July 28 2004 The Times
We cannot save Darfur at the point of a gunSimon Jenkins
SO WHAT do we do about Sudan? I mean really do, not just pose. Do we scold it? Or do we condemn it, sanction it, threaten it, bomb and invade it? Do we impose “democracy and prosperity” on Sudan, given that it badly needs both?
The trouble with interventionists is they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. A year ago I wrote wondering why we were invading Iraq when Sudan might reasonably claim our prior attention. Everyone, except Tony Blair, knew that Iraq was no immediate threat. It just offered an opportune target for a belligerent desire on his part to topple someone nasty. Since all other reasons have evaporated, Mr Blair has virtually admitted as such.
Yet nothing was as nasty as the regime in Khartoum. Eighteen months ago my e-mails were already buzzing with chatter about religious massacres, ethnic expulsions, starvation, rape and pillage in Sudan. Refugee camps were growing in neighbouring Chad. So what was urgent about one murderous Muslim desert state, Iraq, that was not urgent about another?
The answer, of course, was that there were no television cameras in Sudan. There was no oil, the regime in Khartoum was being “helpful” over al-Qaeda and its dying were, quite frankly, black. Today’s Hercules can cleanse only one Augean stable at a time. Sorry, Sudan, but your genocide would have to wait.
Now at last the cameras are turning their lenses on to the grim wadis of the Sahara. Presenters are learning to pronounce Janjawid, Omar al-Bashir and the odious Musa Khaber. They are dusting off the adjectives of atrocity and incanting the pornography of rape. The language of righteous indignation is always prelude to “something must be done”. The aid minister, Hilary Benn, duly arrives and declares a humanitarian disaster which, to use the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s favourite epithet, is “unacceptable”. Aid ministers are the swallows of every neo-imperial summer.
When Mr Benn returned from Sudan last month his predictable salvo was: “No one can fail to have been moved by the pictures.” He stirred a hundred news desks to action. Sudan is, after all, the birthplace of British jingoism. It drew General Gordon south from Cairo in 1884 in a reckless quest for imperial glory. In 1898 it led Kitchener to avenge his death at the hands of the Mahdi. Khartoum is the world capital of mission creep.
I find it incredible that anyone would seriously advocate a British expeditionary force to suppress the Janjawid irregulars. From all accounts they are dispersed Beduin tribesmen in the Mahdist tradition. They were reacting to an uprising by the Sudan Liberation Army, apparently imitating a previous uprising, no less bloodthirsty in outcome, in the south of Sudan. Whether or not driven to atrocity by the rulers in Khartoum — and the evidence is strong — the Janjawid seem ready to commit it unaided.
Neither Britain nor some European force is likely to be able to protect one group of Saharan tribesmen against another over a region the size of France. The West would be confined to confirming the “ethnic cleansing” of a million people, unless it wished to resume colonial rule over all of western Sudan, presumably in opposition to the Government in Khartoum. That would make Britain’s role in Bosnia and Basra seem a bed of roses.
A Western military presence would give the Janjawid exactly the pretext it wants to present itself as Africa’s new Mujahidin. “We will attack any foreigners,” one of its leaders is reported as saying. “We refuse to be like Iraq — surrendered, confused and occupied.”
The historian of modern Sudan, Alex de Waal, has pointed out that militant “Arabism” across northern Africa has been encouraged by Mr Blair’s new friend, Colonel Gadaffi of Libya. This Arabism has rendered ideological any continuing territorial conflicts with Christian and “Africanist” tribes. To Khartoum the Janjawid are a cheap way of stopping the Darfur revolt escalating to the same civil war it had just extinguished in the south.
The West’s demand for the rebellion“to stop”, for the disarming of the Janjawid and the arrest of its leaders is clearly beyond the capacity and probably the will of Khartoum. If a million evicted Africans are to regain their land it will not be thanks to armed force but because some home-based agreement has given them back a sense of security. A punitive raid by Western troops will not achieve that. It would more likely be counterproductive.
The West cannot police ethnic conflicts the world over. It cannot stop massacres even where its troops are committed, as was the UN in Rwanda and the coalition now in Iraq. Britain and America have just invaded two Muslim states, hardly endearing themselves to the Muslim world. The only outsiders likely to have lasting leverage on relations between Khartoum and its dissident provinces are Africans. Better leave Sudan to the African Union. Under its Malian leader it has a monitoring team in place and none of the baggage of Western interventionism. The days of Britain’s Sudan Political Service are over.
Khartoum ceased to be Britain’s business when it began to disband the Empire and gave Sudan its independence in 1956. Nor did this leave us with what Mr Blair referred to last week as a “moral responsibility” for the consequences of decisions taken by Sudan’s Government. Such effusions by politicians mean nothing, unless they are the prelude to an aggressive act. And what does Mr Benn’s threat at the weekend mean, that if Khartoum does not disarm the Janjawid, “further action will follow”. What action and from whom?
We must assume Mr Blair and Mr Benn mean economic sanctions, the familiar weapon of feel-good politics. But sanctions are a form of war, one that peculiarly afflicts the poor rather than the rich. Sanctions bolster those in power at the expense of those out of power. The sanctions imposed on Cuba, South Africa, Libya, Iran, Afghanistan did not achieve what their exponents try to claim, the hastening of the downfall of a regime. They achieved the opposite, its prolongation. A decade of sanctions did not topple Saddam. They enriched his cronies and made him the sixth wealthiest man in the world. But they contributed to the death from disease of many more Iraqis than eventually did Western bombers. The idea of impoverishing the Sudanese people in their present misery to avenge the atrocities of their rulers is obscene.
Distressing pictures on television are bound to evoke strong emotions and a desire to do something about them. We naturally crave to wipe from before our eyes any evidence of man’s inhumanity to man, whether in our own backyards or in Dickens’s mythical Borrioboola-Gha.
The humanitarian urge is not just commendable but a righteous spur to action. The needs of the Darfur reguees are no different from those of the Ethiopians in the 1980s or the Rwandans in the 1990s. They need food and tents, water and trucks, medicine and drugs, and an army of philanthropic young to distribute and administer them. These disasters may be the result of natural catastrophe or political conflict. But charity should be blind to the difference if it is to be impartial and effective, as was the charity of Henri Dunant in founding the Red Cross among the wounded of Solferino in 1859.
The current tendency is to conclude that because much suffering is political in origin, so too should be the response. Macho intervention goes for the cause, leaving wimps to look after women and children. That was the spirit that motivated the invasion of Somalia in 1991, and it was disastrous. An opposite spirit moved the charitable responses to Ethiopia and Rwanda and it was surely right.
Human misery is rarely without a human cause. But when outsiders to a country decide to relieve its suffering by meddling in its politics they seldom make things better. Those who bring charity at the point of a gun usually just bring more guns. Besides, the people of Darfur can’t wait that long.