopher Street Day Parade (Berlin’s largest gay pride parade) once again. Walking along, an over-exuberant gentleman surrounded by fellow dancers on a float pointed at me and indicated that he wanted me to join them. Sensing my hesitation, he shouted to me that my friends were likewise invited. Just as I was about to scream out an enthusiastic “JA!,” I looked down at the Korean girl and saw the primal fear in her eyes. She did not speak very much German, but could tell that something ghastly was about to sweep her up. Politely, I signaled my decline and found myself walking along the street with my two comrades, intellectually discussing the homosexual culture in Berlin, as well as the Railroad Museum we had attended just moments before. 

It was at this parade that I first encountered the Russian anti-gay laws. In fact, there was an entire float of protest against Russia: filled with men wearing Putin masks and little else. One man stood at the corner of the slow-moving float. I approached him and asked him what all of this was about: In a mix of broken German and English, he began to share with me about Putin’s Anti-Gay Bill. I could see his distress – even in the midst of the parade festivities, it was clear that his mind was preoccupied with the prospect of returning home to Moscow. 

Recently, Russia has come to receive a lot of international attention. Its recent annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine has even been compared by some to the 1938 Anschluss, in which Hitler annexed Austria (where the majority was willing) due to a shared language and culture. When thinking about this blog post about my second book on Russia, I knew that I wanted to present the modern situation. It was with this in mind that I read GQ’s “Inside the Iron Closet: What It's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia.” In particular, I was drawn to this one statement near the beginning: 

One of the first men I met was Alex, a gay police officer who'd recently quit his job rather than enforce Russia's new anti-gay law. He wasn't always so principled: One of Alex's early assignments on the force was snooping through a fellow officer's computer for evidence of homosexuality. "I was just lucky it wasn't my computer," Alex said one night at a café on Arbat Street, Moscow's main thoroughfare of consumer hipsterism.

His boyfriend wasn't as glib: "It's Germany in the '30s," he declared. "Hush, hush," Alex said. "Not so loud." It's not Germany in the '30s, he said; it's Russia now. And that's a subtler problem. 

I found this quote interesting, as it appealed to some simple arguments that have been used in the Russian-US relationship throughout history: good vs. bad; enlightenment vs. ignorance; freedom vs. authoritarianism. As I thought back to “Lost and Found in Russia: Lives in a Post-Soviet Landscape” by Susan Richards, I remembered why I originally bought it: I did not want my knowledge of the modern history of Russia to be domineered by my knowledge of the former Soviet Union or of Putin. I wanted to understand the intricacies of it and gain an understanding of a country that could within 20 years change so drastically. How many changes the Russian people have encountered: from a loss of an empire to the rise of the Orthodox Church; from being one of the so-called rising BRIC countries in 2001 to being led by an authoritarian figure. 

This book is a truly fascinating one that threads between travelogue, memoir, and a work of non-fiction. Susan Richards, a westerner fluent in Russian, weaves between her own personal experiences with her friends following the fall of the Soviet Union and larger societal issues – providing a rich and gratifying image of the true challenges of the real Russian people. She describes and tells the stories of her friends, who each, “reacted to the fall of communism by going crazy in their own way. Each faced the task of reinventing themselves, as well as having to survive the suicide buried in their family.” (page 274) She describes her friends’ struggle with selling themselves and their services under a new capitalistic market. She saw them adopt and disregard systems of belief, as they vainly searched for something to fill the void of socialism. She likewise notes that this was not only occurring among her friends, but within the whole Russian society: “For well over a decade the population had been shrinking at the rate of more than six hundred thousand a year, and Russia’s men were the core of the problem. They were dying of alcohol and drugs, committing suicide, crashing their cars, falling victim to the careless violence of a society which put as little value on the individual as ever.” (page 261) 

Indeed, this identity crisis did not only occur on a micro level, from person to person, but was forced to occur among all levels of Russian society. The loss of the Soviet identity was extremely difficult not only for the people, but also for the government. (It is important to note that before the Soviet identity, Russia had an identity based on its empire.) As the author notes, “What does it mean to be Russian?... Ethnicity was not enough, for the Russians were not all Slav. Territory could not be the defining factor either, for this vast land straddling Europe and Asia had no clear borders to the west or south.” (page 91) In the midst of this identity crisis, the newly found Russia faced one hardship after another: 

