For the past three years, the armed conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan has provided a pretext for U.S. and European imperialist intervention in the oil-rich African country. As always, this intervention is hidden behind lofty ideals of “democracy” and “humanitarianism.”
Sudanese women demonstrate against U.S. intervention in the Darfur region, Khartoum, Sudan, March 7, 2006.
Photo: Reuters/Mohammed Nureldin
The conflict has its roots in who will control local water resources as well as representation in the national government. But the Bush administration has portrayed the conflict as a kind of racial “genocide.” According to the imperialist propaganda, pro-government “Arab” militias are terrorizing unarmed “Black” civilians.
For anyone who has studied the history of U.S. or other imperialist interventions, such humanitarian concern on the part of a government that is occupying Iraq, funding Israeli repression of Palestinians and backing reactionary terror around the world should provoke a moment’s reflection. How did the racist Bush administration become a champion for the lives of Africans?
Behind the imperialist campaign for United Nations troops in Darfur is the anti-imperialist orientation of the Sudanese government, led by President Omar al-Bashir. Bashir has denounced the U.S. war and occupation in Iraq and championed the cause of the Palestinian people. His government has strengthened economic ties to China.
All of this is hidden in the propaganda campaign against Bashir and the Sudanese government.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration’s propaganda campaign has taken hold among some well-intentioned activists and progressive organizations.
For example, the Congressional Black Caucus held a press conference on May 16 to encourage UN “peacekeepers” in Darfur. CBC members have argued that U.S. policy ignores the problems of Africa. They claim that putting the weight of the U.S. government behind the insurgent forces in Darfur shows U.S. commitment to the lives of African people.
On April 30, “Save Darfur” rallies took place in Washington, D.C., and other cities. These rallies sought to appeal to activists’ sense of outrage at the “humanitarian crisis” in the region.
Celebrities like actor George Clooney and rap producer Russell Simmons spoke about the “humanitarian crisis” in the region.
Some of the speakers at the rally, like Al Sharpton and Kweisi Mfume, have been traditional allies of the progressive movement. But for the most part, the rally organizers and sponsors had been absent from any of the mass movements against U.S. wars or interventions.
Dozens of congresspeople, mostly Democrats, called on the Bush administration to take an even harder line against the Bashir government.
But a look at the forces behind the “Save Darfur Coalition” that organized the April 30 demonstrations gives a clue to the real agenda of the rallies.
The Coalition’s Executive Committee is composed of 11 “faith-based”—religious—groups. It includes the Christian National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It includes the American Jewish World Service, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Union for Reform Judaism.
It also includes one small Muslim group, the American Society for Muslim Advancement. The ASMA seeks to “heal the relationship between Islam and the United States.”
It was no surprise, then, given this core of established religious institutions, that the rallies were overwhelmingly white. Despite the organizers’ professed concern for the lives of Africans, few African American organizations joined the April 30 rallies.
Many of those attending the April 30 rallies might call themselves liberal. They should wonder why the call to “Save Darfur” has been picked up by right-wing outfits like the National Review and Frontpagemag.com.
An anti-Arab campaign
Those calling for imperialist intervention do not talk about the United States or France’s role in promoting the conflict. They do not mention the profit these imperialist powers can gain from entering the Sudan and breaking it apart.
Instead, these “progressive” or “human rights” organizations fall into a demonization campaign fueled by anti-Arab racism.
Many progressive activists have a distorted view of the situation in Darfur. New York City, April 29.
Photo: Edgar Mata/Sipa Press
The entire campaign is viewed as a war by “Arabs” against “Africans.” That is a false division.
The main division in Darfur is economic: between migratory herders and sedentary farmers. The vast majority of all the people of Darfur are Muslims. All are Black.
Most of the farming groups do not speak Arabic however, while the herders do speak Arabic. This difference in language is the only basis for calling one group “Arab” and another “African.”
However, recognizing the complicated economic and political issues that separate the Darfur insurgencies from the Bashir government would not make for good propaganda.
Instead, in the world context of the U.S. war against Iraq, Palestine and the whole Middle East, it is more convenient to portray the struggle as one of genocidal “Arabs” against defenseless “Africans.”
Sudanese government agrees to peace deal
For the past two years, the Sudanese government has been involved in negotiations with the main insurgent groups to resolve the crisis in Darfur. It repeatedly reiterated its willingness to come to a power-sharing agreement with the various parties in Darfur, much as it had earlier accepted such an agreement with a 20-year insurgency in southern Sudan.
It also has insisted on its willingness to confront the Janjaweed militias based in the herding population. These militias, initially supported by the Sudanese government against the earlier southern insurgency, are accused of attacking civilian and refugee populations. The Sudanese government denies it is backing the Janjaweed.
The Bashir government’s main demand in the negotiations has been that no settlement be used to allow U.S. or UN intervention in the country and respect for Sudan’s national sovereignty.
Over the past two years, the rebel Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement have repeatedly walked away from peace talks—obviously encouraged by the anti-Bashir campaign waged by the imperialist powers. This prolonged the fighting and expanded the crisis.
But on May 5, the SLA signed a new peace agreement with the Sudanese government in Abuja, Nigeria. That agreement calls for a political power-sharing agreement increasing representation for the Darfur region in the national government as well as greater resources for Darfur.
A small faction of the SLA and the JEM did not initially sign the peace agreement.
The agreement won wide praise—including from the U.S. State Department, which was deeply involved in the negotiations. But new points of contention quickly emerged.
The Bush administration interprets the agreement as a basis for increasing imperialist intervention in the region by opening the way for UN troops. That view has been rejected by Sudan’s government.
“The UN and the United States have no political or legal basis to step in,” Darfur’s deputy governor Salah Eddine Ghazi told the Xinhua news agency on May 9.
The problems in the Sudan are many. In addition to the armed conflicts, they include famine in the Darfur region.
Progressive activists in the United States should welcome the possibility of an end to the Darfur conflict. To the extent that the agreement lays the basis for the unity of the country in the face of imperialist attempts to carve up the region, it could be a genuine step forward for the region.
However, like any agreement or treaty, the May 5 Abuja agreement will face numerous challenges. U.S. government attempts to use the agreement as the basis for wider UN intervention will be the main such challenge.
But U.S. activists should steer clear of the racist characterization of the Sudanese people, especially the false split between “Arab” and “African.” This false division only makes it easier to scapegoat Arab countries and governments who support the just struggle of the Palestinian people.