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When oil was discovered in the south by Chevron in 1978, Khartoum redrew the internal district boundaries farther south to capture the oil revenues. This triggered the civil war, which took on a genocidal character as Khartoum waged wholesale war

 

 

Julie Flint & Alex deWaal, Darfur: a short history of a long war. Zed Books, in association with International African Institute, 2005. 151 pages.

Gérard Prunier. Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide. Cornell University Press, 2005. 212 pages.

David Morse. The Iron Bridge (1998)

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What Can We Learn from Darfur?

Book Reviews by David Morse

 

The horror continues to unfold in Darfur, in western Sudan, while the world stands idly by. Attacks on innocent civilians continue, despite repeated promises by Sudan's central government in Khartoum to disarm the Arab militias known as Janjaweed, which it has armed and trained, and despite the signing of a peace treaty last May.

Most of Darfur's black African farming villages have been destroyed, the men killed, the women raped; cattle and household goods stolen, wells poisoned, the survivors driven from their land.

The survivors, mostly women and children who have taken refuge in desolate camps, live on the razor's edge of survival. They depend wholly on outside humanitarian aid. Supply caravans are attacked by Janjaweed, rebels, and bandits, causing humanitarian aid groups to withdraw workers. Rations have been cut to 1,000 calories per day - about half the minimum required for survival - because nations are reneging on promises of aid.

What are the seeds of this violence?

What can we do to end it?

What can we learn from Darfur?

Two books have appeared recently that focus mainly on the first of these questions. They seek to unravel the complex history of the violence. But implicitly they entertain the remaining two questions as well.

Darfur: a short history of a long war  is as compact as the title suggests, but rich with detail. Authors Alex de Waal and Julie Flint write from a wealth of personal experience. Flint is a journalist who chronicled earlier genocidal attacks by the Sudan government during the North-South civil war - on the Nuba people of central Sudan, and on tribal Africans living in the upper Nile region, where villages were burned to make way for oil exploration. Alex de Waal is an activist-writer who has been at the forefront of mobilizing African and international efforts to address famine, war, and the scourge of HIV/AIDS that afflicts much of Africa. Together and separately over a period of years, the authors have interviewed Janjaweed, rebels, aid workers, officials of the Khartoum government, and chiefs of various tribes.

De Waal and Flint take us as close as we are likely to get to an insider's view of Darfur. Many of the chapters have appeared previously as essays in The London Review of Books and elsewhere, and occasional minor redundancies betray their earlier origins. In any case, the book is highly readable, given the complexity of the situation. Darfur: a short history of a long war has the tightly framed coherence of a scene viewed through a key-hole.

Gérard Prunier's Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide is a longer and more academic book, based on extensive scholarly research. Whereas characters and images loom fairly large in the other book, Prunier takes a wider, more distanced approach - not so much a keyhole as an aerial view. He cites statistics to show how Darfur was marginalized, from the early twentieth century on - first under the Ottoman empire, then under the joint Egyptian and English colonial administration, and finally, after Sudan gained its independence from Britain in 1956, under the central government in Khartoum.

Khartoum, in the north of Sudan, is dominated by its Arab elite and, for more than two decades, by the Islamic fundamentalist movement that grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood. Its president, Omar Al Bashir, was installed in a bloodless coup in 1985.

Sudan is the largest country in Africa - less a coherent nation than a sprawling ethnic watershed, divided from its neighbors by boundaries drawn at the convenience of the Colonial powers - Egypt, Britain, and France. Khartoum, in the north of Sudan, functions less as the capital of a modern state than as a city-state exploiting its surround territories.

Prunier points out that of 23 intermediate schools operating in the Sudan in 1952, only one was in Darfur. He estimates that as little as 5-6% of investment reached Darfur, which had a third of the population.

