Interesting developments at Save Darfur. Robert B Lawrence, director of policy and government relations at the Save Darfur Coalition, has railed against commentators who accuse the lobby group of being stuck in the past and not helping the cause of millions of Darfuris stuck in miserable aid camps. He argues that the coalition has actually moved a long way in adapting to the unfolding crisis by developing a campaign that takes account of nuance and complexity on the ground.
This argument has held little water in the past, as the coalition stuck to misguided calls for International Criminal Court arrest warrants and pursued the deployment of peacekeepers at the expense of a negotiated peace. Such policies were the outcome of an apocolyptic analysis that bore little relation to what was happening on the ground – as I have argued in my book, Saving Darfur.
But now, could things – beyond the rhetoric – actually be changing?
I recently pointed out that members of Save Darfur had finally made it to Darfur where they found a distinct absence of genocide, or even war. Now it seems their press releases have been changed.
February 22, 2010
The Save Darfur Coalition – an alliance of more than 180 faith-based, advocacy and human rights organizations – raises public awareness about the ongoing genocide in Darfur and mobilizes a unified response to the atrocities that threaten the lives of people throughout the Darfur region.
March 18, 2010
The Save Darfur Coalition – an alliance of more than 190 faith-based, advocacy and human rights organizations – raises public awareness about the ongoing crisis in Darfur and mobilizes a unified response to promote peace throughout the Darfur region and all of Sudan
Well done Save Darfur. This is not just a question of semantics. The hysterical attitude of the Darfur movement and its apocalyptic language have pushed us towards ill-considered interventions that have done little to address the underlying causes of Darfur’s multilayered crisis. Dropping the word genocide is the first step to a more mature debate.
Debate about potential delay to Sudanese elections continues, with some opposition parties wanting the ballot postponed to ensure a fairer process. Hassan al-Turabi’s centrifugal forces, though, are a valid concern and less than perfect elections may be the best we can hope for.
But should we settle for that? One of my colleagues in Nairobi used to say it was racist to adopt a different set of standards in Africa. Why have one standard for the UK, say, and another for Sudan? It’s a fair point. The difference is that the UK is unlikely to pull itself apart if elections are postponed.
Blimey. City University is already at the centre of a row over the role of Islam on campuses, having entertained extremist clerics and been the scene of violence against Muslims. So you’d imagine that Rosie Waterhouse, head of the MA course in investigative journalism, knew what she was doing by writing a piece in the Indy urging a ban on the niqab...
I think the niqab should be banned at university. Some of my colleagues agree with me; others don’t. But the issue should be debated. Should universities be more vigilant in monitoring Islamic societies and the literature they disseminate? Some of the material contains extremist ideology, at worst promoting “jihad”, variously translated as personal struggle and holy war, at best advocating total separation from the “kufir”– non-believers or infidels – and effectively promoting religious hatred, now a criminal offence in English law.
The whole thing is incredible. Not just in a university that is already tinderbox dry. Anyone who knows anything about Islam understands that the notion of Jihad – the struggle to be a better Muslim – is central to the religion. To denounce it as extremist and one of the worst bits of the religion is not just ignorant – it’s inflammatory. Strong stuff from Waterhouse and an indication of how high feelings are running. I suspect that this row is not going away.
Here’s some stuff on Sudan and Darfur that I’ve been reading recently…
In Darfur – Winter Miller travelled to Chad with Nick Kristof and used the trip as the basis for a play. Anyone going to see it? I’d love to. Have an African play idea myself that is destined to remain forever just an idea
Terror train turns the corner at last – I’m becoming obsessed with stories about trains. Expect to see me filing plenty from Pakistan. And nice to see good news in Sudan (although it might be an election gimmick)
Hollywood Politics – a response to a review of my book, in which I am described as a “so-called intellectual”. Chuffed to bits
Feared Uganda rebel chief not in Darfur: Sudan army – it is fair to say that everyone who has weighed in on the Where’s Kony Question has an, erm, difficult relationship with the truth. I don’t know what I believe any more
Sudan electionnaire – handy guide to which party best represents you in the Sudanese elections. I come out as split between Umma Reform and Renewal, the SPLM and one other that I’ve forgotten (hat tip to Texas in Africa)
I know no-one will believe me when I say this, but I’ve never been very creative with my expenses. In fact my first ever claim, at The Press and Journal, was returned by my news editor for “letting the side down”. A swift tutorial in high teas, good dinners and elevenses followed. A new claim was submitted.
So I’m willing to pick up tips where I can. And, though the elite of Britain’s diplomatic corps may have lost a small perk, I see a new opportunity as I prepare to move to Islamabad. As The Times reported…
At the moment diplomats get a “wear and tear” allowance for crockery, glasses and cutlery that they serve at dinner and cocktail parties. This payment will go as will an outdated fee for “wasted food”. FCO officials explained that in a number of countries diplomats were given an allowance to cover food that went rotten after power cuts affecting fridges and freezers.
Jeffrey Gettleman has an interesting dispatch from Mogadishu in The New York Times about how Somalis may be turning against the Shabaab – the militant Islamist movement that controls chunks of the country
The best example of that backlash is already happening in Medina, a neighborhood a few miles from the center of Mogadishu. Just past the airport, it is a place of sandy streets and once beautiful homes now chewed up by gunfire and mold.
Shabab fighters, in their trademark green jumpsuits and checkered scarves, used to control parts of Medina. But in the last year or so the neighborhood, dominated by a single clan, banded together to drive them out.
