Having originally intended this to be a three-part posting, I am inserting an extra short essay focusing on Sudan, before applying the framework to the case of Darfur. The Sudanese civil wars of the last quarter century have witnessed perhaps half a dozen episodes of extreme violence. The most striking cases include the militia raids into Bahr al Ghazal, 1986-89 and the concurrent massacres in Wau; the Nuba Mountains Jihad of 1992; the Juba massacres of 1992; the internecine fighting within the SPLA in 1991-92; the oilfields clearances of the late 1990s; and the Darfur war 2003-04. (The list is of course arbitrary—plausible candidates for the honor have been omitted.) The most salient feature of these episodes of extreme violence is that they take place against a backdrop of ongoing armed conflict. And in turn, Sudan’s peripheral wars merge seamlessly into well-established patterns of peripheral governance, whereby the state uses means of indirect, militarized rule to maintain control. Extreme violence is in part an outcome of structural inequities and associated forms of (mis)government, in part a continuation of how peripheral warfare is conducted, and in part a dramatic rupture of the above. The backdrop is some abiding characteristics of the […]
The project ‘How Genocides End’ included the 2004 ‘Back from the Brink’ seminar at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the SSRC Webforum, and two seminars at Harvard, co-convened by Jens Meierhenrich, during 2008. What are the preliminary conclusions? This posting is a personal reflection on the outcomes thus far. Our first finding–emphasized by Dirk Moses–is that there is notably little research into the cluster of issues about how genocides and episodes of comparable mass violence end, and how near-genocides are averted. The genocide literature focuses overwhelmingly on a few cases (Armenia, Nazi Germany, Cambodia, Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda), excluding dozens of other candidates, ranging from Bangladesh, Burundi and Biafra through Guatemala, Indonesia and Iraq, to the USSR. The literature is rich on the background, origins and nature of genocidal violence, but when it comes to the ending of that violence, it becomes normative and prescriptive, concerned with how genocides should end—by military intervention and prosecution of the perpetrators. Moreover, the normative ending of genocide reduces the options to just two—an intervention that terminates the episode, or in the absence of such an intervention, completed extermination of the target group by the perpetrators. This is a much simplified narrative that fails to […]
This is the first of three postings on the topic ‘How Genocides End,’ a topic which has interested me for ten years. This first posting explains my personal interest in the subject, sparked by work in the Nuba Mountains in 1995. The next posting will raise general issues and the third will focus upon Darfur. My interest in the war in the Nuba Mountains dates back to my first human rights assignments in Sudan in 1988 and 1989, and especially my concern—having just come from living in Darfur—that the conflicts in the marginalized areas of northern Sudan should not be overlooked with the focus of international interest in the South. In 1991, my colleague at Africa Watch, Rakiya Omaar suggested that the newly-coined term ‘ethnic cleansing’ could be applied to some conflicts in Africa, and I wrote a report on the Nuba Mountains using the term. It was based entirely on secondary sources and a couple of interviews. A year later I wrote a second report, based mostly on details obtained from letters received by Nuba exiles, especially Suleiman Rahhal, and reports from the residents of towns in northern Kordofan who had truckloads of starving and naked Nuba dumped on […]
The Kenana sugar project, inaugurated by President Jaafar Nimeiri in 1975, aimed to be the biggest integrated sugar plant in the world. With 40,000 hectares of prime irrigable land, a state-of-the-art factory, and new transport infrastructure, Kenana promised to meet the demands of Sudanese people’s famous sweet tooth. For five years the factory produced next to nothing, becoming one of the most notorious white elephants of the Nimeiri era. Only in 1985 did it begin operating at near its potential, and recently it has been touted as a great success, surpassing its expected output. But Sudanese complain that its multinational shareholders insist on exporting the best sugar for foreign consumption and hard currency, leaving Sudanese markets still reliant on imported sugar. What has come out of Kenana in the last few days also promises sweetness, but the real test will be whether the product is palatable when presented to the people of Darfur. The topic is the Sudan People’s Initiative for Darfur, launched in Khartoum on 16 October which has held its meetings in Kenana over the following days. It is an effort to bring the Sudanese political class together to find a political solution to the Darfur crisis. Although […]
A young, NYC-based novelist, Nick McDonell, asked Alex (his former Harvard prof) if he could accompany him on his recent travels into Sudan. The upshot is a revealing portrait of Alex and his work, published in next month’s Harper’s Magazine: “The Activist: Alex de Waal among the war criminals.” NOTE: Harper’s subscription required.
