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“Crisis in Darfur”


Almost every time I read about the “Crisis in Darfur“—a crisis which, at least as far as the UN Secretary-General, the various UN humanitarian agencies such as the OCHA and the UNHCR, and the UN News Center are concerned, surely has received more attention than any other throughout the course of 2004, and certainly over the last six months—what strikes me is how bad it all is.


Bad, in the sense that the elemental facts on the ground seldom are permitted to ruin what appears to a lot of Western-types (and to a lot of Westernized types, too) like a great story. Another tale of good and evil. Or even manage to seep through. As if it has become impossible to find a statement of fact about the crisis, without also having to dig through ten or 100 expressions of concern about those reacting to it. Without an accompanying agenda. One so deeply implicated in the politics and the interests and the prejudices of powers and peoples light-years removed from the real lives of the others in question, that even the act of photographing them contributes nothing to art, nothing to history, and nothing to humanitarianism—but a great deal to the neocolonial project. Its justice and righteousness in particular.

On the other hand: A superb commentary—Justin Podur’s “Sudan?” (ZNet, Sept. 29.) Definitely an attempt at sense after months of hysteria. Sense in that it represents an effort to make sense of the Great Powers’ and their attendant human rights organizations’, news media’s, and duty-to-interveners’ packaging of the facts on the ground in the Sudan—facts which already had become very hard to discern a long time ago, so deeply buried are they beneath all of the self-serving, politically-motivated uses of them.

Now. Of all the commentaries Podur cites, I admit to never before having seen Lansana Gberie’s “The Darfur Crisis: A Test Case for Humanitarian Intervention” (September, 2004). But, just glancing over it now, I’m a little worried about this one. Gberie, its author, is a Senior Research Fellow with the Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution Department at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Center in Ghana. Of course, I’ve never set foot in the place. But, comparatively speaking, I can’t help but wonder how many of the classes and seminars at the Annan Center are devoted to preventing, managing, and resolving crises such as the ones in the Sudan? How many to managing and resolving crises such as the ones in militarily occupied Iraqi territory? And how many to genuinely preventing crises such as these from ever happening in the first place—since in this last case especially, it would require telling the Americans “NO” and then acting to prevent them from launching illegal wars? Do you suppose it’s a fifty-fifty split between managing Sudan-type crises and managing occupied-Iraq-type crises? How about between preventing Sudan-type crises and preventing occupied-Iraq-type crises? Might this split be 75-25? How about 90-10? One-hundred-to-zero? Oh, well. It looks like I will have to complete my studies elsewhere.

What’s more, the opening quote that Gberie takes from The Responsibility to Protect (2001) is quite revealing (as is the fact that he would even consider this document in the first place):

State sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself. Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling or unable to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect.

This is pretty self-incriminating stuff here, in my opinion. Even its wording: The international responsibility to protect. Note, also, the source of this quote: The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Gberie’s “The Darfur Crisis: A Test Case for Humanitarian Intervention” is not getting off to a very good start.

In his ZNet article, Podur very succinctly identifies the general “formula” for this neocolonial mentality (here with respect to Haiti early this year, but where the Americans are concerned, as common as the sun and the moon and the stars):

[F]irst, help a state to “fail” by denying it aid, applying vicious sanctions and conditionalities, and arming paramilitary killers to invade and slaughter their way to the capital. Then call it a “failed state,” oust its leaders, and occupy the place. Whatever atrocities occur in response to Western occupation can then be used as proof of the need for more occupation and intervention.

But with one important addition: Help the state to wind up on the “failed state” watch by helping the armed groups that are disrupting it, and then preventing any successful resolution of the conflict via negotiations.

(Quick aside. How I do recall the Americans steering the Serbian province of Kosovo in this direction in 1998 and early 1999. And with respect to the various rebel forces operating in western and southern Sudan today, who knows? It is a line of inquiry crying out to be pursued with greater vigilance. Also, I recall the contributions made by the Canadian Louise Arbour, then the Chief Prosecutor with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, always following close in NATO’s footsteps on the Kosovo crisis, always using her office to descry Serb officials—and then indicting them, even as NATO’s bombs were falling upon Serbia! Now this same Louise Arbour happens to be the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and just returned from an official visit to the Sudan (accompanied by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Juan Méndez—among the most laughable posts in the UN’s panoply) to tell the Security Council that the displaced people of the Sudan “expressed their faith and total dependence on the international community for protection—this is where they think their security lies.” (“UN rights officials tell Security Council international police are required in Sudan,” UN News Center, Sept. 30.)

