First Published 2009-10-29
'Conditions on the ground have changed'
Have US activists actually helped Darfur?
Analyst sees actions of US Save Darfur movement have had negative effect on people of Darfur.
NEW YORK - After months of deliberation, the Obama administration unveiled a new strategy for Sudan last week.
The White House plans to offer the Sudanese government a mix of incentives and pressure to urge Khartoum to end the crisis in Darfur and implement the 2005 peace deal between the north and the south.
"The US policy, I think, is first and foremost an acknowledgement that conditions on the ground have changed. It’s as Hillary Clinton said in her speech, the level of mortality in Darfur declined dramatically after 2005," professor Mahmood Mamdani from Columbia University, and author of Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror, told Democracy Now!.
"Second, it’s an acknowledgement that the US needs an integrated Sudan policy, not a separate policy for Darfur and a separate policy for the south of Sudan," he added.
The new policy appears to be a shift in how President Obama regarded the crisis during his election campaign.
Obama then "was responding to the domestic constituency in the US, particularly the Save Darfur movement," said Mamdani.
But "Obama now is responding to the situation in Sudan and to the realization that the ideological nature of Save Darfur demands has made for an extremely inflexible US response to Sudan," he added.
However, there is also a split in the Obama administration: on the one hand, Major General Scott Gration, Obama's envoy to Sudan; on the other hand, Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN.
"Susan Rice has been very closely related to the Save Darfur movement...The State Department has been hugely skeptical of the claims of Save Darfur movement," noted Mamdani.
There is also a deep division between activists who are much more central to the evangelical lobby, which is attuned to the South, and those organized mainly in relation to Darfur.
"The evangelical lobby is also worried that Sudan policy has been driven too much by a Darfur orientation," said Mamdani.
In addition, the Save Darfur movement has had a negative effect on the people of Darfur.
"The point of view of Save Darfur is that anybody who tries to explain the context of the violence in Darfur and to direct attention from atrocities to the issues that have been fueling the violence is doing nothing but apologizing for the violence," said Mamdani.
"My own point of view is that if you are interested in stopping the cycle of violence, you have no choice but to look at the issues that feed that violence. A focus exclusively on the atrocities is like creating and catering to a pornography of violence, which is what Save Darfur has been doing," he added.
"Save Darfur has no interest in teach-in. It has no interest in education, nor in educators. Its interest is in Hollywood celebrities. Its interest is in name recognition. Its interest is not even in the university students, less and less now, much more so in high school students, explained Mamdani.
"I call them America’s counterparts of the child soldiers of Africa: children led into causes without understanding them. I think there has to be a certain degree of critical focus on Save Darfur-type movements, that they do not really strengthen democracy, they weaken it," he added.
But despite official American rhetoric, US governments have had steady relations with Sudan on the war on terror."Relations between the two intelligence services have been strong," said Mamdani.