‘First Raise a Flag is an eloquently written and admirably lucid account of the dramatic birth, and ongoing death, of South Sudan. It is a remarkable story. As the world’s newest nation plunged into civil war and became a failed state, Peter Martell has been a stubborn, compassionate eyewitness, and he deserves high praise for this unflinching elegy for an ill-starred place that he has — despite everything — come to love.’ — Jon Lee Anderson, New Yorker staff writer, and author of Guerrillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World
'Martell, a BBC reporter based in Juba, the new country’s capital, was there to witness the optimism and joy that greeted independence. His experience, gained over years of living in and reporting on the country, is invaluable and notably absent from many other accounts. Historical narrative and careful analysis are thus mixed with interviews with individuals chosen to illustrate the broader story. Each draws a new portrait. Martell is a sympathetic and sensitive listener and his writing powerful and moving.' Jason Burke, Africa correspondent, The Guardian
..‘This is a remarkable piece of work. It manages to pull off the rare feat of being both meticulously-researched and extremely accessible. Putting any journalistic ego to one side, Martell gives us the benefits of over a decade of reportage. He wades through yellowing colonial archives, tracks down Mossad operatives and quizzes white mercenaries, but it’s the experiences and reflections of the South Sudanese men and women who shaped and lived this turbulent history that dominate the narrative.’ — Michela Wrong, author of Borderlines and It’s Our Turn to Eat
‘Peter Martell’s combination of eye-witness reporting and historical research makes for a compelling account of the bloody birth of South Sudan. A highly readable book about the world’s newest country, and a study of what it means to be a nation.’ — Lindsey Hilsum, International Editor, Channel 4 News, and author of Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution
‘First Raise a Flag is an engrossing read that combines years of journalistic insight with compassionate storytelling and deciphers the complex recent history of the world’s youngest country.’ — Levison Wood, author of Walking the Nile and Arabia
'This chilling account of the war in South Sudan gives a voice to those trapped by the brutality.' The Observer
‘Peter Martell arrived earlier and stayed longer than any of us who covered South Sudan’s independence and the bloody catastrophe that followed. Here he reveals the foundation of his insightful, precise reports: a deep, first-hand knowledge of the centuries of history of how the world’s newest nation came to be, stuffed with insightful research, delightful details and searing lessons for those bright-eyed foreigners of yesterday and today so in love with their own idea of freedom that they feel they must impose it on others. Lyrical, revelatory, quietly outraged and deeply moving.’ — Alex Perry, author of The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free
'Born with so much hope and promise, the world’s newest state quickly plunged into a fratricidal conflict ...One of those who has covered South Sudan the longest, Martell combines eyewitness reporting with extensive research to produce a solid account of this tragedy.'
J. Peter Pham, Director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center, and US Special Envoy to the Great Lakes, choosing First Raise a Flag for his December 2018 holiday reading picks.
'On trouvera ici les souvenirs d’un journaliste de terrain ; il ne faut pas y chercher une tentative d’explication théorique. En revanche, le sens de la nuance dans la description des situations fournit une image claire et sans préjugés d’une évolution politique paradoxale, dont les conséquences ultimes demeurent encore inconnues.' Gérard Prunier, Le Monde diplomatique, Books of the Month, December 2018.
'This book is a labour of love for the people of South Sudan and an expression of hope for their future. Martell traces the history with clarity and a sure touch in identifying the key events and developments. He had an extraordinary experience of criss-crossing the country off any beaten track, interviewing both leaders and footsoldiers as well as many caught in the upheaval of war, violence, and pillage...
'What in the end movingly comes across from Martell’s accurate analysis, description and story telling is his love for the South Sudanese people. As for all those who visit or work in the country, these are not faces in a crowd; they are those who actually live there, who, like everywhere else, want a job, to look after their families, educate their sons and daughters, and enjoy themselves. ' Tim Morris, British Ambassador to South Sudan, 2015-2017
Reviews from readers: a selection from Amazon.
‘A brilliant read for both those new to South Sudan and those familiar with it’ *****
‘Martell tells the untold story of this shattering history with compassion, sensitivity and great insight. Writing from personal experience and an extraordinary depth of research and experience, Martell brings rigour, empathy and humanity to a story the world urgently needs to hear.’ *****
‘Peter manages the near impossible with this book: an informative and deeply nuanced history of South Sudan that remains, above-all, tremendously entertaining and accessible. Having read much of the available literature on South Sudan, both in general and academic press, I can say that quite confidently that this book is one of the best out there on the topic.’ *****
‘A gripping and moving account that brings together the written and oral elements of South Sudan's troubled history.’ *****
‘Can't recommend this enough. Whether you only have a passing interest in African history or have staked a career on it, First Raise a Flag is a brilliant read.’ *****
First Raise a Flag: How South Sudan won the longest war but lost the peace
When South Sudan’s war began, the Beatles were playing their first hits and reaching the moon was an astronaut’s dream. Half a century later, with millions massacred in Africa’s longest war, the continent’s biggest country split in two.
It was an extraordinary, unprecedented experiment. Many have fought, but South Sudan did the impossible, and won. This is the story of an epic fight for freedom. It is also the story of a nightmare. First Raise a Flag details one of the most dramatic failures in the history of international state-building. Three years after independence, South Sudan was lowest ranked in the list of failed states. War returned, worse than ever.
Peter Martell has spent over a decade reporting from palaces and battlefields, meeting those who made a country like no other: warlords and spies, missionaries and mercenaries, guerrillas and gunrunners, freedom fighters and war crime fugitives, Hollywood stars and ex-slaves. Under his seasoned foreign correspondent’s gaze, he weaves with passion and colour the lively history of the world’s newest country.
First Raise a Flag is a moving reflection on the meaning of nationalism, the power of hope and the endurance of the human spirit.