(1)    From 1992-1993: Serious economic reforms were enacted throughout Russia, in order to rid itself of socialism. One such example was the relaxation of price controls, as many goods and services were forced to be held at a certain price by the government. Likewise, the government started a program of privatization of formerly state-owned businesses. “By mid-1993 over 40 percent of Russians were living in poverty – as opposed to 1.5 percent in the late Soviet period.” (page 1)
(2)    Perhaps these capitalistic reforms would have been better received by the Russian population, if it was not so blatantly clear that they had failed: “By the end of 1994, the mass privatization program was over. But despite this huge shift of ownership, the old Soviet factory managers were still in charge of industry.” (page 83)
(3)    By the time that 1997 came around, an estimated 8 men controlled over 50 percent of the Russian economy. In the meantime, although it was not reaching the lower social strata, western capital was flooding into Moscow. In 1998, the Russian economy experienced a financial crash, which devastated the middle class. “Overall 30 percent of small business folded. Living standard crashed by 40 percent.” (page 135) 

It was in this tumultuous environment that Putin came to power, only one year after the financial crash in 1999. A part of his mantra (and indeed his actions in office supported this – including Russia cutting off oil to the Ukraine in 2006 to express its disagreement to the Orange Revolution and its accession to NATO) was to make Russia once again powerful. In short, the government wanted the unifying identity of the Russian people to be based on Russia’s greatness, as partially described in this interesting article from The Moscow Times I recently found on the internet: 

Energizing the collective psyche probably requires a new vision of Russian greatness or a real sense of enemy. Of course, the two can go very nicely together in a mindset tinged by paranoia. This became abundantly clear on Oct. 20, when Putin officially established the Directorate for Social Projects, whose goal is to strengthen "the spiritual and moral foundations of Russian society" and stimulate "patriotic upbringing." Even the struggle for a new Russian identity has been infiltrated by foreign powers hostile to Russia's renewed greatness using nongovernmental organizations to sap the nation's strength. "Cultural identity and spiritual and moral values are the subject of intense competition, at times even of an open information war and well-orchestrated propaganda attacks," Putin said.  

Please feel free to comment on these topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014



There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra

“What a beautiful piece of art that is, Miss Blair!” I exclaimed enthusiastically. The recipient of that compliment stood on the fold-out chair, leaning over the oversized piece of paper, with crayons in both hands. She was sticking her tongue out with effort and was clearly fully concentrated on the completion of her masterpiece.

I looked down at my cell phone, and noticed that she had been on this artistic kick for the last 30 minutes. I was very proud of myself, as I was handling my rambunctious toddler cousin quite well. Despite that horribly tragic yogurt incident a few hours ago, we were getting along nicely. 

Proclaiming that it was completed, she indicated to me that she was hungry. I walked into the kitchen to get her a cheese stick from the fridge. When I returned 30 seconds later, I saw her with one of my mechanical pencils in hand and my book in her lap, scribbling all over the pages. Trying to get her to stop without breaking the fragile peace I had worked so hard to achieve, I asked her patiently what she was doing. She stopped, looked up at me, and exclaimed, “Making more beautiful!” after which she returned to her drawing. A few more pages were victimized until I was able to persuade her to stop with the promise of the cheese stick in my hand.

That is how my copy of Chinua Achebe’s “There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra” came to have illustrations. 

Many of you have probably heard of Chinua Achebe before. He is one of the most well-read African authors, particularly renowned for his novel “Things Fall Apart” that was first published in 1958. “There Was a Country” is not one of his works of fiction, but rather his personal memoir, focusing on his experiences with decolonization, ethnic tension, and the unsuccessful war for Biafran independence from Nigeria. Although this book focuses almost exclusively on events over forty years ago, it was first published in 2012. In this book, Achebe provides us with a unique way that we can view the modern hardships of Nigeria: by looking into the past. 

