Angelina Jolie uses the occasion of Human Rights Day and Barack Obama’s Nobel prize to remind us that Darfur is still far from resolved, despite being largely forgotten. In a Newsweek piece she argues that there is much work to be done. So far so good. But once again she characterises the conflict in stark terms that risk setting back what little progress there might have been in the recent Doha talks…
And then there is Darfur–where, since 2003, government-supported militia have left 300,000 dead and 2.7 million people internally displaced.
By portraying the conflict as a one-sided slaughter she overlooks the fact the many tribes calling themselves Arabs are victims of the war. Banditry and lawlessness are current causes of suffering. Attacks against aid workers and peacekeepers seem to be going through a surge, as the Making Sense of Darfur blog points out. At the same site, Alex de Waal has repeatedly pointed out the greatest source of violent death has been the result of crime or within and between Arab tribes. Fragmentation of armed movements, instability and tribal tensions – rather than war – are responsible for death. How can talks move forward when powerful figures such as Jolie only look at one part of the picture?
These other factors are all things that I’ve tried to explore in my forthcoming book Saving Darfur, which compares the complexity of the conflict with the simplicity of the international response.
To this end, I’d echo De Waal’s call for evidence-based peacekeeping and suggest it is also time for evidence-based advocacy on Darfur. While we are stuck with an inaccurate analysis of Darfur’s problems, we will struggle to move forward in the search for peace.