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Is there an Islamic path to state-building? Historically, Islam has provided many of the tools needed by rulers looking to institutionalize their authority: a lawbook that extends to regulating commerce and diplomacy, a shared language, and an international cadre of trained jurists and administrators.

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In this fascinating, occasionally frustrating, book,  Rosa Brooks examines the blurring of the boundaries between war and peace that has evolved over the past 25 years, especially, though not entirely, as a result of 9/11. Bringing to bear a rather unusual combination of perspectives—daughter of peacenik activists, international law professor, former DOD staffer, and special […]

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The Times Literary Supplement of October 14, 2016 includes both a review of Alex de Waal’s The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (by Laura James, who also discusses new books by Pamela Aal and Chester Crocker, Gerard Prunier, and Michela Wrong), and a short piece by de Waal, “The Legend […]

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How legitimate and accountable are Westerners who advocate for geographically and culturally distinct issues? If the legitimacy of these Western actors is not derived from those people on whose behalf they are advocating, what gives these ‘activists’ the right to propose solutions? Who are these advocates accountable to, if they do harm? How can advocacy […]

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The first theme is one that any scholar of the Anyanya Movement is aware of: that the Anyanya were a disparate group of peasant soldiers lacking a central command and a cohesive political ideology. In Western Equatoria, the picture that emerges from Magaya’s book is one of organised and dedicated guerillas, almost akin to the partisans in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

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But it’s no surprise that the massive spending on infrastructure began after 1999, simply because for the first time the government had the financial means. It should also come as no surprise that Bashir and others have continued to trumpet the same Islamist slogans, proudly showing off the dams as evidence for the regime’s triumphs. There is still an Islamist constituency to keep onside. But to conclude that ‘Mashru Al-Hadhari [the civilization project] is very much alive’ (p. 149) is to mistake rhetoric and manoevre for a genuine state project.

The view on the street, endorsed by the members of the political elite whom Verhoeven cites, is that the central purpose of the DIU was larceny and political finance, and that building an Islamic state was just hot air. Indeed, Verhoeven’s own verdict is that the hydro-transformational project has ended in a ‘mixture of incompetence, myopia and extraversion’ (p. 248).

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