The 1980s saw Sudan’s southern provinces alight to the flames of civil war, and the exploitation of oil wealth become a distant pipe dream. Nick Redmayne worked and travelled in the country during this time and reflects on its recent referendum and likely secession of the country’s south.
The official end of Sudan’s civil war in 2005 marked a significant waypoint in the tortuous journey towards the 9th January 2011 referendum. The vote has now met the 60% turnout criteria and the result of the poll is not in question. Sudan’s divisions have long been condensed into an inevitable conflict between an oppressive ‘Arab Muslim north’ and an oppressed ‘African Christian south’. The fact that the south’s prospective capital, Juba, is the world’s most southerly Arabic-speaking city belies this over-simplification. Certainly, it is on record that the promotion of a conservative Islamic agenda by successive Khartoum regimes has been to the detriment of non-Muslims, but the differences within Sudan are even more profound. For the most part land in the north is arid and unproductive, to the south it’s green and verdant. Additionally, the majority of known oil reserves, first discovered in the late 1970s, lie in the south. The Khartoum government’s efforts to exert control over these assets and equal and opposing claims by those in the south have been as much a catalyst for conflict as religious and cultural intolerance.
Right now the polls have closed and the world is holding its breath. World-weary current-affairs pundits condescendingly proclaim it’s only a matter of time before bullets start to fly – it is Africa after all. However, when independence is declared on 9th July all the oil revenue from China won’t change the fact that Africa’s newest country remains landlocked. The pipelines heading to the north’s Port Sudan may well prove the binding that keeps the lid on any new conflict. Sources report that the south’s government in waiting is resigned to sharing revenue in return for this vital transit. Diplomatic incentives from the US further indicate a possible ‘normalisation’ of relations with Khartoum dependent upon peaceful coexistence with its new neighbour. Elsewhere, China’s ruthless economic pragmatism is effecting the application of none-too-subtle pressure to avoid interruption in its oil supply. The old adage to ‘follow the money’ is as apt in Sudan as it ever was, and if it continues to prove accurate then in the next few years we’ll be following South Sudan’s progress along the difficult and sometimes indistinct path of nation building.
Back at Bradt Towers Paul Clammer, author of Sudan, finds himself with a taxing conundrum…
‘A surprising amount of guidebook writing is about timing – when to plan the research trip, the best time of year for the book to hit the shelves, and including content that’s not only as up to date as possible. Putting together the current edition of the Bradt Sudan guide, I was very much aware that there was a good chance that South Sudan would become independent during the life of the book. The changes in the south over the last few years have been momentous, but it’s been an exciting challenge to keep on top of them. But it leaves a big decision for the next edition – one book or two?’
Eastern Turkey by Diana Darke – Due February 2011
Though membership of the EU’s Christian club has thus far eluded it, Turkey’s image as a western-facing nation at the frontier of Europe is regularly reinforced by those within and without its borders. However, though package tourists may flock to the discos and bars of the Mediterranean coast, Turkey’s east, the land towards its borders with Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, dances to a different tune. Diana Darke’s new book looks beyond Ankara to the 70% of Turkey that remains unknown to the majority of travellers. She describes Eastern Turkey as ‘Aimed at adventurous, possibly even eccentric people of all ages and on all budgets’, continuing by suggesting ‘travellers should be aware that pampering is not on offer here. Instead there is the excitement of entering another world, a big black hole beyond Europe…’ Until 2000 many areas covered in the guide were off limits, designated military zones and under martial law. As Diana states, ‘Travel for sheer interest of pleasure’s sake was difficult to arrange.’ Now permits are no longer required and it’s possible to travel freely; only the ascent of Mount Ararat (5,137m) requires prior permission – a feat Diana describes in breathless detail on page 308. From derring-do to an historic exploration of Hittite, Uratian and Selijuk civilisation, Eastern Turkey successfully highlights fascinating aspects of a country we only think we know already.
Tips on Tipping – A Global Guide to Gratuity Etiquette by Carole French & Reg Butler – Due February 2011
The bane of many business and leisure travellers, tipping is a cultural minefield. Tipping or not tipping can both cause equal offence, whilst tipping too much appears foolish and too little risks the wrath of a waiter scorned. Then there are those grey areas when a gratuity almost becomes a bribe, something that might well land those well intentioned in insanitary hot water. Featuring over 130 countries from Albania to Zimbabwe, covering cruise holidays, and further exploring foreign cultural etiquette at home or in business, Tips on Tipping helps remove cultural faux pas from overseas travel. Published in a handy pocket-size format, the guide is priced at only £6.99… Keep the change?
Belarus, 2nd edition, by Nigel Roberts – Due February 2011
Following presidential elections in 2010 which resulted in the predictable return of President Alexander Lukashenko and the imprisonment and/or beating of seven out of ten opposition candidates, being ‘misunderstood’ is the least of Belarus’s problems. However, for the visitor the machinations of Lukashenko’s Minsk Mafia cannot hide the warmth of the proletariat, many of whom are just happy to know that the rest of the world hasn’t forgotten them. Still the only English-language travel guide to Belarus, author Nigel Roberts explores the triumphalist Soviet architectural exercise that is modern Minsk, and beyond to primeval forests, rivers and lakes populated by flora and fauna extinct elsewhere in Europe. Punctuated by anecdotes of personal interaction with rural Belarussians, Nigel’s descriptions of life in Belarus enliven, inform and intrigue in equal measure – another supreme victory for the workers’ collective of Bradt Travel Guides.
Namibia, edition 4 by Chris McIntyre – Out Now!
Thoroughly updated, this new edition of Namibia encompasses developments in hotel, bush camp, safari lodge and guest-farm accommodation. Elsewhere, changes in protected areas, reserves and the addition of newly gazetted national parks such as Sperrgebiet are featured in-depth. Author Chris McIntrye comments, ‘Namibia is a great favourite of adventurous travellers, yet still it still seems fresh and exciting – rarely over-visited. I think this is down to the combination of the country’s vast open spaces and the typically small scale of developments. Real wilderness areas remain – so when new places open, many can offer their visitors real exclusivity, and a different experience from those already available.’ As an expert on Africa, Chris tempts those searching for a natural high with dune-boarding, ballooning and desert quad-biking. Other chapters detail traditional bushman culture and Namibia’s more obvious, though no less fascinating, allure of unique and diverse wildlife. From the aptly-named Skeleton Coast to the lush Kavango and Caprivi Strip, together with the Teutonic charm of the picturesque capital, Windhoek, Bradt’s 4th edition Namibia has it covered.