Nigeria is a troublesome nation. The most populous country in Africa (with over 177,000,000 inhabitants), it is the home to over 250 different ethnic groups. It is not only divided by ethnic and linguistic differences, but also by religion – with 50% Muslim, 40% Christian, and 10% of the population holding animistic beliefs. Recently, the troubles of Nigeria have come under international scrutiny after the former head of the central bank claimed that $20 billion was unaccounted for. Nigeria’s economy is strongly based on the oil which comes from the Niger River Delta (in fact, petroleum makes up 95% of the country’s exports.) Yet, the economy and society have been crippled by the mismanagement of petroleum resources. As this article from National Geographic in 2007 stated:

“From a potential model nation, Nigeria has become a dangerous country, addicted to oil money, with people increasingly willing to turn to corruption, sabotage, and murder to get a fix of the wealth. The cruelest twist is that half a century of oil extraction in the delta has failed to make the lives of the people better. Instead, they are poorer still, and hopeless.”

Nigeria has found itself ruled by military men in its recent history, a precedent that was started by the squelching of Biafran independence by Nigerian forces, led by General Yakubu Gowon – according to Chinua Achebe. In the final part of his book, Achebe draws connections between the past and the present troubles of the country: “The post Nigeria-Biafra civil war era saw a ‘unified’ Nigeria saddled with a greater and more insidious reality. We were plagued by a home-grown enemy: the political ineptitude, mediocrity, indiscipline, ethnic bigotry, and corruption of the ruling class… A new era of great decadence and decline was born. It continues to this day.” (page 243)

The Nigerian-Biafran War, which lasted for three years from 1967-70, can be viewed as a conflict which developed a precedent for the Africa of today. Occurring just after the independence movements on the continent, it determined what constituted African “nationhood,” as well the extent of western involvement in internal conflicts. “Nigeria’s position on Biafra, as I understand it, was hinged on the premise that if Biafra was allowed to secede then a number of other ethnic nationalities within Nigeria would follow suit.” (page 96) This particular conflict caught the attention of other newly-formed African countries (many of them likewise dealing with their own internal ethnic conflicts.) Needless to say, most of them saw the secession of Biafra as having extremely negative consequences and subsequently provided support for Nigeria: “Most African countries adhered to the doctrines of the Organization of African Unity, which supported Nigeria for the same reasons espoused by the great powers: ‘[A]llowing Biafra to secede would result in the destabilization of the entire continent.’” (page 97)

Although the United States under Richard Nixon supported the Biafran people (ironically, I noted that nearly a page was dedicated to SC Senator Strom Thurmond’s steadfast support for Biafra), many of the European powers – including both Great Britain and the Soviet Union - provided support and arms to the Nigerian government. According to Achebe, this particular conflict can be seen as setting a precedent for the cover-up, oversight, or perhaps even outright denial of the West in regard to genocidal repressions by African governments: “Almost thirty years before Rwanda, before Darfur, over two million people – mothers, children, babies, civilians – lost their lives as a result of the blatantly callous and unnecessary policies enacted by the leaders of the federal government of Nigeria.” (page 228)

Another aspect which I found extremely interesting about this book was Achebe’s firsthand account of British colonialism of Nigeria, as well as the decolonization process. British colonialism treated Achebe well. Based on meritocracy, the British colonial system provided Achebe substantial education opportunities. He recounts his experiences in school, as well as the smooth decolonization process in which highly-educated Africans from the colonial school system were put into positions of power before formal independence was declared. He provides a very interesting opinion, saying: “Here is a piece of heresy: The British governed their colony of Nigeria with considerable care. There was a very highly competent cadre of government officials imbued with a high level of knowledge of how to run a country… I am not justifying colonialism. But it is important to face the fact that British colonies, more or less, were expertly run.” (page 43)

In previous posts, I have shared sentiments and ideas that the West cannot hope to understand African issues – and subsequently, cannot provide solutions to help the African people. In the Introduction of the book, Chinua Achebe takes a very different position; one that I certainly believe is worth considering:  “Africa’s postcolonial disposition is the result of a people who have lost the habit ruling themselves… Because the West has had a long but uneven engagement with the continent, it is imperative that it understand what happened to Africa. It must also play a part in the solution.” (page 2)

Please feel free to comment on these topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions! 

