Darfur: Different Ways to Save It
A couple of days ago I received a mass email from the Save Darfur Coalition, encouraging me to “turn words into action.” It asked me to write to President Obama urging him to roll out his blueprint for peace in Darfur, “NOW!” As any reader of this blog will know, I believe strongly that this is not the right approach. Darfur will be “saved” by Sudanese, or not at all. Unless the plan has the support of the key stakeholders it will be dead from the outset (initiative number 231). It’s time to do the job properly. And from what I have seen, the Special Envoy for Sudan, General Scott Gration, understands this.
Fortunately, the SDC format gave me the opportunity to edit the SDC’s draft letter. So I composed my own version, under the title “Have the Courage to Stick with S.E. Gration and His Approach.” I wrote:
“I am writing to you from Sudan, where I have spent most of the last two months consulting with a wide range of people in Darfur and other Sudanese stakeholders.
“I am encouraged by the approach that your Administration is taking and by the commitment and skill of your Special Envoy, Gen. Scott Gration. As you know, only the Sudanese people can build a durable peace. The best role of the U.S. is to support domestic and regional efforts for peace in Darfur, and more widely a sustainable settlement to the enduring problems of Sudan. It takes true political will and moral courage to acknowledge this reality, and to avoid the temptation to design a blueprint and demand that the Sudanese conform to it.
“Mr. President, I know you are committed to ending the atrocities in Sudan. I am encouraged by your actions to date which display that rare and difficult political trait, namely the capacity to encourage people to take their destiny into their own hands. I trust you will personally sustain this commitment despite the criticism you will surely come under.”
I encourage others to make use of this opportunity provided by SDC.
The SDC website also includes a button marked “Donate.” Yesterday I was in Ain Siro, a village where the main and overwhelming demand of the residents was for material assistance for their school, clinic, water, etc. This was a rebel-held area of Darfur, where aid doesn’t reach and Khartoum’s writ and restrictions do not run. No-one is assisting the schoolchildren in the picture, seen here singing to welcome President Thabo Mbeki, President Abdusalam Abubaker and Justice Florence Mumba.
I asked Jerry Fowler of Save Darfur about how much of their assistance reaches Darfur. The answer was straightforward:
“We are an advocacy organization, not a relief organization. We spend our money here and abroad on advocacy efforts and try to be clear about that. The only very minor exception is a program for high school students called ‘dollars for Darfur,’ that was started by high school students and has been administered by us for the past couple of years, where half the net proceeds go to humanitarian organizations for relief work, and half comes to us for advocacy.”
That is fair enough, though many advocacy organizations like Amnesty International also provide material assistance to survivors of torture and other needy individuals. But the wording of Save Darfur’s draft letter does imply a link between humanitarian needs and the organization’s activities:
“Every day, millions struggle to get by in makeshift refugee camps, and the coming rainy season will present even more hardships. Sudanese President Bashir’s expulsion of 13 humanitarian aid groups means the people in these camps have even more limited access to vital services as the rainy season rolls in.”
For those of you interested in donating in a way that would provide tangible support to Darfurians in non-government held areas, I suggest the Darfur Diaries project. It assists schools in Shigeg Karo, Anka and Muzbat–three villages in rebel-held north Darfur–and will support more if it gets the funds.