“Confession” from Darfur group: violence was exaggerated

Al Jazeera English reported a few days ago that “a group of former Sudanese activists” had called a press conference to admit that they had exaggerated their claims of deaths and violence in the Darfur war.

A group of former Sudanese activists says some of the figures of those reported dead and displaced in the conflict in Sudan’s western Darfur region were exaggerated. The former Darfur rebel activists told Al Jazeera that they increased tolls and gave false evidence during investigations conducted by delegates from foreign organisations into the conflict.

“We used to exaggerate the numbers of murders and rapes,” Salah al Din Mansour, a former translator with World NGOs in Darfur, said

“Darfur groups ‘padded’ death tolls, Al Jazeera English, September 10, 2009

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have frequently criticized the distortions of the Save Darfur Coalition, which has sloppily exaggerated or misconstrued the scope, causes and duration of the conflict, not to mention advocating a military solution that I disagree with.

However, this “confession” by an obscure group of Darfurians looks really suspicious to me. It far too neatly conforms to the Sudanese government’s line on Darfur, as well as its death estimates, which are as vastly underestimated as SDC’s are inflated.

It all points to the degree to which hyperbole, political grandstanding*, egos**, power-hungry rebel and government factions (all of whom have shown a stunning lack of concern for the welfare of displaced people) have turned the Darfur dialogue into a big mess. Fanatical positions have drowned out voices of reason, the peace process hardly seems to be any more on track than it was three years ago, and activists won’t give President Obama’s envoy to Sudan, former Major General Scott Gration, the space to do the work he needs to do. Meanwhile millions of refugees are languishing. I’m not convinced at all that the Save Darfur movement’s good effect (which is that everyone knows about Darfur) has outweighed its ill ones.

Anyway, if anyone has any more insight into this group of confessing former activists (am I right that it looks very stage managed? who are they?), I would love to hear them.

*John Lewis is an American civil rights luminary whom I greatly respect. However, this particular act of civil disobedience struck me as the perfect example of how Save Darfur has become a platform for hollow gestures. The mushy objectives of the protest included urging President Bashir to let aid groups back into Darfur (he kicked them out after the ICC issued his arrest warrant, another boondoggle). But two weeks before the protest, Gration had already secured a commitment from the Sudanese government to allow aid back into Darfur.

**There are a few bloggers and activists I could think of linking to here, but I am trying not to personalize this debate. However, take a look at the earnestness and self-appointed-savior postures of some of the people who have taken up Darfur as a cause, and I think you’ll feel, as I have, that this is often more about narcissism than it is about the refugees. That wouldn’t necessarily discount the cause that someone stood for, but combined with the inaccuracies and the fact that U.S. political figures have adopted “Save Darfur” as a formless slogan, it makes for an unflattering picture of SDC.

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