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First Do No Harm
November 9, 2007 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Newsweek's "Packaging a Tragedy" After which, two Darfur experts, John Prendergast and Alex De Waal have a heated debate over the role of the Save Darfur Campaign, wondering whether its advocacy has helped or hurt the chances for peace in the region. De Waal has argued that the seduction of humanitarian intervention has impeded progress in Darfur, while Prendergast has urged more robust intervention. Both want the same thing, an end to the killing, but both get extremely heated in disagreeing about how.
posted by cal71 (17 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Want to stop the genocide? Find a way to do away with the corrupt and immoral Sudanese leadership, who are directly responsible for this outrage.

We need a stronger military arm for the UN, to go out and remove nutcase, small-time dictators and their cronies from the scene.

Of course, we can't applythis technique to the bigger nations, but when we have places like Sudan, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Iraq (in the mid-80's before Saddam got up a head of steam), Serbia/Bosnia/Croatia, Haiti, etc. etc. that draw in so many outside players, and tend to incite entire regions to warfare, something drastic needs to be done.

Once we've dealt with people like this a dozen oro so times, the perrty, murdering thugs that hold the rest of the world hostage - as they kill their own people in droves - will begin to think twice about using the good will of the rest of the world to "bring peace to their respective regions".

I'm tired of watching petty, small-time megalomaniacs cause so much harm, and then retire in wealth, to die in their own beds.
posted by MetaMan at 3:05 PM on November 9, 2007


"Both want the same thing, an end to the killing, but both get extremely heated in disagreeing about how."

How about just not shooting people? That's a start.
posted by ZachsMind at 3:40 PM on November 9, 2007


I agree these guys need to be held accountable, but the moment we knock down one megalomaniac new ones fill in the gap, look at the history of Liberia, Congo, Serbia, Iran, current Iraq...just about anywhere where men in expensive shoes have chosen to exploit any group than can to profit from chaos and oppression. There are always going to be people who want to trade up their flip-flops for expensive shoes, in spite of the risks. I do like the idea of a rapid response humanitarian force, but I see no way that it could work in reality, politics, ignorance, mistakes, and corruption are all too common in humanitarian disasters. The road to hell is paved etc...
posted by cal71 at 3:41 PM on November 9, 2007


Yeah, talking big about Darfur is all well and good, but it's easy to say "we have to do something" -- the underlying problem is that there's absolutely no rule of law there whatsoever, so its impossible to achieve any sort of lasting progress.

Even in Iraq, Serbia, Iran, etc., you have the benefit of existing bureaucratic institutions that employ some career officials who are committed to the people and depend on them for their jobs -- that is, they're responsible for their communities in a broad sense. But even among African countries, Somalia is the worst of the worst in that regard. There is literally no structure whatsoever, no civil society, making all gains temporary at best.

A humanitarian force is a nice idea as well, but is also easier said than done.

Firstly, a "response force" is gap-filling by definition, which is exactly the problem. You're racing from one crisis to the next -- and worse yet, you're cleaning up after the actual bad guys, minimizing the consequences of their actions.

Second, UN response forces don't exactly have a great historical record -- in Rwanda, for example, it's arguable that the UN forces in the region merely kept a lid on things while tensions built underneath the surface, and not only that, when things did get bad, the "international community" was gone in a flash, and basically held their fingers in their ears and sang until the genocide was over.
posted by spiderwire at 4:05 PM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


*Sudan -- though Somalia probably is the worst of the worst. But it's pretty much all the same once you get down to that end of the scale.
posted by spiderwire at 4:06 PM on November 9, 2007


Even in Iraq, Serbia, Iran, etc., you have the benefit of existing bureaucratic institutions that employ some career officials who are committed to the people and depend on them for their jobs -- that is, they're responsible for their communities in a broad sense. But even among African countries, Somalia is the worst of the worst in that regard. There is literally no structure whatsoever, no civil society, making all gains temporary at best.

There was actually an article promoting Somalia as an example of "Anarchy in action", illustrating anarchy as a working model. This was a right-wing libertarian argument, by the way. Apparently things are getting better there despite the lack of a central government.
posted by delmoi at 4:09 PM on November 9, 2007


MetaMan, you should keep in mind that in most of the other countries you're talking about, there's a tradition of local bureaucracy that extends back for centuries, if not millennia. There are (often ancient) religious, ethnic, and political identities. In other words, there are historic poles that provide something for civil society to gravitate around.

