Thursday, August 05, 2004

Darfur: damned if you do, damned if you don't [essay]

Earlier, I condemned the UN Security Council's decision to remove the mere threat of sanctions against the Sudanese regime of Gen. Omar al Bashir if they failed to stop helping the genocide in their eastern region of Darfur. The resolution would've imposed sanctions only after giving Khartoum a full month to act. A full month to act on the promises they made a full month before that to visiting UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

It's hardly surprising that the tighly controlled media in Sudan was able to whip up nationalistic fervor. State TV urged people to come out to a demonstration to protest against western intervention in Darfur. Despite the fact that the resolution that was approved didn't even threaten sanctions, let alone military intervention.

Yet even a letter writer to the BBC World Service's Focus on Africa program, a Ghanaian living in Nigeria, found the modest expression of concern by the Security Council to be too much. He writes:

I am not happy with the Security Council's decision to 'sanction' the Sudanese government if it fails to act 'quickly' within 30 days.

Sanction!Sanction!!Sanction!!! Why economic sanctions? This is not the way out, it is a hasty and unwise decision.

The people are hungry, and sanctions will make everything so much worse.

This is a classic example of how, when it comes to Africa, the west is damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. The US was widely criticized for NOT intervening in the Liberian conflict last year, despite being begged to do so both by the former Liberian dictator and indicted war criminal Charles Taylor AND by the rebels.

Many Africans were furious at what they saw as a double standard: invading Iraq allegedly to "liberate" Iraqis from the nightmare of Saddam Hussein, but refusing to intervene in Liberia, at a tiny fraction of committment, in a place where they were invited by all sides. Yet when the US was pushing a more modest course of action in Sudan, sanctions, it's too much. Even amongst ordinary citizens in sub-Saharan Africa.

I understand why the apologists-for-autocrats crowd in Africa loves Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. But why the affection for the Sudanese dictatorship that has not only supported genocidal militias killing black Africans, but countenanced Arab slavery of black Africans in the south of the country. Maybe it's less about Mugabe and Bashir and more about George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Maybe

Maybe the African intelligentsia is so blinded by their reflexive hatred of anything done by London or Washington (or Paris), that they'll tolerate horrific atrocities. I guess massacres of black Africans are ok so long as the US or British governments aren't involved.


At 8:06 AM, Blogger Steve said...

How sure are you that the Focus on Africa caller is typical of opinion in sub-saharan Africa?

I agree with you 100% about African attitudes to US double-standards over Iraq/Liberia, but I can not believe that the 'African intelligentsia' as you call them are against sanctions in Sudan. Here in West Africa, black Africans have suffered prejudice from Arabs right through history, even if they have not yet seen violence on the scale of Dafur. Those I have spoken to are sympathetic to the plight of black Africans in Sudan, and want the international community to do anything it can to disarm the militia and improve security in Dafur.

Damned if we don't but not necessarily damned if we do.

At 12:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could someone please fact-check this article?


At 5:49 PM, Blogger Brian said...

"How sure are you that the Focus on Africa caller is typical of opinion in sub-saharan Africa?"

Steve, having lived in the Africa and reading a diverse selection of the African press, I do know that this caller's sentiments are not some tiny fringe.

Furthermore, I did not suggest that the African intelligentsia is against sanctions in Sudan. I suggested that they'd be against western military intervention in Sudan.

Let's face it, there is a reflexive suspicion in much of sub-Saharan Africa about anything the US, Britain and France does. Frankly, such suspicions are not entirely unreasonable, considering the history of those powers' relations with and actions in African countries. I just think the suspicion is so reflexive that it ends up being counterproductive in situations like this.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger Abiola said...


Your cynicism in this case is justified, though I'll also hasten to mention that it's important to keep in mind that public opinion amongst African intellectuals isn't any more homogenous than it tends to be with their counterparts in the West.

Having said that, it still is true that many people are willing to blame the West both when it acts and when it doesn't, and the reason for this is straightforward enough: it's always easier to lay all of one's misfortunes at the door of some foreign power than it is to ponder whether one's own failings might have something to do with it all. In that respect, these "intellectuals" are no different from their peers in the Arab world who see the hand of Israel behind every setback or calamity that befalls them.

Of course, it doesn't help that there are also more than a few intellectuals *within* the West itself who seem to hate their countries so much that they're willing to uncritically buy into this sort of b*llsh*t, thereby empowering intellectual irresponsibility amongst the Third World intelligentsia. Just think how powerful a confirmation it must be for some "The West is always at fault" type to be able to say "See, even their own opinion makers agree with me!"


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