What Flint and de Waal show by anecdote and interviews, Prunier shows by statistics and citations. To depict the encroachment of the Sahara south into former grazing lands, for instance: Prunier uses a table showing average precipitation; Flint and de Waal accomplish the same thing dramatically through an interview:

Even in his eighties, bedridden and almost blind, Sheikh Hilal Abdalla was a commanding figure. As the visitors entered his tent, he swung his tall frame upright and ordered his retainer to slaughter a sheep for dinner. He was courteous and imperious in equal measure. 'Who are you?' he demanded. 'You can't be British. All the British speak Quranic Arabic!'"

The Sheikh turns out to be the father of Musa Hilal, chief commander of the Janjaweed, recruited by the Khartoum government and under its protection, despite regional efforts to stop his predations. From the old sheikh we gather that the old ways - notably the cooperation between nomads and farmers - are disappearing,

Different as these two books are in their approach, the authors agree on most of the fundamentals. Each points out the extreme difficulty of categorizing 'Arab' and black 'African' ethnicities in a region where intermarriage has been common and where skin color in itself is not a reliable index.

To say that 'Arabs' are oppressing black 'Africans' is to over-simplify a complexly layered history. And yet none of the authors disputes the role of racism - in Khartoum's historic exploitation of its hinterlands, in the 22-year-long North-South civil war that ended last year, and in the murderous rampage now taking place in Darfur.

An extended drought led to a famine in 1984 that Khartoum did its best to ignore. The drought disrupted the traditionally tolerant relationship between semi-nomadic herders, who were mostly Baggara Arabs, and the sedentary farmers, who belonged to the black tribes - predominantly the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa. "Darfur was an ethnic mosaic," writes Prunier, "not a land divided along binary lines of fracture."

What turned this mosaic into a killing machine?

In Darfur, the initial struggle arose from desertification, and Khartoum's inability or unwillingness to mediate the conflicts - to supply aid to the drought-stricken, to broker land-sharing arrangements for farmers, and to keep open designated paths of migration for herders. Additionally, political ambitions further destabilized the situation. Lybia's Omar Kadaffi sought during the late 1980s and early 90s to create an "Arab belt" across northern Africa. Hoping to use Darfur to destabilize the government of Chad, Kadaffi armed Chadian rebels based in Darfur and fanned 'Arab' animosities against 'black' tribes.

In all these struggles - involving Lybia, Chad, and Khartoum - Darfurians were caught in the middle.

In the North-South conflict that racked Sudan for nearly two decades prior to the outbreak of genocide in Darfur, the mosaic was more binary. The struggle was polarized in terms of religion, ethnicity, and distance from the seat of power. Arab Muslims in the North were fighting blacks in the marginalized South who were Christians or followers of indigenous beliefs. The struggle was less over water than oil.

When oil was discovered in the south by Chevron in 1978, Khartoum redrew the internal district boundaries farther south to capture the oil revenues. This triggered the civil war, which took on a genocidal character as Khartoum waged wholesale war against civilians, using proxy militias and weapons purchased by the proceeds from oil, and also as the rebels split along tribal lines and began attacking civilians as well. We are seeing a reprise of this today in Darfur, which was left out of the North-South peace agreement.

Yet there is nothing simple about Darfur - from its standing as a separate Sultanate until 1916, to the use of Darfurian troops by Khartoum during the civil war. The complexity can be overwhelming. Prunier occasionally overwhelms with his blind erudition, tossing in an Arabic phrase that sends the reader scrambling for the glossary of Arabic terms at the front of the book. Flint and de Waal are more readable.

If I had to choose between the two books, I would recommend Flint and de Waal. for the casual reader, because it humanizes its subjects. It is strongest in depicting the origins of the Janjaweed, and in distinguishing between the two main rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army. It also offers a prescient look at the fault-lines within the SLA, based on personalities and tribal divisions - which helps one to understand the disunity among the rebels that came to light so painfully last May at the signing of the treaty. The book contains a thumbnail tribal map of Darfur and a chronology, both of which are useful, and an index that one hopes will be improved in future editions.