Saturday, March 15, 2014



Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid

My reading habit really started before I could even read. Apparently, as soon as I could sit up on my own, my favorite pastime was looking through books. My family never invested in a play pen because a stack of books alone could ensure my silence and my rapt attention. I would pick up the first book on the stack and flip through the pages gingerly, setting it down on the opposite side when I was finished with it. When I was done with the stack, I would repeat the process over again. I did not start reading until I was four years old, but the illustrations kept me occupied for hours.

When I was six years old, my mother gave me a huge sticker book that contained a summary of each country of the world. I loved matching the country summaries to the stickers of the national flags and country shapes. After reading each and every one, I started to dog-mark the places that I wanted most to visit someday. I found myself going back and back again to Ethiopia – dreaming that I would one day travel there. My obsession went far past my sticker book – as I scoured my mother’s art history books, especially the ones that focused on Biblical topics, looking for paintings of the Queen of Sheba, the mysterious and beautiful queen of Ethiopia.

Subsequently during the Open Embassy Day in Berlin, I had an overwhelming desire to visit the Ethiopian Embassy. It was located in a well-off neighborhood outside of the city in an exquisite old German house. Perhaps we just arrived late in the day, but I was surprised that there was almost no activity like in the other embassies – where people were dressed up, serving food, making presentations, and showering me and my friends with attention. I walked through the embassy until I reached a big open room – illuminated by windows, but without a single lamp turned on. In that room sat an Ethiopian woman, who was making coffee over coals. She motioned me over and poured me a cup. As I sipped on the strong coffee, I walked over to a small table, where there was sparse literature about the country. To my dismay, it was all about the suffering of the Ethiopian people, encouraging donations of western individuals, aid organizations, and governments. I found myself saddened by the experience: the country that I had visited so often in my dreams as a child was reduced to a disheveled place where I was supposed to feel sorry for, give some money, and then feel good about myself. 

It was perhaps this experience which led me to purchase Peter Gill’s Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid, published in 2010 by Oxford University Press. Although I will say that I really did enjoy it, I feel as if this is not the best book for someone with a fairly limited background of the country, as it focuses almost exclusively on the country’s recent history. I was born after the 1985 Live Aid, a concert which utilized star power such as U2, Queen, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan, to bring awareness and donations to Ethiopian famine relief. To me, this book was geared to an audience who remembered the famine and Live Aid, rather than to an audience without this background, as it seeks to explain the intricacies leading up to and after the famine instead of providing a basic introduction.

Ethiopia is a country that is particularly historically noteworthy on the African continent. The most populous landlocked country in the world, Ethiopia is located in the conflict-prone region of the Horn of Africa, surrounded by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan, and South Sudan. The Axum kingdom converted to Christianity even before the Roman Empire. It was never colonized by Europeans, but Abyssinia (what Ethiopia was called until a 1974 coup d’etat by the socialist Derg movement) was a prize that was sought by the Italians, and was the victim of Mussolini’s imperial ambitions. For almost twenty years, Ethiopia was a pawn during the Cold War until it transitioned to democracy in the early 1990s. Even in the midst of the Cold War tensions, Ethiopia was a country even further surrounded by conflict (as the Eritreans maintained their fight for independence from 1961-1991) and social strife (as Ethiopia experienced several famines, most notably the 1983-5 famine, which caught the attention of the world.) I also find it necessary to mention that Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic state with over 80 ethnic groups, the four largest being Oromo (34.5%), Amhara (26.9%), Somali (6.2%), and Tigray (6.1%).

