The Darfur Conflict – Geography or Institutions?

Nnamdi Madichie (

Management Decision

ISSN: 0025-1747

Article publication date: 2 August 2011



Madichie, N. (2011), "The Darfur Conflict – Geography or Institutions?", Management Decision, Vol. 49 No. 7, pp. 1214-1216.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

While most Arabic‐speaking African or Maghreb countries physically lie within the geographic boundaries of the “African” continent and rhetorically conceived as “African states” by the embattled Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, these countries remain psychically distant from that sub‐continent. For example, Egypt is held in high esteem across the Arab world in the same manner that Sudan is considered the food basket – and, interestingly, Mauritania sort solace amongst its psychological kith and kin in the Arab Maghreb Union. The departure of this latter “African” state from the West African trade bloc, ECOWAS – after over two decades of courtship which ended in 2001 – highlights the nature of the identity crises in the sub‐region.

The recent crisis or light wind of change, was initially brewed in Tunisia, then breezed through Algeria, Morocco and Sudan (which had not known peace for a rather long period of time). It later gathered momentum and consequently became the perfect storm that led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. With increased vigour, that storm is now a major tornado in Libya rattling the international community from the UN to NATO. While there are also security breaches in the rest of the Middle Eastern region – especially in places like Bahrain, Oman, Syria and Yemen, the focus of Osman Suliman's analysis of the Darfur Crisis – although predominantly based on a catalogue of institutional failures – could not have come at a better time.

Osman's The Darfur Conflict – Geography or Institutions?, is hard‐hitting from the fourth of its 12‐chapter configuration. Specifically, chapter 4 provides an overview of poor governance and institutional failures in the country as whole. The failure of economic institutions is discussed in the light of marketing and credit markets in chapter 6. Three chapters down the line Osman sheds some light into the breakdown of local institutions (i.e. native administration) in chapter 9. In the following chapter the identity crisis in the state of Sudan is captured under the framework of the fractured social institutions in chapter 10. The penultimate chapter 11 focuses on democratic institutions and the notion of federalism. Here, Osman highlights the challenges of power‐sharing arrangements in detail. In the final chapter 12, he reverts to the focus of the book using a causal flow chart of the Darfur conflict (see p. 178) as a holistic framework for analysing the crisis of the Sudan.

The conceptual framework for analysis first identified in chapter 4 (especially on p. 52), provides the reader with a graphical sketch of the connections or lack of these, between poor governance on the one hand, and external influences (the “Washington Consensus”) on the other hand. Between these two poles were situated the mismanagement of the transition from a traditional society to a full blown market economy – something that has been marred by institutional failures ranging from that of economic institutions (chapter 6); through social (chapter 10) to political (chapter 11) institutions respectively.

In chapter 4, Osman cites some notable examples of failed projects (see p. 56) – Ghazala Jawazat project between Daen and Nyala geared towards livestock improvement and water resource development, which failed after it was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture. Other failed projects include the Jebel Marra (in southern Darfur) and Sag El Nam (in Northern Darfur).The implications of the failure of these projects were captured on p. 52, where Osman notes, “… although Darfur did not have any … large mechanised farming schemes, the failure of small‐scale projects that were intended to help settle nomadic qabilahs and transform traditional societies to modern economies was a missed opportunity.” On p. 61 the polemic of “Arab groups” versus “African groups” is identified as one of the root causes of the identity crisis. There is also mention of the Arab movement versus Arabization of the GOS (Government of Sudan).

In chapter 6, Osman reminds his readers that Sudan is a small developing economy with an average per capita GDP of US$640. This economic handicap is highlighted in the claim that Sudan “exerts neither monopoly power over its exports nor monopsony power over its imports”. Osman also decries the failure of the Islamic banking initiative of the 1980s, which failed because it stemmed “mainly from the fact it was applied purely on political grounds rather than for economic reasons” (p. 122).