Prunier is most helpful for his marshaling of facts - concerning the widely varying estimates of the number of dead, for instance - which he puts at between 280,000 and 310,000 at the beginning of 2005. (That number has climbed, since, by perhaps 100,000 new deaths.) Scholars will appreciate his full notes, good bibliography, and somewhat better index. Equally useful, in his last two chapters Prunier addresses some profound questions - what constitutes a genocide, the impact of the word itself, and the disparity between the "raw African reality and the international community dreamworld."

In short, these books complement each other. Both went to press in mid-2005, shortly before the death of John Garang, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, in a helicopter crash, but they build a strong foundation for understanding a complex and troubling arena of conflict. For anyone who wishes to be better informed, I recommend them both.

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Julie Flint & Alex deWaal, Darfur: a short history of a long war. Zed Books, in association with International African Institute, 2005. 151 pages. $20, paperbound.

Gérard Prunier. Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide. Cornell University Press, 2005. 212 pages. $15.60, hardbound

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David Morse interviewed Sudanese refugees in South Sudan and Kenya last December, and is currently working on a book. His articles have appeared most recently in Alternet, Northeast, The San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, TomDispatch, and elsewhere Publications List.

posted 3 September 2006

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

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The Predator State: How Conservatives

Abandoned the Free Market, and Why Liberals Should Too

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Galbraith, noted economist and son of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith, offers his views on the gap between conservative ideology and its use and abuse to cover up the George W. Bush administration’s Predator State, which takes advantage of the public sector and undermines public institutions for private profit. Galbraith reports that although most academics have abandoned conservative principles such as free trade, deregulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy, politicians from both parties continue to advance policies that, in reality, have turned regulatory agencies over to business lobbies, allowed the subprime mortgage foreclosures and banking crisis, and created Medicare’s drug plan, which legislates monopoly pricing for drug companies.

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

I’m a big fan of Charles Mann’s previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. It’s exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that it’s anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, I’m proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, “globalized” entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose “southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple.”

We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sex at the Margins

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By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.

"Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."Lisa Adkins, University of London

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Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem's untimely death on African Liberation Day 2009 stunned the Pan-African world. This selection of his Pan-African postcards, written between 2003 and 2009, demonstrates the brilliant wordsmith he was, his steadfast commitment to Pan-Africanism, and his determination to speak truth to power. He was a discerning analyst of developments in the global and Pan-African world and a vociferous believer in the potential of Africa and African people; he wrote his weekly postcards for over a decade. This book demonstrates Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem's ability to express complex ideas in an engaging manner. The Pan-African philosophy on diverse but intersecting themes presented in this book offers a legacy of his political, social, and cultural thought.

Represented here are his fundamental respect for the capabilities, potential and contribution of women in transforming Africa; penetrating truths directed at African politicians and their conduct; and deliberations on the institutional progress towards African union. He reflects on culture and emphasises the commonalities of African people.

Also represented are his denunciations of international financial institutions, the G8 and NGOs in Africa, with incisive analysis of imperialism's manifestations and impact on the lives of African people, and his passion for eliminating poverty in Africa. His personality bounces off the page—one can almost hear the passion of his voice, 'Don't Agonise! Organise!'

Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem (1961-2009) was a Rhodes scholar and obtained his D. Phil in Politics from Oxford University. In 1990 he became Coordinator of the Africa Research and Information Bureau and the founding editor of Africa World Review. He co-founded and led Justice Africa's work, becoming its Executive Director in 2004, and combined this with his role as General Secretary of the Pan-African Movement. He was chair of the Centre for Democracy and Development and of the Pan-African Development Education and Advocacy Programme in Uganda and became the UN Millennium Development Campaign's Deputy Director in 2006.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Related files:   Lost Boys in Southern Sudan .  Blood, Ink, and Oil    What Can We Learn from Darfur?  Clinton and Obama on Darfur  /  Can Georgia Do Right?