“Genocide by force of habit”
We highly recommend Alex de Waal’s essay on Darfur in the London Review of Books. de Waal has been in contact with Darfur since the seventies. The piece is full of heartbreaking contrasts. For instance, de Waal presents a Bowles-like picture of meeting one of the leaders of a nomadic group in Darfur, the Jalul, a nazir, Sheikh Hilal Musa, in 1985.
“I met the elderly nazir, Sheikh Hilal Musa, in 1985. His tent was hung with the paraphernalia of a lifetime's nomadism - water jars, saddles, spears, swords, leather bags and an old rifle. He invited me to sit opposite him on a fine Persian rug, summoned his retainer to serve sweet tea on a silver platter, and told me the world was coming to an end. At that time, Darfur was gripped by drought and disturbing changes were afoot. The Saharan winds were blowing sand onto fertile hillsides, and when it rained the water was cutting gullies through the rich alluvial soil along the wadi. Worse, the villagers who had always played host to camel nomads were now barring their migrations, and stopping them from using pastures and wells.”
It comes as a shock to read that this man’s son is Musa Hilal, the leader of the Janjawiid, the militia group used by Khartoum to massacre the Fur. Among other interesting things that go against the grain of the CV in the West and my expectations as a reader, de Waal writes about the spiritual founder of the current Islamicist regime, Hassan al-Turabi (who is now languishing in prison for disturbing the Bashir government with a little too much fervor) that he “broadened the agenda and constituency of the Islamist movement. For example, he insisted that women had rights in Islam, and today more than half of the undergraduates at Khartoum University are women. He also recognised the authenticity of western Sudanese and West African Islam, thus embracing the traditions exemplified by the early 19th-century Fulani jihads and the wandering Sufi scholars of the Maghreb.”
De Waal has found himself in the predicament, so flattering to the vanity of the expert, and so indicative of the disaster that has befallen his particular field of expertise, of appearing in all the papers and magazines that give us the instant wisdom about Sudan. He wrote a book about a previous famine in Darfur. However, one must also admit there is something tired about de Waal’s vision – it is as if he had fatalistically accepted the fact that other nations will simply talk themselves through the Darfur famine/massacre. They will neither prevent the burning, looting, raping and mass murder, nor satisfactorily alleviate the deaths from hunger, dehydration, and various ensuing diseases. Ghost after ghost will burn.
LI has been in correspondence about Sudan with a conservative friend, who thinks it is all the French. This is a weird idea, stemming from the misconception that the French have a large, vital economic stake in Sudan’s oil fields. In actuality, Total/Elf’s stake, although large in acreage, is actually a dead loss to the company, since the stake hasn’t produced for some twenty years.
Beyond the French, this friend’s challenge to LI has been, what would you do? And LI’s answer is that if we had the power, we would like to see some no-fly cordon thrown over Darfur like the cordon that was thrown over Northern Iraq in the early nineties. Apparently, the Janjawiid, use helicopters to make their raids. Apparently, those helicopters are supplied by the Russians and the Chinese. These, we think, should be knocked down. Similarly, convoys or encampments of Janjawiid should be dispersed.
There are a lot of problems with our “solution.” The first one is – a man can’t glance in the papers once every decade, read about a distant battle between unknown forces on a terrain he has never seen, and pluck his solutions from the air. My solution is one endorsed by many visiting experts and op ed handjob artists. But they are not, themselves, going to suffer if it fails. Here are some problems I foresee: its potential for inciting the Sudanese government to once again go psycho; or, alternatively, creating a zone in which the Fur people feel comfortable enough to massacre the Arabs.
This is what de Waal writes: “The best, and perhaps the only, means of disarmament is that employed by the British seventy-five years ago: establish a working local administration, regulate the ownership of arms, and gradually isolate the outlaws and brigands who refuse to conform. It took a decade then, and it won't be any faster today. Not only are there more weapons now, but the political polarities are much sharper.”
Samantha Powers, who has another view, is interviewed by Liberation and has this to say:
And what to do if Khartoum refuses to bend?
Build a diplomatic coalition to pressure the government, which brilliantly exploits the least division in the occidental camp. And encourage the deployment of a international standing for composed of African contingents in order to avoid Sudan playing the card of the Occident against the Moslems. The West’s essential role would consist of the delivery of these troops.