Still. Turning now to the rest of Gberie’s sources, they’re pretty incriminating too. They include (among others—I am being a little bit selective here):

* John Ryle in the August 12 New York Review of Books
* the International Crisis Group, whose “Darfur Deadline” constitutes a major provocative strike at the Government in Khartoum and is rare even for the most belligerent of non-nongovernmental organizations
* Tennessee’s Republican Senator Bill Frist
* American—I mean Samantha—Power, writing in her Pulitzer Prize winning book the subtitle of which is nothing short of America in the Age of Genocide (About whom, do not miss Edward S. Herman’s “The Cruise Missile Left (Part 5),” ZNet, May 18, 2004.)
* the American Secretary of State Colin Powell, who last month upped the ante when he officially used the G‘-word for the first time (his boss did too)
* the editorial voice of the Washington Post, which notes that it would be “wrong to let crimes against humanity continue out of deference to the principle of sovereignty,” then added that the “West has the muscle to win this argument with Sudan”—just in case some of the fellows at the Annan Center had any funny ideas about the proper direction in which the muscle is supposed to be applied, when the principle of sovereignty no longer stands in the way of the Great Powers
* John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group, and a co-author with Samantha-“Have you ever been ethnically cleansed?”-Power of an early call for getting tough with the Government in Khartoum, sovereignty and other barriers aside
* Human Rights Watch, whose crack staff of researchers were able to discover documents linking, allegedly, the Government in Khartoum to the Janjaweed forces in the western states (I wonder if these documents were ever put to the Dan Rather Test?), but never can seem to find a single researcher sharp enough to do any more than collaterally or incidentally link the Government in Washington to the deaths caused by the serial wars it has launched over the years—say Kosovo, Afghanistan, and now Iraq, to name three
* Anthony Lake, former White House National Security Adviser and a co-author with the ubiquitous John Prendergast of the ICG in one of the earlier uses of the ‘G‘-word within mainstream literature
* the apocryphal-sounding saga of the Black Book (“al kitab al aswad“)
* the editorial voice of the London Economist, which noted that “Armed intervention in Darfur may—or may not–flout the law,” but then asked the priceless question: “So what?”
* Thomas Weiss, writing in the academic journal Security Dialogue, arguing the case that with American Power as dominant as it is in the contemporary world (though Weiss’s phrase is “unipolar”), humanitarian wars ought to remain an “important policy option” (for the Americans, obviously), and that not only is Third World and Non-Aligned resistance to humanitarian wars misplaced, but the real problem is “too little humanitarian intervention, not too much”

Along with assorted invocations of Western superiority and the trumping of international law, and the eradication of that bane sovereignty. But every last sentence of it echoing the general theme of the Great Powers’ responsibility to protect—not sovereign states from U.S. interference and military invasions, needless to say—but the peoples of other sovereign states from their own sovereigns. (I must have slept through this particular class at the Center.)

(Another quick aside. It’s a damn shame that Alex de Waal‘s fine London Review of Books commentary on the crisis in Darfur, the intelligent op-ed by Ramesh Thakur (who himself subscribes to much of this “responsibility to protect” rhetoric, please note well), and the very fine critical commentary by John Laughland, had to be dragged through the same mud of references along with all of the aforementioned. But such is life at the Center.)

What the American Government, some of the more prominent non-nongovernmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group, the doyenne of the Human Rights Brigade (now promoted to Field Marshal in the War on Genocide, rumor has it) Samantha Power, and, last but not least, the huge publicity and hand-wringing apparatus that the UN Secretary-General has at his disposal (the “Crisis in Darfur” is his office’s No. One P.R. campaign of 2004—god knows finding ways to contain American Power is not: Any crisis but the ones directly attributable to the Americans) have done with the “Crisis in Darfur” is to package it as the proving ground for all of these principles. And I’ll wager anyone who’s game that the forthcoming report by the Secretary-General’s so-called High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change singles out the “Crisis in Darfur” and the “international community’s” response to it in 2004 as the model, for better or worse, to be implemented going forward. While at most making glancing mentions of the problems associated with the Super Rogue’s wars of aggression and military expansion worldwide.

(Third quick aside. As recently as late 2003, it looked like Samantha Power person’s next major cause was going to be Robert Mugabe’s “failed” state of Zimbabwe. (See “How To Kill A Country.”) But then, just as suddenly, she shifted her attention to the Sudan, as she caught wind of—or was simply informed about—the intent of American Power to drive the Sudan issue, the genocide theme and all, onto the front pages of the “international community,” and discovered an utterly cost-free cause for which to crusade and make the Africans feel safer.)

Last point. Reading some of the more strictly humanitarian literature that’s in circulation on the Sudan (for example, the latest “Remaining Humanitarian Requirements for Sudan Until 31 December 2004,” UNOCHA, Aug. 25), I am struck by how much of the presentation of the facts is normal (i.e., controlling for the Western political and moral baggage that we find in the ideological literature) for any badly under-developed, extremely poor, crisis-torn region across huge swaths of Africa running west-to-east, from the Atlantic coast to the eastern coast in the areas (roughly) of 10-20 degrees latitude north, including the whole of the Sudan.

