Prunier_Darfur

Prunier_Darfur - CURRENT HISTORY May 2006 Genocide is big...

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F or the world at large Darfur has been and remains the quintessential “African crisis”: distant, esoteric, extremely violent, rooted in complex ethnic and historical factors that few understand, and devoid of any identifiable practi- cal interest for the rich countries. Since the international media got hold of it in 2004, Darfur has become not a political or military crisis but a “humanitarian crisis”—in other words, something that many “realist” politicians see (with- out saying so) as just another insoluble problem. In the post–cold war world such problems have been passed on to the United Nations. But the UN has not known what to do with this one, especially since the possibility emerged that this was another genocide. Fearing that it would have to intervene and that the developed world would encourage it to act without giving it the means to do so, the UN passed the catastrophe on to the care of the newly reborn African Union, formerly the Organization of African Unity. For a continental organization wanting a new start, this was a dangerous gift. “African solutions to African problems” had become the politically correct way of saying “We do not really care.” Thus, in many ways, the hard reality of Darfur has been kept at arm’s length, while statistics, press releases, UN resolutions, and photo opportunities have taken center stage. As in all globalized world crises, this recreation of the situation resulting from media attention and UN discussion has acquired as much importance as the reality it has been applied to, if not more, because whether real or not, it has deeply affected the initial reality. The result is con- tinued talk and hand-wringing in the face of a cri- sis that, even now, grows worse. A RABS AND AFRICANS Darfur was for several hundred years an inde- pendent Islamic sultanate, with a population of both Arabs and black African tribes. As a result of intermarriage, the “Arabs” are all quite black, and the distinction between the two groups—since both are Muslim—has been based on their respective native tongues. Annexed to Sudan by the British in 1916 (because London feared that the sultanate might enter the war on the side of Turkey and Ger- many), Darfur was thereafter completely neglected by the colonial power. When Sudan became inde- pendent in 1956, the new government continued this policy of neglect. This was far from exceptional. Sudan is both enormous and overcentralized. The core area, cen- tered around Khartoum and inhabited by riverine Arabs, has largely ignored the country’s peripheral areas, though they represent the greatest part both of the territory and the population. The south, being Negro-African in culture and Christian reli- giously, was the first to rebel. The Muslim areas, blinded by the illusory “common bond” of Islam, took much longer to realize that they were no better off than the Christian south. In February 2003, the Darfuri realized that the
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Prunier_Darfur - CURRENT HISTORY May 2006 Genocide is big...

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