Alsarah: music for the Sudanese elections

I just got tipped off to this rock-the-vote song and video by New York-based Sudanese artist Alsarah. The Sudanese elections are definitely a complicated issue. But whether, like Mia Farrow, you think that the elections are bad for the Sudanese people, or on the other hand if you think they are an important opportunity for Sudan to change from within, the excitement about the possibilities of the democratic process are palpable in this great clip featuring Oddisee.

Also, check out that link to Alsarah’s MySpace page — she’s an up-and-coming singer with a great sound whom I would be highlighting here even if she wasn’t a friend of a friend. She combines old Sudanese melodies with a contemporary, often Hip Hop feel in a way that’s part Fairouz, part Hashim Mirghani and part K’naan. Have a listen.

Hat Tip ST.

Writing about Africa: who will hold you accountable?

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 @SBengali http://bit.ly/GPQOY & @robcrilly http://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

“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).

Continue reading

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.

If the ICC’s mandate were based on popularity…

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.

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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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“Genocide-loving Arab hypocrites embrace mass murderer”

Or so we would be led to believe by the New York Times article on Omar al-Bashir’s recent visit to Qatar!

The reason for Arab states’ rejection of the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Omar al-Bashir is very simple, and should be the nut graf here, not the comparison to Gaza. I’ll try to synthesize it. Here goes:

The reason that the ICC case against al-Bashir exists is that the Security Council referred it to the court. The United States is a member of the Security Council and the lead agitator for this case. However, the United States itself has rejected participation in the ICC. This means that Washington is using a tool whose legitimacy it has rejected, to bludgeon a state it considers an enemy in the Global War on Terror. Continue reading