Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 15 June 2008

Darfur: Truth or Fiction?


By Anne Bartlett

June 14, 2008 — There is an insidious apathy creeping into the dialogue about Darfur. It seems as if a convenient fiction of what has happened in Darfur has become more appealing than the truth. In recent weeks we are told that prosecutions must be in the interests of the victims in the region, yet scarcely as these words have passed the lips of those concerned, a careful reframing of the facts is underway so as to excuse the Sudanese government for their morally reprehensible behavior. However, if justice is to mean something in Darfur, it must surely hit hard at the political structure of genocide; it must stop blaming victims for taking action to protect themselves and it must, above all, reference the history of the region where the motivations of the perpetrators soon start to become clear.

The evidential burden to prove genocide is indeed heavy where the ICC is concerned because it requires that links are established between the command and control structure of genocide and what is happening in the ground. This link is difficult to prove and is something that the ICC is working hard to secure. But it is a cheap shot at best to claim that Luis Moreno Ocampo is going beyond the facts in arguing that there is “an organised campaign by Sudanese officials ... to physically and mentally destroy entire communities”. It is also morally questionable to make the argument that there are no parallels to Nazi Germany in the systematic destruction of Darfur’s social fabric.

Genocide is about intent, not numbers. In Darfur, this intent has been obscured under the Sudanese government’s barrage of misinformation through the Sudanese Media Center and others; through the lack of backbone of international governments and through inadequate tribally based explanations which negate history in favor of something altogether more simple. But the intent is and has always been there. In Darfur, genocidal intent emanates from the threat to the machinery of the NCP/Islamist Cause, which has been ongoing since the early 1990’s. For a start, there is the case of Bolad and the exit of the Islamist’s most brilliant strategist to support the Southern led incursion into Darfur. There is declining purchase of the Umma Party in Darfur in the face of its absolute failure to deliver any form of development or equality to the region. There is the lack of willingness by the Fur, Zaghawa and Massaliit groups to engage in the form of militant political Islam espoused by the centre and to put up with arbitrary murder and harassment. There is the public unveiling of the government’s unequal resource allocation in the Black Book by the Seekers of Truth and Justice many of whom went on to form JEM. There is the threat that all these disgruntled forces might actually ditch their differences and fight together to get the NCP out. Add these things together and what does one get? For the NCP, Darfur is a problem and its people need to be eliminated at all cost.

What is happening on the ground in Darfur reflects a strategic decision to pursue a scorched earth policy against these “troublesome elements” before they take the problem directly to Khartoum. It really is as simple as that. Tracking - as I have over many years - the burning and looting of villages across Darfur, it is clear that there is a systematic pattern of destruction which corresponds to either important political areas (rebel strongholds), agricultural areas (which disrupt the food supply) or areas that are established migration routes. Once they are disrupted, locals find themselves interned in camps. If the systematic destruction of people, landscape ecology, habitation, political infrastructure, food supply chains and routes of escape doesn’t amount to genocidal intent, I’m not sure what does.

Much to the horror of the NCP in the last few weeks, the pre-emptive attack on Darfur did not stop the rebels taking their case to Khartoum. Finally, the nightmare came true. Yet the carnage on the streets did not emanate from Darfuri rebels, rather it occurred because of the disproportionate amount of violence directed against rebels by the Islamist machine who feared for their position. Even today, leaders from Darfur (many of whom had nothing to do with the uprising) continue to be targeted. In recent weeks for example, Ibrahim Abdalla Bagal Srage a 25 year old Darfuri student activist has been under the constant threat of arrest from the security forces. His crime? Mr Srage is the spokesperson of the Alliance of Darfur’s Students Association and ethnically belongs to Zaghawa tribe. He is not a member of JEM, was not involved in the Khartoum uprising but has been very vocal on Darfur, writing articles, public speeches and press releases protesting the situation in the region. Yet he has become a prime target for the Islamist machine because they want to use the Omdurman situation to silence dissent.

Alex de Waal and others argue that we are in a critical position vis a vis Darfur and the UNAMID deployment. He argues that Abeyi is at the point of war, with the South and North primed to resume hostilities. This, he argues, is the reason for easing off on government officials so as to keep Sudan from the edge of an abyss. But Sudan is already there. The single most important factor in all these conflicts is the NCP’s relentless greed, discrimination, brutality and pursuit of power at all costs. The fact that they renege on implementation of the CPA, the deployment of troops and have turned the screw on peripheral regions has no ideological component at all: it is simply an attempt to keep their hand in the ever-present money supply of Sudan’s resources.

It is a fallacy to think that being nice to the Government of Sudan will produce results. What is required at this point is a much tougher line, unflinching support for the ICC, the freezing of assets of those involved in nefarious behavior and a consistent unified position. The NCP are master manipulators of the truth and have no interest whatsoever in co-operating with UN/AMID, Mr. Ocampo or anyone else for that matter, unless their options are shut off. Watered down pleas to appease the NCP will, I am sorry to say, have the same result that all negotiations with bullies have: nothing. So let’s dispense with the well-crafted fiction of Darfur, and start telling the truth about what’s going on there, however inconvenient it might be for the international community or those who claim to speak for local people.

Anne Bartlett is a Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco. She is also a Director of the Darfur Centre for Human Rights and Development based in London. She may be reached at dcfhr@dcfhr.org

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  • 16 June 2008 05:28, by Sihs

    There is the lack of willingness by the Fur, Zaghawa and Massaliit groups to engage in the form of militant political Islam espoused by the centre and to put up with arbitrary murder and harassment
    to the writer:
    you better write with more integrity ,specialy when you are a scoiology professor & your readers are quite familiar with their country.
    Best of luck in your future articles

    repondre message

    • 16 June 2008 12:14, by Anne Bartlett

      Thank you for your comments.

      1)To argue that Khalil Ibrahim’s role as former minister and associate of Al-Turabi represents the views of all Darfuris is a stretch at best. I highly doubt that he represents the views of all Zaghawas, never mind all Darfuris.
      2)The fact that Darfuris were often targeted with the taunt that they were followers of Bolad illustrates the fact that the political center saw them as being against the militant political Islam of the government. It also illustrates the center’s concern that Darfur – which was once a stronghold of the Umma party – might be moving in another direction – especially after the Arab alliance.

      Anne Bartlett

      repondre message

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