In many African nations, and particularly in Sudan and Somalia, that's often not the case. Not only that, the entire history of the continent has been defined by fragmentation, exploitation, and colonial governance that drew arbitrary borders and was built on cronyism and corruption. To the extent that there were unifying historical forces, they've been summarily decimated for longer than anyone there's been alive. There's simply no point of political reference.

Add to that fact that, despite talking big, the European nations still don't provide a lot of opportunities for African nations or people in the ways that matter. The education situation is generally miserable, and the prospect of any sort of knowledge economy is remote at best. Most of the natural resources have been exploited to the hilt. And most of the remaining crops and industries (even the potential ones) are rendered valueless by tariffs and agricultural subsidies -- anything that you could grow or manufacture in Africa would be too cheap to let into European or American markets, and there's no political leverage for changing that setup.

All that creates a Gordian knot that would be difficult to cut even without the ethnic and political tensions that dictate the political reality of places like Sudan and Somalia, or the warlords, oligarchs, and hierarchs that dominate the region, and are willing to defend their entrenched interests by any means necessary.

Even if you manage to deal with "these people," as you put it -- assuming we can even identify and hold "these people" accountable in a fair way, which I doubt -- where does that get you? It's not like the leaders there came to power in a complete vacuum. Even if you manage to get rid of the corrupt warlords, you're still left with a region that has no means for creating leadership or rule-of-law that's based on anything but force.
posted by spiderwire at 4:21 PM on November 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


There was actually an article promoting Somalia as an example of "Anarchy in action", illustrating anarchy as a working model. This was a right-wing libertarian argument, by the way. Apparently things are getting better there despite the lack of a central government.

There's an idea -- maybe we should pack up all the Ayn Rand disciples and ship them over there to show those poor Africans the light. Obviously all they need is a little ingenuity.
posted by spiderwire at 4:23 PM on November 9, 2007


Despite Predegrast's notably better looks - and exposé in Men's Vogue, as if showing up in Sudan wearing a "Save Darfur" shirt and talking on a cell phone is a way to communicate to the reader that he's "getting things done" in the region - I'm with De Waal on this one. I mean, as if it took an explanation to figure out the US's limited intervention in genocide, after genocide, after genocide, in Africa. What the hell is the upside if we participate, anyway? Lasting peace? Come on.

Or as if anyone is even capable of parsing what it would mean for American to participate in a "humanitarian military intervention" - like what, Iraq? - this is pre-9/11 speak, where "humanitarian" loosely translates to "we are so far culturally and strategically superior to your [notably] African country that we can we step in and solve your political crises without a hidden agenda". I mean, please.

We don't live in that kind of world anymore. Best case scenario, yes, Darfur was "mispackaged". Worst case scenario is we are headed for the apocalypse. And tucking Middle America into bed every night are the likes of Nancy Grace, Glen Beck, and Larry King. Just don't forget... America (and you) are UNDER ATTACK! WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK AFTER THESE COMMERCIALS!!! AAHHH!!!
posted by phaedon at 4:25 PM on November 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


Or as if anyone is even capable of parsing what it would mean for American to participate in a "humanitarian military intervention" - like what, Iraq? - this is pre-9/11 speak, where "humanitarian" loosely translates to "we are so far culturally and strategically superior to your [notably] African country that we can we step in and solve your political crises without a hidden agenda". I mean, please.

This is another little-mentioned hidden cost to the Iraq debacle that deserves emphasis. It's easy to forget now that, prior to our colossal fuckup there, we had rebuilt a little bit of our post-Cold-War credibility in Kosovo (thanks, Wesley Clark), and to some degree in Afghanistan (despite the fact that the Bush Administration gutted the evil "nation-building" offices that the Clinton Administration had been trying to build). Even if we could spare the military now to do anything useful, there's not a snowball's chance in hell that we'd be taken seriously.
posted by spiderwire at 4:30 PM on November 9, 2007


Spiderwire, thanks for the lesson, and continuing education on the realities of African politics.

That said, much of my frustration comes from seeing the photoreality of these tragedies in the news, with a looming sense of helplessness as one nation after another says "maybe we'll do something".

Where I grew up, bullies were taken care of very quickly. Maybe I'm reverting to old behavior, in the absence of more comprehensive solutions that *actually work*.