Nor can I help but wonder how much of the commentary about the “Crisis in Darfur” is driven by the fact that the foreigners writing about it are shocked when they learn that, say, the western states of the Sudan and the region around them are not quite as forgiving, materially, as the streets of Washington, New York City, Boston, Cambridge, Paris, Brussels, and Tokyo? I mean, when was the last time any of these rich-world metropolitan centers had to confront the problems of famine, drought, desertification, pandemic, and even locusts?

My god. The Americans lose control of their bowels when the price of gasoline goes up. But, in the Sudan, all of this is genocide. Right?

A very curious use of this now infamous word. Observe how it all played out in the very important Program on International Policy Attitudes report in late July, Americans on the Crisis in Sudan. (Steven Kull et al., July 20, as well as “7 in 10 Americans Say Genocide Must be Prevented in Sudan,” the Media Release that accompanied the full report.)

I read the findings of this PIPA survey as reflecting—not American attitudes towards an actual situation on the ground in the Sudan (which only considerable intellectual and critical labor can unearth these day, I’m afraid, the actual crisis having been thoroughly displaced by the “Crisis in Darfur”)—but the overwhelming success of a propaganda campaign that has exploited the actual situation on the ground for Great Power purposes from roughly April of this year on. (Probably earlier. Maybe as far back as last fall.)

Still is exploiting it, as a matter of fact. And it’s already October.

Sudan?” Justin Podur, ZNet, September 29, 2004
Crisis in Darfur (too), Justin Podur, ZNet Blogs, October 1, 2004

Crisis in Darfur—Not to Mention the Left (Again), ZNet Blogs (the old ones), July 30, 2004
The Song Remains the Same, ZNet Blogs, September 3, 2004
The War on Genocide, September 11, 2004
Great White Warrior, ZNet Blogs, September 14, 2004

FYA (“For your archives”): A line of inquiry that definitely ought to be opened and pursued with the utmost vigilance.

Reuters
Sudan Says U.S. Armed Darfur Rebels – Egypt Paper
September 30, 5:45 AM ET

CAIRO (Reuters) – The United States helped train and arm rebels from west Sudan who rose up against the Sudanese government last year, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said in remarks published on Thursday. “Who else than the United States is behind this … They took rebels to Eritrea, and set up training camps for them, spent money on them, armed them and gave them Thuraya mobiles (telephones) to speak between anywhere in the world,” Bashir told Egypt’s Al-Ahram daily when asked about the involvement of foreign powers in Darfur.

The U.S. embassy in Khartoum declined to comment on the report.

The Sudanese government has in the past accused Eritrea of arming Darfur rebels who launched their revolt against Khartoum in February 2003, after years of low-level clashes between Arab nomads and non-Arab farmers over scarce resources.

Bashir said the conflict had several causes such as tribal disputes and other local factors.

The United States has labeled the violence in Darfur genocide, holding responsible the Sudanese government and Arab Janjaweed militia, which Khartoum has been accused of arming.

Khartoum has dismissed charges of genocide and says it does not support the Janjaweed, branding them outlaws.

Sudanese officials have previously said the United States has exploited the Darfur crisis to further its own political agenda in the region and to exploit the country’s oil and other resources. Sudan produces up to 320,000 barrels a day of crude.

“Eritrea … was the land used, but the training, spending and planning was paid for by foreign powers, at the head of them the United States, represented in its agencies,” Bashir told the semi-official Egyptian daily in the interview in Khartoum.

He said encouragement came from U.S. pressure groups, such as right-wing Christians. Bashir said he had evidence and documents to support his charges, but he did not give details.

“There are many ways to resolve it, and the ways are known internationally, but those who lit the fire don’t want to put it out,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council has threatened Sudan with possible sanctions if it fails to stop the violence in Darfur. A cease-fire between the government and rebels agreed in Chad in April has proved shaky.

Agence France Presse — English
September 30, 2004 Thursday 11:11 AM GMT
HEADLINE: Sudan’s Beshir accuses US of backing Darfur rebels ‘to the hilt’
DATELINE: CAIRO Sept 30

Sudanese President Omar el-Beshir has accused the United States of backing rebels “to the hilt” in the country’s war-torn Darfur region and said the crisis there has been blown out of all proportion.

His remarks in an interview Thursday in Egypt’s government daily Al-Ahram, came as violence in the region continued and as one of his minister’s slammed the chief of the UN refugee agency for meddling in Sudanese politics.

