Evaluating Advocacy: Genocide and Self-Awareness in Hamilton’s Fighting for Darfur By Laura Seay Journalist Rebecca Hamilton’s new book: Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide, is a remarkable discussion of a difficult question: Why, despite gaining support from millions of grassroots activists and leading policy makers, did the Darfur advocacy movement fail? In terms of drawing ordinary people to support a cause, getting them to pressure influential politicians and world leaders, and drawing public attention to a previously-unknown crisis, the Darfur advocacy movement was remarkably successful. But its ability to achieve its primary goals – stopping the violence in Darfur and protecting civilians there – was severely limited. Hamilton, herself a former student activist in the movement, identifies several reasons for this failure, among them advocates’ early lack of understanding about the complexity of the crises in Sudan, the fact that the advocacy movement became strong only after the worst of the atrocities had occurred. The movement was also hindered by advocates’ inexperience with handling large sums of money and developing policy proposals, and the simple fact that Western governments could only do so much to affect developments in Khartoum. In this sense, Fighting for Darfur […]
Fighting Over Darfur By Alex Thurston Rebecca Hamilton’s Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide raises important and troubling questions about the relationship between America’s domestic politics and African conflicts. Hamilton thoughtfully probes the limits of what earnest but inexpert Americans in the Save Darfur movement achieved in their quest to bring justice to Sudan. She thereby joins a debate about Save Darfur that took on great urgency with the 2009 publication of Dr. Mahmood Mamdani’s Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror. At stake in this debate are the questions of how much context citizens must understand before they act, the politicization of the word genocide, and silences concerning the violence America inflicts on innocents abroad. Hamilton does not explicitly address Mamdani’s arguments, but this review reads Fighting for Darfur against Saviors and Survivors in order to advance the debate. Hamilton, a lawyer who worked with Save Darfur and the International Criminal Court, is an insider who acknowledges Save Darfur’s weaknesses. Mamdani, a professor at Columbia University with long experience in Sudan, is a fierce critic of the movement. Despite their different sympathies, these authors sometimes reach complementary conclusions, particularly in their […]
I had to fight back some tears when listening to Jaoa telling me about that dreadful moment when the UN airlifted him and his colleagues from a burning Dili, while leaving thousands of Timorese behind. Standing powerless in the face of the imminent slaughter of others while you’re running off to save your own ass is the living nightmare of many aid workers. Particularly when those others have put their hopes on you. Rob Crilly got a sense of that when an elderly woman suddenly grabbed his arm during a well-prepared tour of an IDP camp in Darfur: “You have heard our problems,” she said, “When will you help us?” And Mia Farrow has been almost possessed by an urge to tell the whole world about Darfur, ever since a woman called Halima grabbed her hand saying, “Tell people what happened here. Tell them we will all be slaughtered; tell them we all need help”.’ These encounters are not only so unbearable because of the humanitarian tragedy unfolding before us, they are just as unbearable because of the humanitarian tragedy unfolding inside us. The scene of the aid worker turning his back on the Timorese to step into the plane […]
Rob Crilly’s book, Saving Darfur, is unique among the books on Darfur to date for the way he handles the very tough balance between conveying the complexities of the situation, while managing to keep the book accessible to a non-expert audience. By design, it isn’t a comprehensive narration of the entire conflict, but what is lost on that front is more than made up for by the breadth of audience it will reach as a result. The lens through which Crilly gets into the story is his role as a journalist –- a lens he uses to maximum effect. One gets the sense that over his five years based in Nairobi, he built up a quiet store of the anecdotes from his first-hand reporting that reflected various under-reported aspects of the conflict; the marginalization of Arab groups in Darfur, the role of regional players — stories that his newspaper editors in London would have cut out of the daily copy. It is in telling these kinds of anecdotes that Saving Darfur shines. Key examples are the chapter on the LRA, or the wonderful introduction to Chapter 5, where Crilly allows the seeming familiarity of the story of one of the […]
Darfur had everything needed to be a good, eye-catching story: good guys, bad guys and no moral ambiguity. Sure enough, it became such a big story because it was able to be presented in this way. In “a continent of messy, difficult wars, this was a simple conflict,” correspondent Rob Crilly writes of how it was presented in 2004 when the story broke. Then when the genocide angle was thrown in, the media had its “Darfur puppy,” a “heart-rending human story with big brown eyes that no one could ignore.” And it was a big story: in July-August 2004, no fewer than 18 editorials were published in the British broadsheet newspapers on Darfur (the Daily Telegraph published three editorials in five days), when Darfur had barely been mentioned 15 times in the entire previous decade. In Saving Darfur: Everyone’s Favourite African War, Crilly presents what he calls Darfur’s “esoteric detail” (the nuances, complexities and non-sequiturs of conflict), the stuff that, properly told, should have been part of the narrative from the start. If it had, if the complexities had been fully attempted from the beginning, would Darfur have been just another Congo to the Western media — the odd news-in-brief […]
The recurring theme of Rob Crilly’s book, ironically entitled Saving Darfur, is that Darfur only looks simple from a distance. Close up, it’s much more like the other complicated wars that a foreign correspondent posted to Africa has to follow on a month-to-month basis. A second theme is how a human interest story can be a vehicle for making serious points and reaching a wider audience. Crilly’s best example of this is not from Darfur, but is the infamous “teddy bear” story, when a British teacher at an international school in Khartoum was arrested and charged with insulting religion after she named the class teddy bear “Mohammed”, after a chubby boy in the class. A news story whose headline was an invitation to mock Sudan, and especially zealots who wanted to score political points at the expense of a naïve schoolteacher, in fact yields insight into different layers of dynamics within the Sudanese establishment, and between it and a western government. Saving Darfur has garnered most attention for its critique of the Save Darfur movement – especially Crilly’s charge that in over-simplifying the conflict and elevating the rebels into “the good guys” it has impeded finding a solution. Readers of […]
General Rokero had been my guide for a visit to a rebel stronghold inside the Jebel Mara mountains. He introduced me to two girls who had been held prisoner and repeatedly raped by government soldiers. And over steaming bowls of thick brown ful in the little town of Goralang Baje, we discussed politics with Arab commanders who had abandoned the Janjaweed to join the Sudan Liberation Army. Everything had been laid on for me, the visiting journalist. But now he didn’t seem to want to take me to the little camp of tents where hundreds of women and children were living after fleeing the latest fighting. Every time I asked, he simply told me to wait and poured another glassful of sweet tea. Eventually he stood up, as if at some secret signal, and suggested I follow. The reason for our delay quickly became apparent as we scrunched along the grey gravel path in the hilly town. Children began streaming towards us from all directions, laughing and shouting. Each carried a home-made banner, often little more than a piece of paper covered in childish writing. “Go on International Criminal Court,” read one. “Welcome UN,” said another. They had been busy […]
A special issue of the journal, Genocide Studies and Prevention, focuses on the case of Darfur. It includes an article by Alan Kuperman, examining the political calculations of the Darfur rebels, focusing in particular on whether the promise of an international intervention changed their calculations in favor of sustaining the war and blocking peace efforts. A second article, by Victor Peskin, examines the Sudan Government’s defiance of the ICC. There is a debate between Greg Stanton and Alex de Waal on whether Pres. Bashir should be charged and arrested by the ICC. Samuel Totten analyzes the 2005 International Commission of Inquiry into Darfur and argues that it erred in failing to identify genocide. There are also reviews of academic book on Darfur. The volume as a whole is an important addition to the academic controversies on Darfur, especially at the intersection between genocide studies and political science.