It’s a couple of years since I left Nairobi. I spent five years living there and travelling around east Africa. And this past week I’ve watched (for the umpteenth time) Pole to Pole, Michael Palin’s trip from north to south, taking him through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania filmed in 1991 which made me a little homesick for the place.
At that time no-one had heard of Darfur. But everyone knew about the civil war in the south. Palin’s trip almost comes off the rails when Khartoum says his route is too dangerous, forcing a detour east into Ethiopia.
That was all 20 years ago. But one of the many things that made me smile (in a sort of weary way) was Palin reading from his guide book’s description on Sudan. I forget exactly how it went, but it was something along the lines of: “Sudan is a land ravaged by drought, famine and civil war.”
That description could pretty much have been written at any time in the 40 years before Palin’s visit or the 20 years since.
His trip through Ethiopia is similarly fascinating. There, the hated Mengistu had just been toppled yet Palin is baffled by the way that most Ethiopians are far from jubilant, perhaps sensing that the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front may not quite be the answer to everyone’s prayers.
What’s my point? I don’t know really. But it was fascinating to watch a travelogue of a place that I came to know later, which was still going through violent upheaval two decades later. Back then such wars tended to go on unnoticed and untweeted.
Darfur, I suspect, may be the first of a new kind of war, one that followed our disastrous failure in Rwanda. Now we feel a responsibility to try to prevent crimes against humanity in the rest of the world – whether it be campus marches, warplanes over Benghazi or checking the sourcing of mobile phone components.
But as I came to find out there is a big difference between feeling a moral duty to help, and actually making a difference on the ground. That debate – about how best to help – is at the heart of my book, Saving Darfur. And all of this rambling is essentially to say that it is now available for kindle. You can read a bit more about it here and here.