This is exactly how Somalia’s messy, confusing politics plays out. Military victories are few and far between. Militias are generally locked in a bloody stalemate. They take and control territory by convincing clan leaders to back them. That’s how the Union of Islamic Courts came to power. And that’s how they fell from power as popular support ebbed. (Many observers believe they would have collapsed even without the Ethiopian assault.)
Understanding that is central to understanding Somalia and other failing or fragile states
Rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement in North Darfur
Despite my best efforts, there is still plenty of guff being written about Sudan and Darfur. Some is written through simple ignorance. Never has so much been written about a place by so many people who have never been there. At the same time, there are lots of campaigners who should know better. For anyone thinking about writing Darfur in the next weeks as we approach important elections, here is my simple guide to some myths and realities about the place:
- Darfur is the size of Texas or France - A far better comparison is Spain (or Turkmenistan, if you want to be really pedantic)
- The conflict in Darfur is between Muslims and Christians – It is not. They are pretty much all Muslims
- The conflict is about oil – Nope. There is no oil in Darfur
- The Arabs are the bad guys – While some Arab militias have joined the Janjaweed, most Arabs stayed out of the conflict altogether but have still wound up as victims
- The rebels are the good guys – It would be nice if they were. But Africa is full of rebels who seized power only to repeat the abuses of the regimes they replaced. In Darfur, they use child soldiers, hijack aid and have been one of the barriers to peace
- Foreign Arabs have settled in villages vacated by persecuted tribes – There are plenty of reports, but little evidence. In some cases the Arabs have been described as foreign because hundreds of years ago their ancestors arrived from other countries. But today they are Darfuris
- The Arabs are light-skinned – it is nigh-on impossible to identify many people calling themselves Arab simply by skin colour. Some come from “African tribes” and adopt the name Arab to reflect their nomadic status. All Darfuris are black and African
- President Omar al-Bashir is a crazy, genocidal monster – he is a war criminal, yes, but he has pursued a clever – and at times pragmatic – strategy to hold on to power. That is how we should deal with him
Darfur’s rebel leaders have long been indulged by Darfur activists – and indeed journalists. A stumbling block to peace, their cause has been taken up repeatedly by campaigners whose interests appear not to be peace, more a victory for the rebels. A couple of weeks ago I was invited on a radio programme to discuss Darfur. Excited producers called me to say they had an exclusive: An interview with Abdulwahid al Nur, leader of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army.
When I arrived in the studio they were less excited. He had ranted and rambled in a less than coherent fashion. He demanded this and that, and seemed to have no real interest in peace talks or any real strategy for helping Darfur.
This now from Scott Gration, US special envoy….
“He [Al-Nur] isolated himself and believe that he either does not want anything or does not know what he wants and we gave him a historical opportunity and extended many invitations to him but he has had his chance” Gration told reporters in a press conference at the US Ambassador’s residence in the Qatari capital.
There have been rumours that US money has been channelled to rivals of Abdulwahid in an effort to build up commanders who are more amenable to peace talks. Anyone know if this is true?
I don’t know why Bob Geldof got his knickers in a twist over the BBC’s report on aid to Ethiopia. Surely anyone who knows anything about Africa knows that in dealing with emergencies, aid agencies will have to deal with unsavoury characters. Today it is the UN’s World Food Programme that’s in the firing line. It would have been more of a surprise if Band Aid cash hadn’t been siphoned off by rebels. There’s been plenty more written on this here and here.
Anyway, Geldof doesn’t seem much interested in defending his charity and more interested in attacking the BBC – everyone’s favourite target these days. Sad though that he doesn’t understand how it works…
The real story of this sorry saga is the intense systemic failure of the World Service, that cherry on the cake of the BBC’s reputation. It’s a rotten old cherry these days. And I am as bereft as a jilted lover. Of all the taxes I pay, I pay only one gladly – my licence fee. I am Mr World Service.
Oh dear Bob. If you really were Mr World Service, then you’d know that the World Service is funded not by the licence fee but by a grant-in-aid from the Foreign Office.
One day I fancy I might make the transition from journalism to PR. And I know what sort of thing I’d do. It wouldn’t be an aid agency, a fluffy animal zoo or a chocolate company. That would be too easy. No, if you are going to do anything then I reckon it’s good to give yourself a bit of a challenge. I’d opt for Rio Tinto, the Burmese government or John Terry. More of an intellectual challenge to defend the, erm, defensively-challenged.
I don’t why I started thinking about this.
On other matters, an email reaches me from Marcus Courage. You remember him? He cropped up in Kenya at about the time President Mwai Kibaki was mobilising the forces of darkness to steal an election. This is how one newspaper reported the campaign…
THE controversial re-election campaign of Mwai Kibaki, the Kenyan president, was masterminded by an Old Etonian public relations consultant who previously promoted Bob Geldof’s Live 8 campaign to tackle poverty in Africa. Marcus Courage oversaw the communications team for Kibaki, whose government faces possible European Union sanctions for alleged vote-rigging.
As the article goes on to make clear, there was of course no suggesting that Courage had anything to do with the ethnic slurs bandied around by Kibaki supporters or that he benefited from cash stolen by the government. But nice to know that being associated with Kibaki’s corrupt regime hasn’t affected business. Courage is now working for the government of Gabon, offering us the views of its new president Ali Bongo Ondimba, who by coincidence assumed power on the deathof his father, the country’s former dictator, following disputed elections…
The press release tells us that President Ali Bongo Ondimba met Hillary Clinton.
Concerning Iran, President Ali Bongo Ondimba said: ‘We will work with all Security Council members. It is not for us to reassure Iran, it is for them to reassure us.’ He is expected to shed more light on his objectives for Gabon’s term as president of the Security Council in a speech to the International Peace Institute tomorrow.