De Waal Continues Misleading the World on Darfur
Posted on behalf of Abdullahi al Tom.
I am dismayed by de Waal’s venomous article on JEM’s invasion of Omdurman code-named “Operation Long Arm”. In this article, de Waal declares that Khartoum security agents have” no justification for arresting affiliates of the SLA”. The conclusion is clear for those who are sympathetic to JEM, but may have played no role in the invasion of the capital.
In as much as the article exposes de Waal’s enmity against JEM, it equally reveals the shallowness of his expertise. In his revelation, our guru expert alleges Khalil has transformed the insignificant JEM into a personal tribal fiefdom, that Darfurians who accompanied him had no liking for JEM, that Khalil has launched his attack in order to provoke Khartoum for further reprisal on innocent Darfurians and that Khalil is a jihadist who still retains his political Islam; whatever that means; end of thesis.
For readers who do not know de Waal, he is now the top expert on Darfur appearing in every relevant international venue. During the Abuja Peace Talks, I met his co-author and sidekick Julie Flint in a London to Abuja plane. She told me with great relief that “the Americans had just hired de Waal as their advisor to the AU and that that would put an end to their confusion about how to address Darfur crisis”. Well, as it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth. The Americans had in fact got, so to speak, “a pig in a poke”. Their choice led to Abuja Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) fiasco and the catastrophic failure of Robert Zoellick, the then Envoy of US President George Bush to Darfur.
That de Waal played a pivotal role in the DPA and has been its prime author is beyond doubt. Elsewhere we mentioned how he had circulated it to his friends in the USA long before it was presented to its major stakeholders in Abuja. The flaw of the DPA was readily apparent. His American friends advised against it and so did many Abuja stakeholders but experts are rarely good listeners. De Waal continued defending the DPA long after its death had become apparent to all. He subsequently wrote no less than 15 articles in defence of it under the titles of “Explaining the DPA”. In pathetic form of logic, members of the Darfur Movements as well as Darfur IDPs were expected to Google away and read their DPA, explained to them in simple and plain Oxford English. Rather than blaming Khalil for escalating violence by invading Khartoum, de Waal should re-examine the role of expertise that her rendered to the African Union and other international circles. Launching a flawed agreement threw everybody in disarray. It led to splits among Darfur Movements, played havoc with the mediation, and increased violence including killings, rape and displacement. That is the cost of de Waal’s expertise to Darfur.
In his prognosis that invasion of Omdurman will lead to more violence, de Waal comes to a bewildering conclusion, that Khalil has undertaken the assault in order to entice the government for reprisal attacks on innocent Darfurians. In de Waal’s vision, such reprisals will expose cruelty of the regime and attract western sympathy to Darfurians. To suggest that Khalil will be happy to see Kalma and Abu Shouk Camps bombed for the sake of western sympathy may be bordering on lunacy. Yet, it is anchored in a broader Eurocentric moral division of the world. In accordance with this vision, leaders of the west are guided by humane ethos and driven by altruistic motives in their actions. In a sharp contract to that are the savages of the Third Wold or black people should you wish to put so. Leaders like Khalil are inhumane, uncaring and driven by selfish motives or “personal fiefdom” as de Waal expressed. In an Obama era, one would have expected this style of thinking to have been left behind.
In his legendary enmity to JEM, de Waal tells about how Khalil was able to bring his organisation “back from the brink of insignificance”. To begin with, JEM has never been insignificant. If that perception prevailed during the Peace Talks, it was due to undermining advice of de Waal. Throughout the Talks, de Waal had been instrumental in making the mediation ignore JEM, while promoting others at the same time. Following the partial signing of DPA in Abuja, de Waal begged the mediation to give him more time to convince Abdel Wahid Nur to sign but to no avail. As for JEM, it was simply overlooked due to its alleged “insignificance”. To the embarrassment of de Waal, both Abdel Wahid and JEM are now fully vindicated for rejecting his masterpiece, the DPA, and which by all means relegated to the dustbin of history.