This book is very interesting because it discusses Ethiopian famine from a historical perspective. It is important to note that even today, much of Ethiopia is based on subsistence farming. This so-called “food insecurity” has led to even more famines since the 1980s, including a 2002-3 crisis. It is important to note that many experts believe that this food insecurity will continue, due to bad governance, as well as the fact that “Ethiopia’s 80 million population will probably double again in 25-30 years.” (page 123) Famines have been recurrent in Ethiopia for centuries with lasting and devastating impacts: “This was the Great Famine of 1888 to 1892, known as ‘Evil days’… The Great Famine that resulted may have killed a third of Ethiopia’s population, then put at 12 million.” (page 27) 

It is also extremely important to put the famine into social perspective – not only with the Cold War, but also with the internal regional tensions. While the Live Aid concerts raised almost 250 million dollars for famine relief, it is noteworthy to recognize that famine was clearly not the top priority of the government during this time: “The Russians airlifted 17,000 Cubans to help defend socialist Ethiopia… In the three years which culminated in the catastrophic famine of 1984, Ethiopia imported arms supplies worth $575 million, $975 million, and in the famine year itself $1.2 billion.” (page 56) The socialist Derg leader, Colonel Mengistu, utilized the famine to further consolidate his power over the Ethiopian people, further exacerbating the problem through forced resettlement. He organized resettlement from the famine-prone highlands to the lowlands, often into collectivized villages where the people were exposed to hardship, as well as new diseases: “…the planned scale of the resettlement programme measured up to Colonel Mengistu’s image as the pocket African Stalin, and would be executed in a thoroughly ruthless faction. Resettlement also served a darker political purpose, and it would be enforced at the barrel of a gun.” (page 45)

Of course, this book also delves into more current issues facing Ethiopia – especially how the aid industry can be seen as harmful to economic and political growth. At the time of this book’s publication, prime minister Meles Zenawi was still in the midst of his 17 years tenure (from 1995 to 2012), of which the author is skeptical. There is no doubt that charities and aid organizations have become ever more important to the economy of Ethiopia: “By 2007 there had been a fivefold increase in international charities to 234 and an extraordinary seventy-fold in Ethiopian NGOs to 1,742.” (page 177) However, this has other effects past the economy. The author describes the 2005 election and that international presence was not enough to ensure a peaceful, democratic election as the ruling EPRDF (Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front) utilized hate speech (similar to that used before the 1994 genocide in Rwanda) against the opposition CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy.) After crying foul in regard to free elections, “Ms. Gomes’s [the EU Mission’s chief observer to Ethiopia] confrontation with the Ethiopian government divided the European Union. EU aid officials wanted her to tone down her criticism. Ethiopia was ‘one of their biggest clients,” she said. Ethiopia is in fact the largest recipient of EU aid to Africa. ‘They wanted business as usual, and they didn’t want me to spill the beans.’” (page 151) 

Peter Gill shares an interesting quote at the beginning of the book, which I will end with: ‘World poverty is a burden to be shared, but there is another principle now widely recognized. Poor countries will emerge from poverty only when they take full charge of their own destiny.” (page 5) 

Please feel free to comment on these topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions! 

Friday, March 14, 2014



Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide

"I refuse to drive you to college any more, Emily. It’s just not cool,” said my mother. 

Needless to say, I was livid as I had absolutely no desire to obtain my driver’s license. Why should I drive when I could better spend my time reading or listening to music, while someone else drove me? Unfortunately, this argument had no effect on my mother, who brought me to the Department of Motor Vehicles later that day. It was a hot August day in South Carolina – in short, it was hell. Somehow, I passed the Driver’s Test with the lowest possible score I could have and still pass. My mother was thrilled – but as one might tell from the photograph on my Driver’s License, I was not.

I realized what this meant for me – running errands, going grocery shopping, picking pointless things up, dropping pointless things off, etc. One such example was on the morning of her birthday, when my father handed me a wad of cash, telling me to drive over to the west side of town and buy something. I had a one-and-a-half hour window of time between my classes – not enough time for this daunting task. I asked my father to further specify what he wanted me to buy, to which he answered, “We need some new towels.” After some additional thought, he instructed me to buy her special perfume and a book that I thought she would enjoy.

That night, I saved the special book I bought her to be the last present that she opened. When I was at the bookstore, I had very little time and so I chose a book that seemed absolutely fascinating to me. I was sure she would find it fascinating, as well. However, after she unwrapped it, she looked somewhat disappointed as she read the title, Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide: Third Edition by Gérard Prunier, published by Cornell University Press in 2008. She seemed even more disturbed by the photograph of the decomposing human body on the cover. I could tell that she was confused by my choice, but delved deep into her southern manners to thank me kindly for the gift. 

