African tragedies, observed Ugandan scholar and Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani in a March 20 presentation at Howard University, usually occur in the dead of night, outside the sight, concern or hearing of the Western public. The exception to this, he noted, has been Darfur. No armchair observer, Mamdani has traveled and worked extensively in Darfur as a consultant to the African Union in its attempts to peacefully resolve the conflict there.
Mamdani called Save Darfur ‘the most successful piece of single issue organizing since the Vietnam era antiwar movement, really more successful than the antiwar movement.’ But Save Darfur, with slogans like ‘boots on the ground,’ ‘out of Iraq, into Darfur’ and persistent demands for the creation of ‘no fly zones’ is far from being an antiwar movement.
As Black Agenda Report (BAR) pointed in a 2007 article, ‘Ten Reasons Why ‘Save Darfur’ is a PR Scam to Justify the Next US Oil and Resource Wars in Africa,’ Save Darfur is no grassroots movement either.
The backers and founders of the ‘Save Darfur’ movement are the well-connected and well-funded U.S. foreign policy elite. According to a copyrighted Washington Post story this summer,
The ‘Save Darfur (Coalition) was created in 2005 by two groups concerned about genocide in the African country — the American Jewish World Service and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum…
The coalition has a staff of 30 with expertise in policy and public relations. Its budget was about $15 million in the most recent fiscal year…
‘Save Darfur will not say exactly how much it has spent on its ads, which this week have attempted to shame China, host of the 2008 Olympics, into easing its support for Sudan. But a coalition spokeswoman said the amount is in the millions of dollars.’
Though the ‘Save Darfur’ PR campaign employs viral marketing techniques, reaching out to college students, even to black bloggers, it is not a grassroots affair, as were the movement against apartheid and in support of African liberation movements in South Africa, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique a generation ago. Top heavy with evangelical Christians who preach the coming war for the end of the world, and with elements known for their uncritical support of Israeli rejectionism in the Middle East, the Save Darfur movement is clearly an establishment affair, a propaganda campaign that spends millions of dollars each month to manufacture consent for US military intervention in Africa under the cloak of stopping or preventing genocide.
None of the funds raised by the ‘Save Darfur Coalition’, the flagship of the ‘Save Darfur Movement’ go to help needy Africans on the ground in Darfur, according to 2008 stories in both the Washington Post and the New York Times.
The Appeal of Save Darfur to US Audiences
Mamdani explained the unique appeal of the Save Darfur Movement to US audiences by noting that unlike US responsibility for the one million Iraqi dead over the last six years, the Save Darfur Movement does not demand that we understand Darfur’s history, ethnography, or the complexities of the current conflict there, or acknowledge any culpability of our own. Unlike the killings in Iraq, Save Darfur does not demand that Americans respond as citizens, with a need to account for responsibilities and actions, but merely as human beings with a need to feel powerful and justified. Save Darfur, Mamdani argued, has de-historicized and de-politicized the conflict for its American audience, presenting them with a simple morality play in which they can be the heroes.
Everybody wants to be a hero. Nobody wants to be a citizen.
And what could be more heroically self-justifying and self-affirming than intervening on the side of the angels in the picture of straight-up racial conflict presented to us by the Save Darfur Movement? The trouble is, it’s an utterly false picture. The historic and present uses and definitions of race in America are not nearly the same as those in Africa. Most of Darfur’s janjaweed who committed atrocities against civilians in Darfur are as black as those they murdered, and just as indigenous. The prosecutors at the International Criminal Court who recently indicted the Sudanese president are accountable only to the wealthy nations of the UN Security Council, not to anybody on the African continent. And the casualty figures thrown out by Save Darfur are wildly inflated.
Darfuri Casualties Inflated by Save Darfur and US Authorities
Professor Mamdani noted that in response to a request from members of Congress, GAO, the independent US government agency whose job it is to monitor the accuracy of information disseminated by other organs of government assessed the widely varying casualty figures coming out of Darfur in 2006. 2004-2006 was the time when the atrocities in Darfur were at their height. They took the low-end figures of 50 to 70 thousand dead, which came from the World Health Organization, and the much higher ones of 200 to 400 thousand coming from people affiliated with Save Darfur, and submitted them to the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists told GAO that the lower figures were more accurate, and those were used in its 2006 assessment of the Darfur situation.
The State Department however, produced reports with two different sets of casualty figures, low numbers for the use of its policymakers, and the higher ones produced by Save Darfur and its allies for public consumption.
To this day, Mamdani contended, the US public is being fed grossly inflated on Darfuri casualties. He recounted a briefing he attended where the commander of the African Union’s forces reported 1,500 deaths in Darfur in all of 2008, as many as Save Darfur and the US government claim are dying every month.
Comparing Darfur and the Congo, Fake vs Real Genocides
Nobody disputes that there is a bipartisan military industrial complex in the US, which creates the ‘facts’ it requires to justify interventions around the world. The Save Darfur coalition, comprising as it does figures who trace their activism to the Freedom Movement like Congressman John Lewis, along with the compatriots of the late Jerry Falwell, would not hold on any other issue under the sun. It is a creation of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, which urgently needs ‘humanitarian’ cover for its imperial ambitions to control Africa’s oil and other resources.
The blatant hypocrisy of the Save Darfur Movement is most evident when one compares the manufactured concern over 50 to 70 thousand dead in Darfur to the ink and air devoted to five million dead in neighboring Congo. But using professor Mamdani’s yardstick, it’s not hard to understand. Intervening in Darfur makes us heroes. But in the Congo, proxies of the US and the West have been instigated the invasion and depopulation and plundering of the whole of Eastern Congo. There is a lake of oil beneath Sudan, much of it in Darfur. But the Chinese are pumping that oil, not Chevron or BP or Exxon.
To return to our own 2007 article on the Save Darfur movement’
The selective and cynical application of the term ‘genocide’ to Sudan, rather than to the Congo where ten to twenty times as many Africans have been murdered reveals the depth of hypocrisy around the ‘Save Darfur’ movement. In the Congo, where local gangsters, mercenaries and warlords along with invading armies from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola engage in slaughter, mass rape and regional depopulation on a scale that dwarfs anything happening in Sudan, all the players eagerly compete to guarantee that the extraction of vital coltan for Western computers and cell phones, the export of uranium for Western reactors and nukes, along with diamonds, gold, copper, timber and other Congolese resources continue undisturbed.
Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young and George H.W. Bush both serve on the board of Barrcik Gold, one of the largest and most active mining concerns in war-torn Congo. Evidently, with profits from the brutal extraction of Congolese wealth flowing to the West, there can be no Congolese ‘genocide’ worth noting, much less interfering with. For their purposes, U.S. strategic planners may regard their Congolese model as the ideal means of capturing African wealth at minimal cost without the bother of official U.S. boots on the ground.
Responding to the very real genocide in the Congo would require ordinary Americans to think like citizens rather then heroic self-affirmers. But that’s a hard sell.
We can only hope that the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other members of Congress who last month lent their credibility to the Save Darfur people can get over their self affirming ‘heroism’ and begin to meet Dr. Mamdani’s challenge: to act like citizens and the leaders of citizens, to do the homework, to help others do the homework and to face up to our responsibilities for real genocide in the Congo, and prolonging the war in Sudan. It’s not too late.