In the article in concern, de Waal claims that Khalil has now become “focussed on his Zaghawa Kobe clan”. Indeed ethnic interpretation of history has been the hallmark of de Waal’s work on Darfur. This view has provided a scientific base for current Zahgawa phobia which is now gripping Khartoum junta and laid foundation for the present tribal explanation of Darfur crisis in western media. De Waal’s obsession with the Zaghawa and occasionally other ethnic groups is legendary. In de Waal’s book “Short History of a Long War” co-authored with Flint, there are over 60 references to the Zaghawa. Add references to dozens of other ethnic groups and you end up with a trajectory of tribal interplay leading to reduction of Darfur crisis to a mere internal civil strife. But when it comes to fixation with Zaghawa, it is Julie Flint who merits entry into the Guinness World Records. In her contribution “Darfur Armed Movements” to de Waal’s edited book “War in Darfur”, the Zaghawa score a whopping 97 entries. Never mind the article is no meant to be about the Zaghawa as such. But this vision too does not come out of a vacuum. In fact it is part and parcel of an old western mythology and an archaic colonial ideology of European hegemony. In this mythology, Africans are tribalistic in nature and dwell in a world in which the tribe, or its modern version ethnicity, provides both a parameter and a web of ethos that guide and condition public action. Thus Khalil cannot act or think independent of his Zaghawa origin and hence there is a need for the likes of de Waal to provide guidance on how to tame this infantile character.
But the Zaghwa thesis proves difficult to sustain. President Deby who is also a Zaghawa was a staunch enemy of JEM. In fact, and for a long time, he was closer to Al Bashir than to his fellow tribesman Khalil. Minnawi who signed the DPA maintains a history of antagonism towards JEM, if not Khalil in particular. To that, one may add other Zaghawa leaders who have never contemplated joining Khalil or JEM. Chief among those are Dr. Sharif Harir, Abdalla Yahia and Sulaiman Jamous.
It is often said a theory must stand the test of verifiability, falsifiability and internal logical coherence. De Waal’s Zaghawa theory fails every count of this test. But don’t hold your breath; there is no limit to the intellectual elusiveness, if not sheer dishonesty of expert de Waal. When the Zaghawa theory falls apart, de Waal turns to a subdivision of the ethnic group in order to disguise the fallacy of his argument. Khalil’s actions, and hence Darfur politics have be read in the context of the “Zaghawa Kobe clan” to which he belongs. But here too, the theory remains no less farcical. Numerous Kobe leaders and who are active in Darfur politics remain either antagonistic or uncooperative with JEM. Here are some of them: Hasan Bargo, Bahar Abu Garda, Tajeldeen Niam and Abdel Jabbar Dousa.
Unwarranted fear of Islam has recently risen to a crippling level among western intelligentsia. De Waal is a perfect example of that. Although he has long dismissed any connection between JEM and Turabi, he remains unable to pontificate about JEM without using Islam as a point of reference. His Islam phobia often leads him to thrust Islam in even when it is purely irrelevant. Thus, he has to take us back to Sayed Qutb in order to analyse Operation Long Arm. Khalil’s action is described as “Jihadist” while similar actions of other revolutionary leaders are presumed to be a mere struggle for justice!
International expertism often affords its professionals blank checks and allows them fee space in which anything goes. In some ways, experts are relieved of onus to offer any justification because they are experts while others are not. De Waal’s following statement is informative regarding how an expert can take his audience for a ride: “Darfurians followed him (Khalil) to Omdurman not because they had any liking for JEM, but because they had lost hope..”. As a formidable expert, de Waal expects us to take on face value and offer no challenge to such a sweeping prophecy. Well, it is time to declare that our emperor is naked. As he has already transformed himself into a hate figure in Darfur, de Waal is in no position to meet or talk to those “Darfurians who had followed Khalil to Omdurman”. His statement is no more than a figment of his imagination, concocted from his comfortable armchair. After all, we live in a global era and in which anthropological research can now be done through the use of cellular phones.
De Waal’s assault on JEM reaches its zenith of intellectual thuggery when he describes Khalil’s character as “arrogant and propelled by self-belief”. Subjective as it may be, these remarks reflect personal disdain for Khalil rather being a product of rigorous analysis worthy of an international expert.
Since his appointment as an advisor to AU, de Waal has done untold damage to his paymasters and others alike. He has wrecked AU engagement in Darfur, misled the US and the international community and ruined their peace efforts in Sudan, threw the Movements in total disarray with his DPA and contributed to an untold death and violence in Darfur. De Waal’s article which I am criticising now should be seen in this context; a face saving and self defence project aimed at deflecting attention off failure connected with his own worthless advice.
The paradox of international expertism is that in it, one can demonstrate his incompetence far beyond doubt and still retains his title and remains on call. Such is the enviable or unenviable position of expert de Waal. JEM does not need sympathy of de Waal. Al Bashir needs de Waal more than us and he is welcome to him. Al Bashir’s senior staff have already praised his very article which I am now debunking. JEM is now a formidable force and is growing by the day, thanks to Operation Long Arm. It is a national organisation housing around 72 ethnic groups. JEM does need any advice from de Waal regarding its national orientation or concerning its popularity in Darfur. If de Waal wants to help the beleaguered people of Darfur as he wants us to believe, we sincerely urge him to do one thing: stop talking and writing about Darfur.