Obama is handling Darfur

In August 2007,  At the commencement of the Dream for Darfur torch relay, Mia Farrow and an 8 year old Darfurian refugee walk into a sandstorm near the Sudan-Chad border. By the Genocide Intervention Network, used with a Creative Commons license via flickr.

In August 2007, at the commencement of the Dream for Darfur torch relay, Mia Farrow and an 8 year old Darfurian refugee walk into a sandstorm near the Sudan-Chad border. By the Genocide Intervention Network, used with a Creative Commons license via flickr. (See my comments on this photo at the end of the post!)

Visit the Save Darfur website these days and it’s hard to tell what the coalition thinks of Obama’s approach to Sudan. The news stories the site highlights on the left seem to be chosen to show the president’s inaction; the blog posts that the SDC folks author seem to cautiously praise him. Overall, I’ve sensed frustration with Obama emanating from the SDC camp — despite Obama’s appointment of Scott Gration as special envoy to Sudan, per the coalition’s request to appoint an envoy. It seems like the coalition doesn’t think he’s been bold enough.

But it looks to me like Obama’s reaction has been pretty smart. Check out Gration’s approach to engaging the Sudanese leadership. It seems that, in the wake of the ICC prosecutors’ announcement that they will try to reintroduce genocide charges against Omar al-Bashir, Gration is effectively saying that justice is a good long-term goal, but that solving problems is a more pressing one. I would think that this is a message palatable to Sudanese authorities, to the multitudes of people in Darfur who are languishing in IDP camps, and to rebel groups and factions.

Who is really not OK with Gration’s message? I’m sure there are people in Sudan who view even his mild endorsement of the ICC with suspicion, but who thinks Gration is not being aggressive enough? I’d like to know, O Blogosphere. I’d imagine it’s mostly people who don’t have to deal with the day-to-day reality of Sudan or Darfur.

(Finally, a comment on the lead photo, which I found on Creative Commons. I love it because it so aptly symbolizes a certain mentality. White activists are the caring, enlightened adults leading the African child through the continent’s impenetrable sandstorm. No wonder people get sensitive to the appearance of colonial-era intervention when it comes to groups like Save Darfur and its affiliate, the Genocide Intervention Network, which published this photo. A romanticized picture like this could have been lifted straight from the literature of a Victorian “White Man’s Burden” pamphlet. Of course, the similarity is irrelevant if the substance behind such a picture is different. Then again, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Right?)

2 thoughts on “Obama is handling Darfur

  1. “Visit the Save Darfur website these days and it’s hard to tell what the coalition thinks of Obama’s approach to Sudan.”

    Make no mistake, organizations like ENOUGH, GI Net and SDC want to criticize Obama more vocally, but they’re having trouble finding their footing in that regard because they’re all liberal organizations at heart and don’t want to attack Obama the same way they attacked Bush. They hate his Sudan policy, but they don’t want to be too vocal about it because he’s a Democrat. They’ve tried to find a way around this by attacking Gration. So they actually don’t have a problem with Gration’s message, specifically. Attacking Gration’s just a round about way of attacking their friend, Obama.

    “Who is really not OK with Gration’s message?”

    Well, the conspiracy theorists would obviously say “people who secretly want to re-colonize Africa through military intervention, that’s who!” I disagree that there’s a conspiracy, but I do think that there are some people who believe that the only sustainable peace in Sudan will be a Western-led peace. That is, they believe that any solution in which the U.S. doesn’t play a large role will be no solution at all. This could be because they don’t trust the GOS to act in good faith, because they believe the threat of military intervention is the only way to keep the GOS in check, because they’re Westerners who like to think of themselves as saviors, etc. Back when the violence in Darfur was ongoing, I definitely thought that some sort of outside intervention was necessary, like the AU, the UN, strict sanctions, the ICC, etc. However, at this point in the conflict, it seems more realistic and beneficial to do pretty much exactly what Gration’s doing, which is seeking a diplomatic solution. I fear that some activists may be reluctant to change their opinions to match the realities on the ground.

    “A romanticized picture like this could have been lifted straight from the literature of a Victorian “White Man’s Burden” pamphlet.”

    Oh snap! Now you’re breakin’ out the Kipling?! And I thought I made pretentious references. Interestingly, the photo you mention was circulated within SDC and staffers were told that it would be distributed widely. I and other people told some senior staffers that it seemed very paternalistic and that they should be very cautious with distribution. I said it was too pro-America because it looked like the statue of liberty was saving some poor, defenseless African kid. Their response was that it wasn’t patronizing Africans, but inspiring Westerners. I actually think the photo would be vastly improved if they’d just had the kid hold the torch. Then he’d look like the empowered one who’s leading the charge.

  2. Thanks for the detailed response, Deontologist. I like your second graf of answers best. It explains a little of the thinking behind the continued pressure on Obama, whose aim I really can’t glean from SDC’s materials (I don’t think they’ve put it in as straightforward terms as you have.) I don’t think a conspiracy explains much either. Motives are more complicated, and calling something a “conspiracy” is not a rigorous explanation.

    Pretentious? Never! 🙂 Seriously though I thought the White Man’s Burden reference was common currency these days! The switcheroo on the torch definitely would’ve helped matters.

    Obviously anyone reading your insights will be curious about your involvement with SDC… I wish they could be more clear in their statements of what they want these days.

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