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Emma's War: An aid worker, a warlord,…

Emma's War: An aid worker, a warlord, radical Islam, and the politics… (edition 2002)

by Deborah Scroggins

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1971159,709 (3.76)2
Title:Emma's War: An aid worker, a warlord, radical Islam, and the politics of oil--a true story of love and death in Sudan
Authors:Deborah Scroggins
Info:Pantheon (2002), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 408 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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Emma's War by Deborah Scroggins


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I found value in this book for its reportage from the horn of Africa in the 80’s and early 90’s. I was also interested in reading the author’s perspective of the Sudanese civil wars, as there isn’t that much out there on the topic that is easily digestible. Scroggins does a good job of explaining some of the geo-political and ethnic dimensions that led to strife in the country. I appreciated her examination of the events surrounding the oil finds, the practice of Arab slavery over the blacks, the famine migrations, and the politics surrounding UN efforts at providing food to the starving. She gives the reader a lot of information that connects various threads on the Islamist Movement in North Africa from the tycoons Tiny Rowland and Adan Khoshoggi, to Ossama Bin Laden and Muammar Gadaffi. I just can’t call this a “good read” because there are so many disconnected tangents that the author takes the reader on for pages and pages, often inserted with her own opinions, which I found at best annoying. It is chock-full of historical events and personalities, which I did like. The story of the polygamous marriage of Emma McCune and Riek Machar, the former war-lord and current first vice-president of independent South Sudan, is rather peripheral to the author’s meanderings on her own personal experiences in the region and the events of the time period. Their story is of two opportunists, whose lives collided, providing little meat in way of her humanitarian efforts or their great love story, as the book’s description promised. Emma is depicted as a vainglorious, promiscuous, adventure-seeker whose life does not merit nor can fill an entire book, as Scroggins demonstrates. After Emma’s accidental death, Riek goes on to yet again break his promise of monogamy to his first wife, Angelina Teny, when the next western woman offering to provide assistance to his cause comes along. In contrast to Emma McCune, Angelina Teny, former minister of energy of mining and extremely active in the women's movement in Sudan, would indeed merit having a book written about her life. ( )
  B.Mayaluna | Mar 25, 2012 |
provides copious information about the political complexities of Sudan and its long civil war. Helpful insights into development and function of NGOs.
  ammurphy | Apr 20, 2010 |
Author Dan Morrison has chosen to discuss Deborah Scroggins’s Emma’s War on FiveBooks as one of the top five on his subject – The Nile, saying that:

“…It’s a great read and extremely informative about Sudan’s civil war. Scroggins’s vehicle for talking about the war is a British aid worker, Emma McCune, who married a rebel warlord in south Sudan…”
The full interview is available here: http://thebrowser.com/books/interviews/dan-morrison
( )
  FiveBooks | Mar 4, 2010 |
This is more of an impression than a review, because I read the book some years ago. My copy has since gone into orbit, crossing continents and ending up with someone in London. (I know who you are, and I would like my book back please!)
My impression was that, whether the author intended it or not, it is a cautionary tale, a warning for any naive young British woman choosing to embrace Africa.
There are more informative reviews below, but, someone please tell me, how do they get away with revealing the end of Emma's story? That's not on, surely? ( )
  sainsborough | Jul 11, 2009 |

Emma McCune was the daughter of colonial parents, kicked out of India in the 1960s. They split up and her father committed suicide; Emma grew up with that missionary zeal which one sometimes encounters, to make the world a better place regardless of the personal consequences.

A lot of Scroggins' narrative isn't actually about Emma McCune, but about the horrors of the Sudanese conflict and the ensuing famine, which she covered as a journalist. She gives a decent summary of the background history but her strength is the human dimension. Both Collins and Johnson record, for instance, that when the refugee camps in Ethiopia closed in 1991, their inhabitants returned to South Sudan, causing further strain on local and international resources; but Scroggins was actually there, and converts the historical record into the sight of thousands of human beings trudging desperately along the Sobat river, being strafed by Sudanese planes and raided by bandits, in just one of many vivid descriptive passages which will linger with me for a long time.

Scroggins is also very good at describing the mentality and lifestyle of the foreign aid workers in a crisis situation. Where Johnson raises (reasonable) doubts about the entire enterprise, here we have an explanation of the zeal that motivates people to get into the field and do what they can for humanity. It's a world I have dipped into and I recognised most of the characters who Scroggins describes. (And one or two of the actual people.) Her insider critique of why the rest of the world engages with humanitarian crises is very well argued.

One of the most intensely engaged of the expats was, of course, Emma McCune, who got heavily involved with delivering educational aid and trying to liberate child soldiers, largely in the Nuer areas of the SPLA-held south. She then went one further by marrying the local warlord, Riek Machar, who shortly after split from John Garang, creating a civil war within the SPLA. Machar's new English wife was blamed for this by Garang's supporters, but Scroggins is pretty clear that 'Emma's War' was not her fault.

One other figure who repeatedly appears in the narrative is the British businessman Tiny Rowland, who I knew of only as the owner of the Observer newspaper, but who of course had made his fortune by building up his company, Lonrho (from London and Rhodesia) into a conglomerate with tentacles all over the continent. Rowland, never a man for modesty, claimed in one conversation to have created the SPLA. He certainly played a crucial role in its history, and in the internal politics of many other African countries; like Emma McCune, he had a particular obsession with Sudan.

Emma McCune and her unborn baby were killed in a traffic accident in Nairobi only two years into her marriage. Scroggins follows the story a bit further - Machar signed a separate peace with Khartoum, and found another wife, this time from Minnesota; after Scroggins' book was published, Machar actually reconciled with Garang and, with Garang now being out of the picture, is again one of the leading figures in south Sudan.

Emma's War is one of the best books I have read this year, and is I think essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the human condition. ( )
  nwhyte | Jul 9, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375703772, Paperback)

Tall, striking, and adventurous to a fault, young British relief worker Emma McCune came to Sudan determined to make a difference in a country decimated by the longest-running civil war in Africa. She became a near legend in the bullet-scarred, famine-ridden country, but her eventual marriage to a rebel warlord made international headlines—and spelled disastrous consequences for her ideals.

Enriched by Deborah Scroggins’s firsthand experience as an award-winning journalist in Sudan, this unforgettable account of Emma McCune’s tragically short life also provides an up-close look at the volatile politics in the region. It’s a world where international aid fuels armies as well as the starving population, and where the northern-based Islamic government—with ties to Osama bin Laden—is locked in a war with the Christian and pagan south over religion, oil and slaves. Tying together these vastly disparate forces as well as Emma’s own role in the problems of the region, Emma’s War is at once a disturbing love story and a fascinating exploration of the moral quandaries behind humanitarian aid.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:02:45 -0400)

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"Emma McCune's passion for Africa, her unstinting commitment to the children of Sudan, and her youthful beauty and glamour set her apart from other relief workers from the moment she arrived in southern Sudan. But no one was prepared for her decision to marry a local warlord - a man who seemed to embody everything she was working against - and to throw herself into his violent quest to take over southern Sudan's rebel movement." "With precision and insight, Deborah Scroggins - who met McCune in Sudan - charts the process by which McCune's romantic delusions led to her descent into the hell of Africa's longest-running civil war. Emmas' War is at once a disturbing love story and an up-close look at Sudan: a world where international aid fuels armies as well as the starving population, and where the northern-based Islamic government - backed by Osama bin Laden - is locked in a war with the Christian and pagan south over religion, oil, and slaves."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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