Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Darfur, Politics and The War on Terror by Mahmood Mamdani
On July 14, 2008, after much advance publicity and fanfare, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) applied for a warrant for the arrest of the president of Sudan, Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir, on charges that included conspiracy to commit genocide along with other war crimes. The application charges al-Bashir with (a) racially polarizing Darfur into "Arab" and "Zurga" or "Black", (b) turning the 2003-5 counterinsurgency into a pretext to expel "Zurga" ethnic groups from their dars (homelands), and (c) subjecting survivors to "slow death" from malnutrition, rape and torture in their IDP (internally displaced persons) camps.
None of these allegations can bear historical scrutiny...
In the prosecutors mono-causal and one-dimensional version of history, colonialism turns into a benign "tradition" and any attempt to reform the colonial legacy of tribal homelands is seen as a dress rehearsal building up to genocide, just as any part of the historical record that suggests that the violence in Darfur has multiple causes (the 1987-89 inter-tribal civil war, the environmental crisis, the Chadian civil war, and the "war crimes" attributed to rebel groups by the UN Commission on Darfur) and thus multiple responsibilities, is expunged from the record. Having assumed a single cause of excess deaths in Darfur- violence- the application goes on to ascribe responsibility to a single source: "what happened in Darfur is a consequence of Bashir's will." This is demonization masquerading as justice.
The kernel of truth in the prosecutor's application concerns the period of 2003-4, when Darfur was the site of mass deaths. There is no doubt that the perpetrators of this violence should be held accountable, but when and how is a political decision that cannot belong to the ICC prosecutor. More than the innocence or guilt of the president of Sudan, it is the relationship between law and politics- including the politicalization of the ICC- that poses a wider issue, one of greatest concern to African governments and peoples...
The year 2003 saw the unfolding of two very different armed conflicts. One was in Iraq, and it grew out of war and invasion. The other was in Darfur, Sudan, and it grew in response to an internal insurgency. The former involved a liberation war against a foreign occupation, the latter a civil war in an independent state. True, if you were an Iraqi or a Dafuri, there was little difference between the brutality of the violence unleashed in either instance. Yet much energy has been invested in the question of how to define the brutality in each case: whether as counterinsurgency or as genocide.
Here we see the astonishing spectacle of the United States, which has authored the violence in Iraq, branding an adversary state, Sudan, which has authored the violence in Darfur, as the perpetrator of genocide. Even more astonishing, we have a citizens' movement in America calling for a humanitarian intervention in Darfur while keeping mum about the violence in Iraq. And yet, as we have already seen, the figures for the total numbers of excess deaths are far higher for Iraq than for Darfur. The numbers of violent deaths as a proportion of excess mortality are also higher in Iraq than in Darfur.