In 2004, Marcus Bleasdale visited Chad and parts of Darfur and took a series of compelling black and white photographs. Some of them are reproduced in David Elliot Cohen’s volume of essays and photography, What Matters. One of twenty chapters in the book is devoted to Darfur. Some pictures tell compelling stories, needing hardly any explanatory text. This is the case for the preceding illustrated essay on genocide, which consists of photographs of human remains from Bosnia, Cambodia, Iraqi Kurdistan and Rwanda, and a just one picture of the victims, from Cambodia’s infamous Tuol Sleng prison. Omer Bartov calls these “icons of extermination.” A couple of chapters later there is an arresting photo essay of Americans burying their war dead from Iraq—an untold story that is ideally suited to photojournalism.. What story is told by Bleasdale’s Darfur pictures? Several pictures are of boys and young men with guns and cars, most rebels or Chadian soldiers. Two are identified as “multinational forces” (one of them, bizarrely, as having repelled two Janjaweed attacks on Adre). It’s common for armed men in Darfur to be mistaken for one another, but so far the AU and UN troops haven’t yet been confused with the […]
The Nigerian minority rights activist and insurgent leader Ken Saro-Wiwa said, “It’s one thing being an issue, another achieving our aims.” Two years afterwards he was hanged—he fatally misjudged the power of western publicity in the face of a thuggish government. His Ogoni people have won only a marginally better deal. Darfurians may come to a similar conclusion. They couldn’t have asked for more celebrity endorsement. But they haven’t got what they need. The facts of Darfur lead to a depressing conclusion: celebrity moral hyperventilation hasn’t helped and probably has hindered. But who needs empirics when there is a good story to tell? Read my essay, “The Humanitarian Carnival,” in World Affairs online, here.
The reaction to the likely indictment of President al-Bashir stands as a microcosm for the international response to the Darfur crisis: there is a lot of noise and there are many actors with good intentions, but their interests and strategies differ so starkly that their combined voices appear incoherent and ultimately cancel each other out. Indeed, despite the reluctance in the Arab world, the Darfur conflict has triggered an international response that eclipses all other conflicts in Africa: the world’s largest humanitarian operation takes place in Darfur; the largest and most expensive peacekeeping mission is currently being deployed; a plethora of special envoys and mediators have been appointed to make peace in Darfur; the Darfur conflict has generated a highly influential advocacy movement; for the first time, the U.S. government has declared the ongoing conflict as a genocide and permitted the UN Security Council to refer a case to the ICC. In a sense, Darfur is the antithesis of Samantha Power’s criticism that mass atrocities and genocide are considered ‘a problem from hell,’ with people and politicians preferring to look away when they are being committed. Despite all the attention, however, the Darfur conflict appears further than ever from resolution. […]
It has been unfazed by the turmoil in US financial markets; but Sudan faces a bigger exogenous toxic threat to its stability if the demand by the International Criminal Court prosecutor to arrest Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, succeeds. Supporters of the move, like Save Darfur Coalition, Amnesty International and other activist groups, argue charging President al-Bashir will not scuttle much in Darfur since, they say, there is no peace to keep there anyhow. Tossing oil on a fire is always feeble logic, and it will push even further away an end to the suffering in Darfur; the region’s fractious, estimated twenty-five, warlords will have no incentive whatsoever to commit to peace talks unreservedly. Emboldened by an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president, more assaults on the capital, Khartoum, and spreading the war to Kordofan and other regions close to Darfur will be the predictable response by the militarily strongest rebel group, Khalil Ibrahim’s Justice and Equality Movement (which forcibly recruited, and pumped with amphetamines, 92 child soldiers, during its coup attempt in Khartoum four months ago). It is equally wrong for activists and some Western diplomats and politicians to claim President al-Bashir will simply do nothing to settle the Darfur conflict […]
The Sudanese polity runs on political credit notes. The big issues are constantly deferred because the political price of coming to a decision is too high, with cash paid only for interim settlements to try to manage the crisis. Over the last five and a half years, the government in Khartoum has not wanted to pay the price demanded by Darfur’s rebel leaders, believing that the insurrection will disintegrate and international concern will fade, allowing it to settle for a cheaper price. As earlier with the South, it miscalculated and the price of a settlement has risen year on year. Twenty one years ago the Islamists launched their coup to pre-empt a compromise on Islamic law and ended up conceding self-determination for the South. They launched the Darfur firestorm to avoid conceding a power-sharing formula to Darfur and may well end up facing the ICC. It’s time to settle the Darfur account at the asking price. The last week at the General Assembly was a sobering experience for the Sudan government delegation. Before arriving in New York, Khartoum expected that a deal on deferral of the ICC arrest warrant against President Bashir was on the cards. Achieving the momentum for […]