Prunier rightly labels the response of the international community to the atrocities in Darfur, a "regression of civilization," a description he convincingly argues for in this comprehensive and eye-opening work. In it, he analyzes the historical roots of the conflict in Sudan's western region and discusses why international efforts to halt the tragedy in Darfur have been so impotent.
Prunier takes the reader to the early history of Darfur as an independent sultanate and relates the human movement into the region of people who now constitute Darfur's diverse ethnic makeup. He details the subsequent annexation of Darfur to Sudan and shows how British benign neglect toward the region began an important trend that endured in the era of independence. Prunier surveys the frustration of democratic politics in Darfur and the devastating famine of the mid-1980s in which about 100,000 people died. He addresses the Libyan interference in Darfur to promote Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi's war in Chad. This, he explains, was a critical cause in pitting the Darfurian "Arab" ethnic groups ("tribes" in Prunier's parlance) against their "African," Muslim co-religionists. It was during the chaotic circumstances in the region between 1985 and 1988, Prunier explains, that the pattern of Arab militia attacks on African villages was first established, and atrocities similar in manner, although not in scale, were perpetrated by the dreaded Janjaweed, the "evil horsemen."
Prunier describes how the cynical opportunism of Hasan Abdallah al-Turabi, the Arab Islamist who had led Sudan jointly with Omar al-Bashir after 1989, further fuelled the combustible components of the Darfurian reality. Turabi's political machinations aimed at removing Bashir from power and gaining sole leadership of the country. The catastrophic results of this power struggle, won by Bashir, would be played out on the backs of the Darfurians and Sudanese society as a whole.
At times bitter, at times scornful, Prunier illustrates the neglect of the international media in bringing the crisis to world attention, largely because of the lack of a catchy angle for another African horror story. Prunier states that the international community also paid little attention to the Darfurian violence due to a combination of reasons, among them the overwhelming desire to finally solve the preexisting Sudanese civil war in the south, the U.S. preoccupation with the insurgency in Iraq, and Khartoum's cooperation in Washington's war on terror. Darfur was thus given a backseat in international priorities as the Janjaweed murdered, pillaged, burned, and raped their way through the region.While not discussing in depth the socioeconomic problems of Sudan—problems crucial in the ignition of the Darfur fire—Prunier contends that it was notions of race in Darfur that led to the horrors there. Despite the ethnic mixing in the region and the blurred racial lines between Africans and Arabs, this distinction was superimposed on the varied ethnic groups of the region, then exploited by the ruling Arab elite in Khartoum. The possibility of a racial alliance between the Darfurian rebels and their southern "brothers" terrified these rulers. Prunier claims that the killing in Darfur should not be seen as genocide, since the aims of the Sudanese government were not to eradicate a people but rather to carry out the brutal suppression of what was seen as an existential threat. Whatever term one uses, however, the carnage and misery unleashed by Khartoum and its Janjaweed cohorts remains just as horrific.