“I must again point out that the United States is supporting the rebels in Darfur to the hilt and (highlight) its pressure on the (UN) Security Council” to impose solutions on Sudan, Beshir was quoted as saying.

He added the crisis in Darfur, where about 1.4 million people have been displaced and an estimated 50,000 killed in a conflict that erupted in February last year, “has taken on dimensions much larger than it really represents.”

Claiming that Sudan was “behaving itself,” Beshir said there would be “no turning back on peace, democracy and political pluralism” in the country.

The United States has declared that genocide is underway in Sudan and is has been pushing the Security Council for tough action against Khartoum.

Sudan denies the genocide charges, but has grudgingly accepted the demands of the council, which called for Khartoum in a resolution this month to rein in militias and provide security and aid distribution to allow displaced people to return to their homes.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese government has again denied it will grant autonomy to any state in northern Sudan, a press report said.

And government troops repulsed a rebel attack in South Darfur state after killing three rebels and seizing numerous weapons, the police said.

Agriculture Minister Majzub al-Khalifa Ahmed, who is political secretary of the ruling National Congress, was quoted by independent Akhbar Al-Youm daily as saying the government had no plan to grant self-rule to Darfur and “does not speak at the moment about autonomy to any region in the north.”

The government previously rejected a proposal to give autonomy to the Nuba Mountains in south Kordofan and southern Blue Nile states, saying existing agreements give the two territories “greater jurisdiction with regards to disposing of financial resources and to development arrangements.”

“These jurisdictions can now be enjoyed by all states of the Sudan,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed also hit out at UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, recently in Sudan, branding him as “unqualified for handling political issues.”

Lubbers “has overstepped his limits in the Sudan”, he said, adding that the UNHCR is limited to meeting the needs of Sudanese refugees in Chad and to their voluntary repatriation “rather than talking about domestic political issues.”

Ahmed said a recent statement by Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail was “misinterpreted” to appear as a government intention of granting self-rule to Darfur and other states. Instead, Ismail was talking about “strengthening the federal rule.”

He did not explain what he meant.

Meanwhile, a Darfur rebel force attacked Menwachi village in South Darfur on Monday, the police said.

“Our forces stood up to the attackers and drove them back after killing three of them and seizing numerous weapons of different kinds, while our forces have not sustained any losses,” a statement said.

This makes 167 rebel violations of an April 8 ceasefire, it said.

The bloodshed began in February 2003 when rebels rose up against Khartoum to demand an end to the alleged marginalisation of their region — mainly peopled by blacks and one of the poorest in Sudan.

The government’s was to give Arab militias known as the Janjaweed a free rein to crack down on the rebels and their supporters. The Janjaweed are accused of murder, rape and torture.

Deutsche Presse-Agentur
September 30, 2004, Thursday
HEADLINE: Sudan’s president blames U.S. for Darfur conflict
DATELINE: Cairo

Sudanese president Omar Beshir has accused the United States of having provoked the bloody conflict in the country’s troubled Darfur region, Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram reported Thursday. “They (the U.S.) brought the rebels to Eritrea and built military training camps for them,” Beshir said in an interview with the newspaper. The Eritrean government had merely made the land for the camps available, claimed Beshir. Training and finance came from “foreign powers, especially the United States”. Khartoum has less than friendly relations with the government in Asmara led by Isaias Afewerki, saying his regime supports several rebel groups in Sudan. The United Nations Security Council on September 18 adopted a U.S. draft resolution that blames the Sudanese government for the continuing war in Darfur, threatening sanctions if Khartoum does not take measures to stop the conflict. The U.N., U.S. and human rights groups have charged Khartoum with training and arming the Arab militias known as Janjaweed, which have been accused of serious human rights violations, rape and killings in Darfur. Khartoum has denied the charge.

Xinhua
September 30, 2004 Thursday
HEADLINE: Sudanese president accuses US of arming Darfur rebels, XINHUA

CAIRO, Sept. 30 (Xinhua) — Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir accused the United States of training and arming the rebels in the western Darfur region, Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper said Thursday.

“Who else than the United States is behind this…They took the rebels to Eritrea, and set up training camps for them, spent money on them, (and) armed them,” the daily quoted al-Bashir as saying in an interview.

The president accused some foreign powers of fomenting sedition in Darfur and capitalizing on events there, adding that some people sought to transfer a conflict of different tribes in Darfur into a rebellion against the Sudanese government.

Khartoum has in the past accused Eritrea of arming Darfur rebels, who have offices in Eritrea.

The African Union-sponsored peace talks between the Sudanese government and the two main rebel groups in Darfur in the Nigerian capital of Abuja broke down earlier this month over disagreement on security arrangements.

Clashes flared up in February 2003 when Darfur rebels rose up against the central government in protest against negligence.

“Crisis in Darfur”

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