Scramble for Africa: Darfur Intervention and the USA – A Book that Needs to be Read -and Debated-
Two things are immediately noticeable about Kevin Funk’s and Steven Fake’s Scramble for Africa: Darfur-Intervention and the USA. The first is the long list of excerpts from positive pre-publication reviews at the front of the book. (Among the 16 reviews listed, the comment by Princeton’s Richard Falk that the book is “utterly convincing” left me wondering what my review could possibly add to the discourse.)
The second thing is the extensive set of endnotes. The body of the work is 126 pages, followed by 169 pages of endnotes and 17 pages of endnotes follow the 11-page foreword.
When a book is encased – front and back – in so much protective body armor, it is often because the authors anticipate vigorous assaults upon their work. Because the book assails many of the popular beliefs that underpin the loud calls for international intervention in Darfur, this reviewer found Scramble for Africa highly volatile, if not “explosive,” as journalist and author John Ghazvinian described it. Because of the book’s controversial nature, I began searching the internet for the anticipated onslaught upon it. Surprisingly, the work has been subjected to very little criticism on the World Wide Web.
Scramble for Africa takes on the “humanitarian activists” by offering a blistering critique of their responses to the crisis in Darfur. It also sharply criticizes the foreign policy of the United States towards the crisis and Sudan in general. By placing the human tragedy in Darfur within its geopolitical context, these two young journalists provide a well thought out and careful analysis of the subject which brings a degree of clarity that is seldom found in the discourse on Darfur.
The book does shy away from assessing the level of culpability of the many and various participants, both international and Sudanese, who have not only failed to support solutions to the Darfur crises, but who have – in many instances – worsened the problem.
Beginning their work with a chapter entitled: “Snapshot of the Conflict,” the authors give a brief, yet clear and concise description of the conflict. In this chapter they also address the debate over whether “genocide” has occurred in Darfur and cite findings of the United Nations’ International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur that the crimes against humanity perpetuated during the conflict “did not amount to genocide, though they “˜may be no less serious and heinous than genocide.'” At the end of this analysis, the authors disappointingly do not come to a conclusion as to whether they believe genocide has taken place in Darfur. While the authors sidestep this question, it would be useful to know whether the U.S. government uses the same definition for genocide as the UN, the EU and the AU. If the definition of “genocide” used by the United States is the same as that employed by these three organizations, then it would be important to know if the United States has more information about the situation in Darfur than these three organizations; and if so, it would help to know the nature of that information. On the other hand, if the United States and these three organizations share the same information about Darfur and use the same definition of “genocide” then it would be very difficult to disagree with the findings of the UN, the EU and the AU that the crimes committed against humanity in Darfur “did not amount to genocide.” To find otherwise is to place more credibility in the U.S. government regarding this matter than in the UN, the EU and the AU combined.
The chapter closes by considering why the conflict in Darfur has gained so much attention and examines the oft-times mischaracterization of the conflict as “racial” in nature, pitting “Arabs” against “Africans.”
The “Snapshot” of the conflict is followed by three chapters that deal with the complicated relationship between Khartoum and the Western powers, particularly the United States. Funk and Fake do not hesitate to point out that the main reason for the United States’ concern for the region is its oil. But they also point out that the initial impetus for U.S. involvement in Sudanese affairs was the cold war. America’s foreign policy experts first armed President Nimeiri’s Khartoum government, and its immediate successor, against the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in the south and then reversed its policies and provided assistance to the SPLA after Khartoum supported Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in the early 1990s. The Clinton Administration’s bombing of the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum in 1998 is briefly mentioned, and more importantly, they point out the consequences of that attack – the deaths of thousands of Sudanese due to the resulting lack of pharmaceutical supplies. This part of the book also describes how, during the Bush 43 era, with its concerns for the war on terror, the United States began to cozy up to Khartoum again and even lifted some sanctions allowing the Government of Sudan to hire a Washington-based lobbyist.
The last half of the book examines the intervention by “humanitarian organizations” and foreign governments in the Darfur crisis. Funk and Fake begin this portion of the book by reviewing the doctrine of humanitarian intervention and then presenting past examples to illustrate the doctrine at work. Next, they focus on the AU and UN peacekeeping efforts in Darfur. The authors argue that the call by Western powers for a UN peacekeeping force for Darfur was disingenuous. They state that the West’s refusal to support the AU peacekeeping force aroused reasonable suspicions among the Sudanese that the call for a UN force was not in the best interest of their nation. The book cogently asserts that the wealthy nations’ actions virtually ensured “the failure of the AU mission in Darfur.”
After examining the efforts of peacekeepers in Darfur, the authors critique the efforts of the activist movement whose efforts are aimed at the crisis; and the book singles out the Save Darfur Coalition for its sharpest criticism. The Save Darfur Coalition is portrayed as a tone-deaf, liberal activist group whose main accomplishment seems to be the bolstering of U.S. foreign policy.
It is pointed out that while many humanitarian activist organizations are quick to call for bold responses to thwart Khartoum’s continued actions in Darfur, some of these organizations provide little or no actual relief to the individuals on whose behalf the activists claim to remonstrate.
Funk and Fake conclude by proposing an action agenda that would move towards ending the suffering in Darfur. While these suggestions are not exhaustive, they are constructive and could go a long way towards bringing an end to the crisis and in preventing further suffering and loss of life.
Scramble for Africa: Darfur-Intervention and the USA is an extremely important and useful articulation of the conflict in Darfur. It is not so much a portrait of Darfur as it is a portrait of the West looking at Darfur; and the West needs to understand why it has responded in the way that it has in order to adequately assess the appropriateness of its actions towards Sudan and Darfur.
Finally, it should be noted that there is one aspect of the book that many readers may find very sensitive, and others may find offensive. This book is well researched, well thought out, well laid out and it makes an extremely cogent argument. But this reviewer is troubled by the authors’ tendency to use a derisive tone in some of their critiques.
Much of the killing and abuse in Darfur can probably be traced to a sufficient lack of respect between individuals. These horrors would not have happened unless individuals failed to accord one another the respect that they are due as human beings. There is a great deal of disagreement about Darfur – as there is about most pressing issues in the world. Unless we can recognize our differences and approach them with sufficient respect for one another, conflict will continue to smolder, if not burst into flame. The authors’ derisive tone is aimed at more than one target in this work; and each time it is used, there is a risk that it may distract the reader from the logic of the book’s argument.
Crises, like those in Darfur, occur because there is usually more than one side to every story. And while it should not be doubted that Kevin Funk and Steven Fake have carefully considered this crisis and offer solutions that could very well end the unnecessary dying and suffering in Darfur, it should also be kept in mind that in order to arrive at a solution to this tragic problem, we should encourage respect for all concerned.
This article was first published in the Sudan Studies Association Bulletin, vol. 27, no 1, March 2009, pp. 27-28.