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In July 2011, when South Sudan became the world’s newest independent country, President Salva Kiir Mayardit said, “Only we can determine how our vision will be read in history books generations from now. Will we let our challenges define us, or will we rise as a nation and define our own future? . . . If we work together, the story of South Sudan will inspire the world.”

Less than three years later, South Sudan was torn apart by civil war. Hilde F. Johnson, who served as Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan from July 2011 to July 2014, narrates why she thinks South Sudan spiraled into unimaginable chaos.

Relating stories of her contacts with officials in both the government and opposition forces, Johnson shows that South Sudan had been afflicted by three “diseases” prior to independence—corruption on a massive scale, conflicts solved with violence instead of the rule of law, and “government by a self-serving elite for the elite rather than for the people.” After independence, the situation remained the same.

This insider’s comprehensive historical account isn’t easy reading as Johnson details the horrific atrocities perpetrated against ordinary people. She highlights the heroic efforts of individual peacekeepers, citizens, the United Nations, and clergy who helped save the lives of tens of thousands of people. (I.B. Tauris)

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