Did “Save Darfur” Lose Darfur?
William Easterly‘s blog, Aid Watch, posted an endorsement of Mahmood Mamdani’s book today:
I have long been a fan of Mahmood Mamdani. His new book Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror is very critical of the Western approach to Darfur. In brief, he accuses advocacy campaigns like Save Darfur of making the achievement of peace in Darfur more difficult by portraying the conflict simplistically between “bad Arabs” and “good Africans,” and by advocating foreign military intervention.
I’ll repeat just a few points from Mamdani that stuck in my mind, but I encourage you strongly to pick up the book.
“¢ The Save Darfur campaign repeatedly ignored and distorted the facts on the ground.
“¢ Darfur is an insurgency and an extremely vicious counter-insurgency, but there was never the intent to eliminate any specific group and so the word “genocide” is inappropriate. But the word “genocide” gave the West and the UN a free hand to intervene.
“¢ The prospect of foreign military intervention encouraged the rebels to hold out rather than agreeing to a peace deal, while hardening and attracting additional support for the position of the government to “defend national sovereignty.”
“¢ There were also terrible atrocities on the “good African” side.
“¢ The “good African” side includes one key player, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), that is an opposition Islamist movement that was previously on the “bad Arab” side in the North-South civil war between “bad Arabs” and “good Africans.”
“¢ There was a sharp decrease in violence after 2005 just as the Save Darfur campaign picked up steam.
“¢ The ICC is not credible to much of the non-Western world as a judge of war crimes since the US itself does not subject itself to the ICC, and since the ICC seems to selectively prosecute US enemies and turn a blind eye to war crimes by US allies.
“¢ The Western pressure based on distorted facts has set back attempts within Sudan and within Africa to reach a peace settlement in Darfur, which is the only way the tragedy will end.
None of this is to deny the enormous human tragedy in Darfur. But Mamdani’s analysis makes one wonder: is it possible that ill-informed outsiders with the threat of military power on their side can make things worse rather than better?
Sharp analysis as usual from Bill Easterly. Especially his last point: “But Mamdaniâ€™s analysis makes one wonder: is it possible that ill-informed outsiders with the threat of military power on their side can make things worse rather than better?” Great question. Let me venture an answer. Yes? It is *possible* that they make things worse. That took me longer to type than to think. But maybe we need some theorists do derive this proposition rigorously from first principles. Oh wait, I thought about it for 30 more seconds and realized the answer is really to be had from empirical analysis. Mr. Easterly has always been a big critic of facile empirical analysis where everything is endogenous. Let’s suppose that he did the analysis, and thinks that in general the empirical “effect” is that small advocacy organizations with budgets in the $15 m. mark (the number often repeated for Save Darfur) do indeed influence Great Powers and well-funded dictatorships with budgets in the $10 b range. Wow! That’d be a big effect! I guess the “Mothers of Juarez” movement could, with a few million dollars, continue to play on the sympathies of well-meaning Westerners who care about the murders of 100s of women in Juarez, and thus unwittingly (or is it deliberately?) prolong the drug wars on the border, thereby enabling the US to annex more of Mexico. I mean, habibi, I am “kallam bes” (just saying).
It is crazy but it is true. The West is throwing fuel on the fire of Darfur. Through several “humanitarian” lobby organizations and through clandestine military operations from neigbouring countries. But the aim is the same: the destabilization of the present Islamic government of Omar El Beshir in Sudan. Why? Maybe because of the Sudanese oil which is getting more precious as time passes. Or maybe to curb the expansion of China in Africa. Maybe there are more reasons I do not know of…
So, thank you Ana Majnun (“I am crazy” in Arabic). I am crazy too.
Um… Did the use of the “g” word really “give the West and the UN a free hand to intervene”?
In fact you could argue a free hand it would be the last thing the West wanted. Darfur has shown that an unprecedented level of fact, analysis and lobbying since 2003 makes little difference when it comes to the propect of rich countries sending troops to die – especially with not much of a plan.
They didn’t want a free hand…
(in a personal capacity, just saying…)
I haven’t read Mamdani’s book so I hope I’m not attacking strawmen, but I think one can take the argument that advocacy groups have made things worse, and that the west is partly at fault for the crisis in Sudan a little too far.
First, about 100,000 people were probably killed between 2003 and 2005 according to the only peer-reviewed study I could find. Considering Darfur has a population of about 6 million so that is a pretty significant account. From everything I have read, the vast majority of deaths during the initial “genocidal” period of the war were “African.” Serious war crimes were committed by the Sudanese government, and while the history is much more complicated than meets the eyes, the facts I mentioned (and which are stressed by advocacy groups) remain true. Although the JEM and SLA have committed human rights abuses, they have mostly been in later stages, as the war has transformed into the type of conflict waged in South Sudan.
Second, while advocacy groups may have lengthened the conflict, I think the opposite is far more likely. I don’t think nearly as much aid would have gone to Darfur if people in the west did not care about Darfur. Indeed, the Nuba Mountains Jihad (the closest analogy I can think of) didn’t get nearly the same amount of press or aid. The Nuba Mountains Jihad ended only because the SPLM was able to put up so much resistance that attempting social transformation on a genocidal scale was no longer worth it. Similarly, the government in Sudan as the rebels gained in power, partly because of the help of foreigners (Chad more than the west), and the government was unable to follow its old strategies and discovered they didn’t work nearly as well as expected. Strengthening the insurgency may have shortened the worst phase of the fighting rather than lengthened it.
