I’ve been reading some interesting stuff on a mini-scandal involving a guy who was quoted in several news reports as being a spokesperson for Darfur refugees. Turns out the man, who went by the name Abu Sharati (clearly a nickname, though never noted as such in the stories), was actually probably a spokesperson for a rebel group. Read the whole discussion through these posts and their links (I’m pasting straight from my Twitter feed because I’m writing this from a net cafe): via @SBengalihttp://bit.ly/GPQOY & @robcrillyhttp://tinyurl.com/y8rhy9h.
Now, I’m truly sympathetic to the pressures that international journalists are under, their limited resources and their need to rely on sources like “Abu Sharati” because there is no time and no way to look for anyone better. In my brief foray into journalism, one thing I’ve immediately seen is that it is vastly easier to criticize media than it is to report. But the fact that this error was caught is really important. Some hedging language should have been used in the original reports. The revelation will, I hope, promote more caution in the future.
But there is a deeper issue that this discussion points to: reporting about people who will not read your work and do not pay for your stories (indirectly or directly) means there are fewer incentives for good fact-checking. There is a structural paradox at the core of international journalism, especially in Africa: our American audience’s preceived lack of proximity to the stories we produce makes it (that audience) passive about the information it receives. Continue reading →
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
Let no one say that the debate around the U.S. response to Darfur is purely an academic exercise. I have no idea if Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration has been reading Alex de Waal’s blog at the Social Science Research Council (he should be), but in the congressional hearings last week, we saw the issues haggled over and analyzed to the minutest detail on the SSRC blog start to take on the dimensions of real life consequences.
Check out the Enough blog for its painstaking chronicling of the mainstream response to Gration’s comments that Sudan’s listing as a state sponsor of terrorism is a “political decision” and that the designation of genocide may no longer be relevant. (Enough’s coverage is of course decidedly skewed against Gration. I’m pretty impressed. Until countries like Israel and Saudia Arabia — heck, even us — are listed as state sponsors of terrorism, any such designation is purely political.)
In a recent post, the Enough blog discussed a poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org that showed there is much popularity for the indictment of Omar al-Bashir among the populations of some African countries — contrary to the position of the AU, which has rejected the ICC’s move.
Maybe African leaders are “out of step” with their populaces, Enough suggested. And in another post, the group questioned the judgment of those leaders for other reasons. An excerpt:
The AU includes a fair number of leaders with a lot of blood on their hands, so it’s no surprise that they would seek to shield themselves from individual prosecution. But for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the institutionalization within the AU of impunity for the likes of Bashir, Mugabe, Deby, Meles, Issayas, Kagame, and Gaddafi is deeply troubling.
Guess I wasn’t the only one who noticed the political minefield into which a Ugandan junior minister stepped when he suggested Kampala might arrest Bashir during an upcoming visit. Read the Daily Nation article here.
An article in Uganda’s Independent yesterday suggested that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir could face arrest if he visits Kampala for the 2009 Smart Partnership Dialogue. (This happened while International Criminal Court prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was in town, so maybe it’s just lip service.) What I found interesting, though, is that a country that has beef with Sudan over matters totally unrelated to the charges agains Bashir–charges over his involvement in the Darfur conflict–might be in a position of arresting the Sudanese leader. As the article puts it rather innocently: Continue reading →
Only Alex de Waal could write such a thoughtful review of Saviors and Surivors, Mahmood Mamdani’s book about Darfur. He manages to praise Mamdani for his unparalleled critical insight, while also questioning some of the more conspiracy-theory-sounding aspects of the analysis. Take a look at “‘Save Darfur’: Emancipatory American Exceptionalism?”
This change.org post is not a very good description of the debate. It sounds like what Prendergast would’ve written had he been allowed to write a press release rather than actually debate Mamdani.
I agonized over the Huffington Post piece — I didn’t want to paint an overly critical picture of Prendergast’s performance just because I admire Mamdani’s critical thinking. And I don’t think I did a bad job — unlike other bloggers out there, I made no mention of Prendergast’s clothing, hairstyle or any other comments irrelevant to the debate. On the other hand, I also did not dwell on the people in the question-and-answer session who attacked Mamdani for a couple of reasons: (1) they seemed to be speaking with an agenda — not necessarily a bad thing, but their comments did not respond to what Mamdani had actually said and (2) in at least a couple of cases the questions were ugly personal attacks against Mamdani that he did not deserve. Speakers accused him of being a liar, a bad Muslim and basically complicit in the killings in Darfur. Whatever else you may say about him, Mamdani certainly does not deserve that kind of slander. I do not think it would have been valuable to repeat those things in my Huffington Post piece. Continue reading →