Tragedy in Darfur
Posted on behalf of an anonymous contributor. (In exceptional cases, this blog will post unsigned contributions, when an individual has good strong reasons not to be identified.)
There have been several opinion pieces this summer that have referred to genocide in
As Michael Gerson — a former Bush administration speech writer who somehow hasn’t found the strength to examine the greater numbers of daily civilian deaths in Iraq with the same pity he finds for African conflicts — rightfully points out in an August 10, 2007 column in the Washington Post, the problem is in choosing which plot, or as he says, which "mistake" to learn from. Unfortunately, he, like many of the activists who became inspired to act on Darfur after learning about Rwanda or seeing Hotel Rwanda, opts for Rwanda (in Gerson’s case over Somalia).
But just as not all bad things go together, nor do all good things. David Rieff has drawn out this fact in his June 24, 2007 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times discussing the clash of principles between human rights oriented groups who want solutions and humanitarian aid organizations who want to be able to continue delivering life-saving aid. What aggravates this basic difference in approaches, however, is an increasing difference between groups on the ground and those in the advocacy world about how to understand the situation in Darfur today.
Perhaps the story that has been most missed this summer is one Julie Flint has tried to tell. It is a story of Darfurians "saving" themselves. She reports: "In Ain Siro, Darfurians are putting their lives back together, with no help form the international community"¦ They are doing what they can to improve security, not waiting for the U.N. peacekeepers to come, if they ever do. There is change in
How one chooses which "mistakes" or precursors to learn from reveals what one believes is necessary to know in order to change the current crisis. Searching for catharsis, too many analysts have chased the most dramatic examples available. The tragedy then becomes truly Hegelian, when the desire to ring the alarm bells and stem violence comes into conflict with a willingness to pay attention to what is actually happening.
Michael Gerson is both precisely wrong and contradictory when he writes that “the Darfur genocide is closer to Rwanda than Somalia. It requires the urgent establishment of security first.”
Responding to Rwanda did not require the establishment of security first. It required the defeat of an organized military and paramilitary campaign of killing, which is what the Rwandese Patriotic Front achieved.
Let us recall that Somalia’s war and humanitarian crisis were no less genocidal than Darfur’s. The 1988 destruction of Hargaisa by a combination of the Somali army, airforce and clan militia was a crime that was worse, in terms of loss of life and abuses against the population, than any single incident in Darfur. When that campaign was over, there was not a single building in Hargaisa with a roof and the city was completely abandoned. Destruction on only a slightly smaller scale accompanied the military campaigns in southern Somalia in 1990-92, including forcible starvation and the systematic ethnic cleansing of minorities from the Jubba valley, parts of the Shebelle valley and some towns. (See Catherine Besteman’s article in the SSRC webforum “How Genocides End.”)
The aftermath of these military campaigns was a series of shattered societies, in which proxy militias turned on their former patrons, millions regrouped in displaced camps and cities, and there was a war of all against all. Because world opinion was only awakened when the humanitarian crisis reached famine proportions, the narrative was defined as anarchy and famine. But the causal factors are remarkably similar to those at work in Darfur.
Each society is of course unique and the best parallels for Darfur are those closest to home, namely Chad, southern Sudan, Kordofan and of course Darfur’s own time of turmoil and bloodshed after the fall of the Sultanate in 1874. Somalia is closer but inexact.
The Rwanda comparison misleads again and again. Enough of these simplistic parallels.
Posted on behalf of Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban
Where were the genocide criers for the 22 years of civil war in southern Sudan? Then the issue was slavery and “bad Muslims oppressing good Christians,” also a misrepresentation of the facts on the ground. When there are lots of zeroes attached to casualty figures, and numbers fail to change despite reports of reduction in conflict levels, other motives might be suspected. The agendas by this time have become so varied that it is small wonder that the Darfuris themselves have been lost in the international political-humanitarian shuffle, and are taking their salvation in their own hands. Thanks to Julie Flint for this reporting. There are many Sudanese nationals who are assisting these humanitarian groups with local training and Arabic language translation who are likewise forgotten. Self-serving agendas need to be critically examined.
I wrote a chapter of Alex de Waal’s book War in Darfur and the Search
for Peace about media coverage of Darfur in 2004 in the U.S. Rwanda
was by far the most frequent analogy for Darfur, for which little
reason was offered other than that both were genocides, that the
international community had failed to stop both, and that this failure
was caused by a lack of political will. The war in southern Sudan was
scarcely mentioned. The predominant narrative for Darfur implied that
only the international community could end the conflict, by credibly
Coverage of Darfur has grown more nuanced since 2004, but I think
overall there is not much change from the initial depiction of the
conflict. It’s understandable that journalists and activists who want
to change the policies of Western governments are attracted to a
narrative that gives preeminence to those governments’ actions. But
it can preclude the consideration of other solutions, and leaves
little room to take into account the ways in which Darfur is distinct
or how the conflict has changed over time.
War in Darfur and the Search for Peace