the Disillusioned kid: Save Darfur from Safe Darfur?
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Friday, June 08, 2007

Save Darfur from Safe Darfur?

Apparently the Save Darfur Coalition, a US-based coalition campaigning against Sudanese atrocities in the region, is having some internal difficulties (via), following its decision to call for a more aggressive response by the US. This hasn't gone down well with aid agencies on the ground, whose views the Coalition claimed to represent, necessitating a reshuffle of the organisation's top people:
Sam Worthington, the president and chief executive of InterAction, a coalition of aid groups, complained to Mr. Rubenstein by e-mail that Save Darfur’s advertising was confusing the public and damaging the relief effort.

“I am deeply concerned by the inability of Save Darfur to be informed by the realities on the ground and to understand the consequences of your proposed actions,” Mr. Worthington wrote.

He noted that contrary to assertions in its initial ads, Save Darfur did not represent any of the organizations working in Darfur, and he accused it of “misstating facts.” He said its endorsement of plans that included a no-flight zone and the use of multilateral forces “could easily result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of individuals.”

Another aid group, Action Against Hunger, said in a statement last week that a forced intervention by United Nations troops without the approval of the Sudanese government “could have disastrous consequences that risk triggering a further escalation of violence while jeopardizing the provision of vital humanitarian assistance to millions of people.”

Aid groups also complain that Save Darfur, whose budget last year was $15 million, does not spend that money on aid for the long-suffering citizens of the region.
To be sure, the views of aid agencies should not be accepted unquestioningly, but they can hardly be dismissed out of hand by anybody who claims to be genuinely interested in the wellbeing of Darfurians.

There are in any case any number of problems which military intervention raises. Bear in mind that Darfur is usually described as being about the same size as France. Those of you with good memories may recall that prior to the 2003 invasion Iraq was often described in similar terms. Long story short: Darfur's the same size as France (more or less) and it hardly needs me to point out how problematic military intervention there (led by a 150,000 US troops) has been. Even a more subtle approach like a no-fly-zone while superficially attractive isn't without difficulties: "Aid groups and even some activists say banning flights could do more harm than good, because it could stop aid flights. Many aid groups fly white airplanes and helicopters that may look similar to those used by the Sudanese government, putting their workers at risk in a no-flight zone."

The situation in Darfur is unquestionably bleak. Although I remain unconvinced that it fulfills the requirements of the Genocide Convention 1948 which would render it "genocide" in international law, the fact that hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions displaced is indisputable. I follow Alex de Waal in understanding the conflict as a particularly brutal counterinsurgency campaign, begun in response to the emergence of armed resistance groups amongst the population of Darfur. This doesn't make the Sudanese response anymore justifiable, far from it, but it does go someway towards correcting the usual liberal view which seems to assume that Darfurians as helpless, merely waiting around to be either killed or rescued by western benevolence.

This perspective also raises the possibility of an alternative response to Khartoum, namely the possibility that we do what we can to support those groups in the region actively resisting the Sudanese government and the Janjiweed. I don't want to pretend this is a straight-forward matter given the divided nature of the resistance (one SLA splinter group ironically operates under the name SLA-Unity), to say nothing of the Justice and Equality Movement's roots in the Islamist faction of the Sudanese government (they fell out with the militarists in 1999), but it is telling that this possibility is so rarely raised.

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