It is very disturbing to me that anyone can kill innocents with impunity, for personal gain, on such a large scale.

*Something* *has to be done about this, but I'm not hearing, or seeing, any solutions. Thus, my continuing frustration with this issue.

I was bothered when hearing a few months ago of teh muderous Idi Amin's passing, in his comfortable bed. How do we let that happen?
posted by MetaMan at 4:52 PM on November 9, 2007


Terrific post. I'll be thinking about the de Waal article for a while. It's been a long long time since an article has told me anything new and made me rethink my assumptions about the conflict.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:22 PM on November 9, 2007


I don't pretend to be an expert on African politics, but I spent a great deal of time studying it a little while back, particularly the corruption issue. One of the recurring themes seemed to be that no one has any really good answers to the problem. There are simply no honest brokers.

I think that most of the world takes certain aspects of civil society for granted -- even in the absence of a national government, there tend to be tribal or regional organizations (Afghanistan), religious organizations (Iraq), or ethnic organizations (Kosovo). Those ties provide unity when the state governments break down, a foundation to build on. That foundation simply doesn't exist in places like Somalia.

In the Middle East, there will always be religious ties that cross generations and provide a sense of identity that transcends the individual. Likewise, there is a degree of cultural cohesion in South America that performs a similar function, though perhaps to a lesser degree. There's also a certain anti-colonial unity that unites the region.

That's a marked contrast to Africa, which was not only abused by the international community for centuries, but their colonial governments were specifically designed to reward duplicity and betrayal -- the conflict in Rwanda is a direct result of hostilities between ethnic groups that were set up in opposition to one another by their colonial masters. A similar dynamic is at work in and between many African nations (Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sudan), where the fundamental basis of civil society was corruption and bribery -- that was what you did to get ahead. So not only is there a structural problem, but there's a natural difficulty with turning to the former colonial masters to solve the problem -- and the nascent African political alliances are fragile and lacking in leverage.

--It's also important to differentiate between the inter-group tensions that divide the region (Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, Arabs and Christians in Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea in general), which is one source of chaos, and the might-makes-right structure of the former colonial governments, which tends to create a breeding ground for dictators and warlords.
posted by spiderwire at 5:32 PM on November 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was listening to an interview with the Irish general, Pat Nash, who's due to lead an EU peace-keeping force out to the south of Chad, which is seeing the knock-on effect of the conflict in Darfur as people flee across the border. He seemed to have a very sensible brief and a realistic view of what might be possible in terms on providing the stability necessary for humanitarian relief to be delivered. Doesn't address the longer-term situational problems of course, but a start of some sort.
posted by Abiezer at 8:58 PM on November 9, 2007


Also another bit of random but related reading that might be of interest: Africom: The new US military command for Africa
posted by Abiezer at 9:02 PM on November 9, 2007


I'm thinking that the best solution for large scale ethnic violence is for intended victims to run away. If the situation has become so bad that there is a will for killing, it seems to be impossible to turn off until it has fatigued itself. You can try to prevent violence by having lots of troops, but the chances are that the will for violence is only growing stronger and bidding for its time. When the option of direct action is taken away, it easily turns to mind games and raising a new generation of even angrier people.

But, for international community, a huge refugee situation is the most difficult outcome to handle and usually the part where the most half-assed actions are taken. If countries are serious about ending one ethnic group being killed somewhere, they should be ready to accept thousands and tens of thousands refugees from there. Not being there is the most effective way of not getting killed and not building a grudge for next generation. With Africa the problem is greater, as neighboring countries are generally not capable for merging huge populations from neighbors and giving them a livable life. These people really should have an option of flying away and starting a new life. Nobody does it lightly, but when your society is broken, it may be that your continued presence is not helping its strained resources and relations.
posted by Free word order! at 3:29 AM on November 10, 2007


I was willing to read John Prendergast's side of this debate right up until this statement:

"Thankfully, in this duel to the rhetorical death we were only given two bullets. I used up most of my nine lives in the last 25 years living and traveling in war zones, so I wouldn't want to spend any more of them on answering these extraordinary claims. "

The arrogance of his claim that exposure to personal danger absolves him of the need to refute arguments, I can handle. But I draw the line at the awful mixed metaphors.
posted by googly at 5:50 AM on November 10, 2007


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