The opening statement sums up the content of the rather short chapter 9. The primary focus is on the breakdown of local institutions (i.e. the native administration) which was dissolved by the May regime (i.e. the regime of General Gafaar Numerei) in 1970 without any prior consideration for its positive role in security maintenance amongst the different qabilahs. It was tagged a rudimentary arrangement that required replacement by more modern institutions, which turned out a lot worse.

Chapter 10 highlights certain “inconvenient truths” about the social fabric of the Sudan (p. 153). To put it simply, the identity polarization of the North‐South conflict into Muslim‐Arab and Christian‐African regions, has, undoubtedly, been imported to Darfurian Arabs versus Africans conflict, even though the colour shades and culture of the two groups are hardly distinguishable. But, main reason is that such polarization worked as a political ploy in the North‐South conflict and makes it easy for people, especially the “Washington Consensus” supporters, to understand. Furthermore, the advent of sharia law and the consequent proclivity toward Arabization have further alienated peripheral, non‐Arabized African groups in Darfur, Eastern Sudan, and Southern Sudan.

In chapter 11, it is argued that the Darfur conflict is mainly a manifestation of poor central governance and the resulting institutional failures and disparities of wealth and power sharing (p. 173). This meant that the government, having lost its legitimacy, “resorted to decentralisation (federalism) in order to diffuse these pressures”. Notwithstanding the endorsement of this form of governance by the international community (narrowly defined), the impact in Darfur has been a recipe for chaos, conflict and destabilisation, as the trigger was one of “peripheral conflicts” and the rise of “separatist movements.”

Besides its involvement in the Chadian conflict, Libya continued to support and “arm” the Zaghawa qabilahs against the on‐going resistance of the Guran militia (considered part of the Janjaweed) in Southern Libya (p. 172). Indeed Libya's involvement in the destabilisation of Sudan is also mentioned on p. 53 where “… training of the Zaghana in Libya is suggested to have brought about the usurping of local and/or native administration in Darfur”. The Chadian war with Libya over the petroleum‐rich Ozo zone spilled over into Darfur. Such border crossings brought about armed robberies and insurgencies with Libya providing all the training and backing under the auspices of the African Liberation Army (p. 56).

Beyond the identity crises lies the “retail politics” syndrome, which was captured on pp. 178‐9. Under these circumstances, making peace was neither about settling the substance of the grievance, nor was it about resolving inequality and achieving justice, but more about “finding the right price for loyalty in a political marketplace” (p. 178). Osman describes this as a case of “divide and rule” – a process of “buying everyone's allegiance” one way or the other. Another key point worthy of note is the second paragraph on p. 183 where Osman laid down the requisite conditions for sustainable change thus – “a smooth transition of traditional society (social change), which goes well beyond economic change, social and political development is crucial”.

Having discussed the institutional failures, it seems very much like these tended to be reinforced by the Geographical confusion, which further accentuated the conflicts. Stepping quickly back to chapter 2 in particular, Osman makes the point that the geography of Darfur interacted with local and national institutional failures in effectuating the conflict in Darfur. This was supposedly the case typified in the dual constraints of small‐scale farmers “distance from” and “access to” international economic outlets (i.e. viable markets), which also happened to be further exacerbated by institutional and policy failures attributable to poor governance (see p. 39).

Overall this book articulates the relationship between key concepts – market access, institutional policies and governance considerations as “antecedents” of social conflicts. It is a perfect background reading for postgraduate students, NGOs and scholars of economic development, political science, public diplomacy, security studies, governance and even management and organisation researchers – especially those adopting institutional theory. The Darfur Conflict – Geography or Institutions? may also have implications for anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of the business environment in emerging markets notably Africa and the Middle East.

Further Reading

Beshir, M. (1975), The Southern Sudan: From Conflict to Peace, The Khartoum Bookshop, Khartoum.

Levy, D. (2007), “Chaos theory and strategy: theory, application, and managerial implications”, Strategic Management Journal, Vol. 15, Supplement 2, pp. 167‐78.

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