Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Intervention in Sudan?

From an article on the conflict in Sudan by Christopher Lord:

"'Fears are rising that if American evangelicals continue to focus exclusively on the religious dimensions of the Sudanese war, there could be a backlash from Islamic fundamentalists, thus intensifying the conflict,' wrote Matthias Muindi of Africa News in May 2001. 'Analysts, mainstream Church officials, and aid workers are worried that the stance taken by the Christian Right might jeopardize relief operations and precipitate a humanitarian crisis in Sudan.'

This is a pretty good description of what's happened over the last three years."

It's no big surprise that the evangelicals would make things worse by imposing their view of the world on another people. There is good reason to believe that their campaign to free slaves in Africa by buying their freedom has created whatever slave trade exists in Africa.

Lord goes on:

"The Janjaweed talk of jihad and racial superiority. This kind of talk has helped give rise to oversimplification number three among foreign observers: that it is all about a racial division.

Take a look at pictures of the Janjaweed, and you will see that in large part they are as black as the 'blacks' they're murdering. 'Arab' in Sudan is mainly a cultural identity, meaning 'Arabic-speaking.' With as many as 134 languages and 497 ethnic sub-groups catalogued in the country, there is a wide spectrum of ethnic identities available, including many Arabized groups that only recently switched from a traditional language to Arabic. In America, the idea that the population is neatly divided into two racial groups - blacks and Arabs - has taken root in people's minds. It's a useful and easy distinction - but it's not true."

Again, the problem is caused by Americans imposing an American view based on American experience to a different context. American evangelicals have successfully managed to have the U. S. government label the conflict as 'genocide', a very misleading term in the circumstances.

Here is the best part of Lord's excellent article:

"The root cause of the Darfur conflict is actually ecological, with prolonged droughts and rapid desertification driving poor pastoral 'Arabs' to take over the lands of even poorer settled 'black' farmers. With extensive damage to the ecology throughout the region, what we see as ethnic conflict is really resource conflict at root, with religion even further down the list of factors.

Khartoum has denounced the Janjaweed in public, with President Omer al-Bashir calling them 'thieves and gangsters.' A few unlucky recruits have been sentenced to amputations for theft and some have even been threatened with crucifixion, but this month Human Rights Watch published documents proving that it is Khartoum that has raised, armed and directed them all along.

It's a pattern seen elsewhere in Sudan in recent years. Rich merchants in Khartoum - often retired generals or civil servants - pay desperate nomads in the interior to do their dirty work. They pretend that the motives are Arab solidarity, religious fervor or vengeance for historical wrongs. Once the land has been cleared, the paid thugs are amazed to discover that the new owners are their military patrons - and that they are still poor."

Same old, same old. The rich stir up ethnic or religious passions to manipulate the poor to attack each other for the benefit of the rich. This is the same thing the Republicans have managed to do so well in the United States. For the connections between ecology and conflict generally, see the work of Thomas Homer-Dixon (see here and here), and for ecology and Sudan, see here.

So what is to be done? Some are gung-ho to send in the western calvary to rescue the poor victims of Sudan (see here and here and here and here). Other are afraid that foreign intervention is just another ruse for western colonialism. In particular, many see this as some kind of western oil grab, and possibly part of an oil fight between Chinese and Anglo-American interests.

Frankly, if westerners with even the worst thieving motives were able to save the lives of the people of Darfur, I'd be fully in favor of sending them in. But this won't be a force consisting of troops from Norway and New Zealand. No, it will be the Gruesome Twosome yet again, the Americans and the British. After the disasters of Kosovo, Afghanistan, Haiti and particularly Iraq, can anyone hold any hope that these monsters will make anyone's life any better? Lessons of recent history tell us that a few local rich opportunists will do very well, a lot of people will be killed, most of them innocent civilians, and everyone else will end up much worse off. There will be a few photo ops of smiling locals with American troops, but once the strategic assets are secured, the suffering masses will be abandoned to the same suffering. I have no theoretical problem with a proper international force intervening to stop acute cases of suffering or violence, but I think we can be certain that the kind of intervention that Sudan will actually get will make things much worse.


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