by Tamara Ramusovic
It has been said over and over: never again. Yet, once again a deadly conflict rages and thousands are being systematically exterminated in a place in the world of little consequence to most in the West. However, as alarming as the lack of international action has been in stopping the violence in Darfur, it is further complicated by a lack of understanding the nature of the conflict, even by those urging for action.
In the face of at least 200,000 murdered and millions more displaced, a debate on conflict classification at first glance seams ludicrous. Whether or not the label ‘genocide’ is applied will determine the proposed solutions and policies the international community will pursue. The matter is questioned because a classification of genocide requires clear intent on the part the Arab Janjaweed to target non-Arab populations precisely for not being Arab. It is not certain to many that
the violence is spurred with such intentions.
So far seven-thousand African Union (AU) troops have been the primary actors in the region, but this response has been inadequate. The latest reports from Jan Egeland, the United Nation’s Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, identify the situation in West Darfur as having gone from bad to worse. Numerous humanitarian groups are demanding the involvement of UN blue helmets in the region, which would bring 17,000 troops to bolster the AU forces.
This act has been stopped by strong objections from the Sudanese government. Khartoum happens to have Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council as oil customers and arms suppliers. However, geo-political constraints are not the only factors in questioning the impact of the proposed UN interventions. Although a genocide classification makes UN intervention diplomatically more feasible, due care must be taken to ensure the conflict is understood properly and responded to appropriately.
McGill Professor of African Politics, Khalid Mustafa Medani warns of the threat to long-term political and social stability when we institutionalize questionable differences between people. Medani, who visited Darfur in 2005, says that the Arab and non-Arab peoples have been historically important to one another and will continue to be so. The villages have existed side by side throughout Sudanese history and inter-marriage is not unusual.
These circumstances make the question of intent a critical one. Medani asserts that refugees and victims he spoke to did not identify their attackers as Arabs, but rather as the Janjaweed. The international community, and particularly the
West, cannot make the mistake of over-simplifying this conflict by drawing artificial lines which lead to inappropriate prescriptions. This would just be another example of Western ignorance and indifference towards Africa. The West is still largely unwilling to recognize that African people’s needs go further beyond survival.
“We have to be more ambitious for the long term. Stopping the violence is the number one priority but that should not be exclusive from trying to find a long term solution and working towards that simultaneously,” says Medani.
H o w e v e r , even stopping the violence has so far been out of reach.
An inability to be both flexible and creative demonstrates the lack of international priority given to Darfur, yet international constraints are real and must be considered. For Medani, the answer has to be AU troops. Khartoum has so far successfully defended itself against “Western Imperialism,” yet it cannot make these claims against the AU in which it holds membership. Despite the initial failures of the AU in suppressing the violence, the international community has the capabilities to strengthen this force, which will be an important stage of capacity building. If the UN intends to make an impact in Darfur, it must support the forces already on the ground through monetary and technical support, as well as security and logistical access.
The importance of the AU cannot be understated, for Darfur will not be the last African conflict, and as both Rwanda and Darfur have taught us, the West still fails to recognize its interests in much of Africa. Thousands will die while public opinion in Western countries slowly builds and action is demanded.
The AU must have the ability to immediately respond to future crises. As the Darfur conflict spills over into Chad and the Central African Republic, the AU’s performance in Darfur will become important for the rest of Africa. The language of “organizational capacity building” appears cold in the face of outcries for immediate action. Academics agree that immediate intervention is necessary, but caution the form of intervention taken.
However, one does not need to be an academic to understand this point. As a child of inter-faith marriage, growing up in Bosnia during the early 1990s, I saw the consequences of a questionable international response. Stopping the killing is key, but any intervention into a complex situation cannot rest on this policy alone. Obvious tension post conflict is inevitable but any intervention should not advance animosity. As I deal with hearing my fellow Bosnians, whether from my mother’s or father’s side, rewrite our histories to differentiate our common roots, I cannot help but think of the inevitability of this in Darfur.
It is without a doubt that such social division will lead to further conflict. The international community, activists and organizations alike, must urge an appropriate response to the conflict, because the people of Darfur deserve more than