I think the western advocacy groups concerned with Darfur including the Save Darfur have lost thier case against the Sudanese president EL-Bashir because of some very recent events took place in the same place they advocae its people.Just after few days from the day of the issuance of the arrest warrent by the International Criminal Court (ICC),president EL-Bashir was in the Northern Darfur state among the people he accused of commiting war crimes and crimes against humanity against thier relatives.In that event the president was recieved and welcomed by thoes people in a manner that denies every accusation that this man is responsible of killing someone belong to them.What Iam wondering about is that such an event didnot recieve the attention it deserves from the western media since it serves no interest for them.Then again the president travelled to the Southern Darfur state where the reception was once again wonderful and he was in a direct contact with the people of that area without any kind of above normal protection measures where he was greeting the multitudes came to support him from an uncovered car.His last trip to Darfur took him to Western Darfur state capital town Zalinji and to your wonder it is the center of the Fur tribe,the same people thier suffering from Darfur conflict said to be the worest with the highest number of IDPs in the camps.In this last event and the events before the president trips were accompanied by openning of different developmental projects for the good of Darfuri people not seen before in thier region.
A president capable of doing all that in such a critical time for him cannot be a perpetrator of war crimes or crimes against humanity but someone who cares about his people.
Dear Abdalla Khalil
I do not see the visits of El-Bashir to Darfur and the reception he received as representing any evidence of the innocence of the man. We all know the capacity of our African regimes in staging such events for public relations and propaganda purposes. I am quite sure the security forces and ruling party did a great job the night before the events mobilizing participants through intimidation and other familiar means.
I agree that one great negative contribution of the not-well-informed activism, was that it presented not quite an accurate information about what is happening in Darfur, and that made it quite easy for the government to utilize it in discrediting these advocacy claims and the advocates.
Other reasons behind the easiness of the government to find allies from within the disturbed region of Darfur are related to our common Sudanese saying ” Me and my cousin against the foreigner, but then, me an my brother against my cousin”. The regime is quite ingenious as well in touching on nationalism issues such as state sovereignty and national security breaches by the West, to portray himself as a national hero, and touching on the religious and ideological emotions of the people by claiming that the West is targeting Islam by targeting him as a president of an Islamic state. He also used a well received propaganda of neo-colonialism in which he blended facts with fiction, but was widely and strongly received by many, turning the “man” into a national and Islamic hero and defender. To a great extent, thanks are to be given to this activism.
In a way or another, the momentum of the R2P, is slowed down by the changes in the US administration. Has the Bush Admin, continued for another while, I would strongly believe that the discussions and advocacy of the use of power and military intervention would have taken a different volume and shape.
Again, from a practical stance, I miss the point of the effectiveness of the, sometimes-purely-academic – semi- personal – intellectual – muscle – showing- type, emphasis on the book, in bringing any positive change to the situation in Darfur. My strong conviction is that we should be focusing on the current humanitarian questions in Darfur as well as the practical steps for peace. Don’t ask me how to bring that peace. Nonetheless, a consensus on the book is impossible and it would definitely not going to bring us one more step towards our perceived goals of humanitarian support and sustainable peace.
“They didnâ€™t want a free handâ€¦”
The UN might not, but the USA?
The geopolitical polarisation of the region is, I think, a matter for serious concern. Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, South Sudan and Somaliland vs Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Ogaden.
Be it oil, China or GWOT, the USA is very involved. Would Ethiopia have gone into Somalia without their backing? Is Africa Command seriously not going to commit itself beyond painting schools and innoculating goats?
Dear Ahmed Hassan
I do not think what happend in the Darfur states during the recent visits of president El-Bashir from the enthusiastic reception to the robust show of support was due to intimidation and the other familiar means pursued by African regimes as you pointed out in your comment. For things to be as you have mentioned, the ruling party and the security forces have had to implement an orginized campaign of intimidation to force the people there to do what they have done. Reading your comment I have imagined the security forces were going from home to home threatening and warning people from the consequences of not recieving El-Bashir. But I have never heard from any source that such a kind of terror or intimidation was conducted by the forces loyal to the regime. Beside that, it is not possible to imagine that the people of Darfur can be inimidated to do something against thier will and anyone suggests the opposite should revise his opinions about and understanding of Darfur and its people. Furthermore, if you mean by other familiar means that the people were paid to show up, I wonder how an immense budget the regime should have to allocate in order to maintain that huge and historical participation and by simple calculations this defies the resources of whoever richer than Sudan.
Vagn Sparre-Ulrich wrote:
“Why? Maybe because of the Sudanese oil which is getting more precious as time passes. Or maybe to curb the expansion of China in Africa. Maybe there are more reasons I do not know ofâ€¦”
Yes, well China is the first and primary new foreign developer of oil in U.S. occupied Iraq as well as being a major presence in both the U.S. and Canadian energy industries within North America itself. On the other hand, Bashir has been adamant for decades about not reliquishing Sudan’s water rights to Israel. Perhaps an answer to your question lies here:
Sudan, another war for Israel: Will Nile water go to Israel?