Review: South Sudan: The Untold Story from Independence to Civil War

Hilde Johnson was in South Sudan, serving as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission from July 2011 to July 2014. She witnessed the country’s move to independence after it’s continued struggles with Sudan, and she witnessed its descent into chaos and terrible bloodshed.

Due to Johnson’s role at the time, she is able to provide a unique and high level view of the developing chaos, and discuss the points where the people supposed to be controlling the situation let their people down.

As one senior SPLM member put it: ‘When leopards are assigned the responsibilities of shepherds, the flock stands no chance.’

Johnson follows the time line of the split from Sudan, the joyous vote for independence, through the difficult relationship between Sudan and South Sudan to the disastrous choice to close the oil pipeline between the two countries. She talks of the widespread corruption and theft by those with responsibility in the early government and finance sectors. She speaks of the difficulties between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar – the President and Vice President – and how this instability contributed to the lack of control that led to the wild outbreaks of violence. She also talks of the terrible impact on the civilians of South Sudan and the fact that this was now South Sudanese perpetrating violence upon one another for the first time and her fear that this could have turned into another Rwanda.

This is a striking and important book. I remember watching bits and pieces of this crisis unfold from my lounge room in Australia. Told from up close it is incredibly awful. Johnson’s account is scholarly and factual, but I couldn’t help but wonder how scared she and those around her must have been in some of those moments. Her sympathy is obviously with those who were not protected by the UN who suffered terribly. She does not discuss any fears she may have had for her personal safety.

South Sudan is still in a state of terrible disarray with Kiir’s ability to lead and govern still being questioned, and with basic necessities like food, clean water and health care being hard to come by. After reading this book, this is not a surprise, although it is a terrible tragedy.

If you are moved to help, you can do so by donating to organisations such as this one .

4 out of 5 corrupt government officials.






  1. Sounds like a really serious read. Corrupt government officials makes me mad and I know it exists in many countries. The citizens suffered when their country’s leaders corrupt and it’s really sad that no one will stand out to create harsher laws because they all corrupt together. Great review! I can’t read these books because I feel more upset and there’s nothing I can do but feel upset.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you – it is a very serious read, I’m sure I underlined about half of the book. I found a news article posted yesterday accusing the president of being too ‘tribal’ to run the country properly, with a photo of him asleep in parliament. I know what you mean about being upset, but I think by being aware you can at least talk to others about it and make others aware too. 😌

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Lovely review, Sue! It sounds like an extremely hard book to read where one would need to be somewhat emotionally strong enough to read. I am not one of those people. It definitely is a story that needs to be told tho.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great review! I often tend to avoid books like this, because I want to spend my free time enjoying myself. However, this review has shown me that there are not only things I can learn which will grow my mind, but also that I can do something. Thank you for sharing the WFP link! It’s empowering to know I can help. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you so much! I know what you mean – I think there are enjoyable reads and necessary reads, and books like this are very necessary especially for those of us who are lucky enough to live in the west and who aren’t exposed to this sort of stuff on a daily basis. While western violence is it’s own animal, it is very different and differently displacing to what has been and is currently being experienced throughout Africa. And there are lots of great charities out there 😊

      Liked by 2 people

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