“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. Continue reading

Context be damned: reactions against Saviors and Survivors from the R2P camp

As an eighth-grader learning about American slavery, I had a fantasy. I imagined that some elite Marines and I could outfit ourselves in the latest combat gear and travel back in time to the year 1820. Once we arrived in the heart of the slavery era, we’d storm the plantations with superior weaponry and free the slaves. Problem solved. It would be awesome, and I’d be a hero.

Of course, as I learned in later study, the abolition of one of history’s most monstrous atrocities was not such a simple matter. Dismantling slavery meant the splitting of a nation, a civil war that sacrificed 600,000 lives, and a burning of the South that – while possibly justified – entailed extreme and morally repugnant violence. And of course, war was only part of the solution. There were the complex political negotiations, the recalibration of society that, 150 years later, is still incomplete.

I kept thinking of these episodes in my education as I read Richard Just’s August 27 take-down of Mahmood Mamdani in The New Republic. The article – a review of Mamdani’s Saviors and Survivors and Gareth Evans’s The Responsibility to Protect – concludes that Mamdani’s book is a paranoid failure, but that Evans proposes a refreshing idealism (though Just finds that the R2P proponent is a little too conservative in promoting his doctrine).

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Tanzania’s huge foreign aid flow

During my daily perusing of the Save Darfur Accountability Project (a funny, irreverent and important blog that I urge you to add to your RSS feeds), I saw this graphic of the top world aid donors and recipients. SDAP’s post is intended to show that, contrary to Save Darfur’s arguments that the United States is neglecting Sudan, Washington actually gives more aid to Sudan than any country besides Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s the image, originally from visualeconomics.com:

Point well taken. But what also caught my eye is that peaceful and stable Tanzania receives, according to this graphic, more development aid than any at-peace country in the world.

Without discounting the basic lacks that lie behind the build up in aid, I have to wonder what that does to an economy and to a society. (Why do I keep having images of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “First of the Month” video, about minute 2:30, flash through my head?) I also have to wonder how much of that money goes to buy these NGO-logo-emblazoned Landcruisers tooling around Dar es Salaam and depositing people at fancy hotels for overpriced drinks.

Anyone know where I can get copies of Dead Aid and The White Man’s Burden in TZ?

Darfur debate bubbles up

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.)

Here’s the short clip of Gration’s comments.

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.

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This is not how the Prendergast/Mamdani debate went down…

I had to share this post from change.org since it refers to my Huffington Post piece.

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

Huffington Post article on Darfur Debate

[I’ll post the link-heavy version of this in a couple of days, I think. Until then, enjoy…]

Is the war in Darfur genocide? Have American activists done anything to help stop the violence? On Tuesday, John Prendergast and Mahmood Mamdani faced off to try to answer these questions.

The buzz on the Columbia campus this week was that the debate would be the Ali-versus-Foreman of intellectual match-ups.

And that’s pretty much how it happened. On Tuesday, John Prendergast, co-chair of the ENOUGH Project and a prominent advocate working with the Save Darfur Coalition, went toe-to-toe with Mahmood Mamdani, a Columbia University professor of government and anthropology who is Save Darfur’s most scathing critic. Read more…