Needless to say, the book sat unread and forgotten on her book shelf, until I asked her if I could have it for my Global Book Challenge because I thought that it would be an excellent addition to my growing literature on Sudan. My mother (clearly having forgotten why she owned the book in the first place) enthusiastically agreed.

Even if you don’t remember “Darfur,” you have probably heard of it before. Before the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the conflict in Darfur (the western region of Sudan) was Hollywood’s favorite cause – utilizing spokespeople such as Mia Farrow, George Clooney, and Angelina Jolie to bring awareness to their cause, not only among the general public but also formal institutions, such as the United Nations Security Council. If you do remember “Darfur,” you will probably remember it as the genocide of the 21st century, although the author of this book argues that it is a crude over-simplification of the topic. Based on the complexity of this book (which I myself had difficulty following at times), I must agree with the author.

The word “genocide” to describe the situation in Darfur was first utilized in 2004 by US Secretary of State Colin Powell of the G.W. Bush Administration. According to the author, this terminology was quickly picked up by the media:  “The ‘angle’ had been found: Darfur was a genocide and the Arabs were killing the Blacks. The journalists did not seem unduly concerned by the fact that the Arabs were often black, or that the ‘genocide’ was strangely timed given Khartoum’s diplomatic goals in Naivasha.” (page 127) While there is no doubt that a horrendous number of deaths occurred because of the conflict – by 2005, an estimated 280,000 to 310,000 were dead – the author believes that this word did not reflect what was actually happening in Darfur, instead describing it as “genocidal suppression of a political insurrection.” (page 186) For those without a political science degree, this means that the government killed and discriminated against the people of the Darfur region, not for the motive of killing off all of the members of its population, but rather to retaliate against the rebels who were localized to the Darfur region. In short, this conflict cannot be compared to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, for example, because “it was not an attempt to kill everybody; rather, it was a matter of large-scale attacks and massacres aimed at terrorizing and displacing the population.” (page 102)

In order to understand why there was such conflict in the Darfur region, the author delves into the region’s history. By doing so, we can see where there were historical precedents set for the marginalization of the Darfur population, as well as strong interference by Sudan’s neighbors, in particular Chad and Libya:

  • British colonialism setting the precedent for an overlooked Darfur: In 1883, Darfur became a part of the Egyptian empire, transferring into the hands of the British in 1916 (until it gained its independence as a part of Sudan in 1956.) According to the author, “…the Khartoum [Sudanese capital] administration did almost nothing, good or bad, in its late-acquired province. This benign neglect parading as cultural respect was embodied in the system of ‘Indirect Rule’…” (page 29) The author later noted that this also manifested itself in infrastructure development. In 1935, there were only 4 state schools in Sudan. Only 5-6% of colonial investments to increase development was focused into Darfur, leaving the region without necessary industrialization. This sentiment of aloofness on the part of the national government has continued into the present day with the author noting that, “With its 7 million population and obvious prosperity in the face of an otherwise stagnating land, Khartoum has evolved into a kind of separate country.” (page 77) 
  •  The region was caught in a power struggle between Chad, Libya, and Sudan – leading to great destabilization, as well as massive arms brought into the region: This was a constant struggle since the 1980s; however, it proved to have massive and recurrent consequences into the region – dividing the population into “African” and “Arab.” “…once more the Chadian-Libyan war merged into a Darfuri civil war as Libyan-supported ‘Arab’ militias raided ‘African’ villages. Villages were burnt and wells poisoned, using local available stores of Aldrex-T pesticides.” (page 70) 
  •  Chinese interference (for economic reasons) has enabled Sudan to continue the status quo in Darfur: “China holds a large share of responsibility in the ongoing Darfur horror. The reason is exceedingly simple: oil. In 2005, Sudan exported $3.4bn worth of ‘goods’ to China, 96% of these ‘goods’ being petroleum products… Beijing has supported Khartoum diplomatically with placid bad faith.” (page 178)

Please feel free to comment on these topics or note something interesting from the book. I look forward to hearing your opinions!