Monday, March 30, 2009

Mamdani on Darfur

"In Uganda, long one of Washington’s closest African friends, Mr. Mamdani traces the history of ethnically targeted “civilian massacres and other atrocities” against the brutal insurgency known as the Lord’s Resistance Army. In 1996, under President Yoweri Museveni, a second phase of that war began “with a new policy designed to intern practically the entire rural population of the three Acholi districts in northern Uganda,” Mr. Mamdani writes. “It took a government-directed campaign of murder, intimidation, bombing and burning of whole villages to drive the rural population into I.D.P. (internally displaced persons) camps.” In 2005 Olara Otunnu, a former Ugandan ambassador to the United Nations, denounced the government’s tactics, saying, “An entire society is being systematically destroyed — physically, culturally, socially and economically — in full view of the international community.” But as elsewhere in Africa, Mr. Mamdani says, the International Criminal Court has brought a case against only the enemy of Washington’s friend, the Lord’s Resistance Army, remaining mute about large-scale atrocities that may have been committed by the Ugandan government. In this pattern the author sees the hand of politics more than any real attachment to justice. Many argue that what makes Darfur different from other African crises is race, with the conflict there pitting Arabs against people often called “black Africans,” but here again Mr. Mamdani takes on conventional wisdom. “At no point,” he states flatly, “has this been a war between ‘Africans’ and ‘Arabs.’ ” Much foreign commentary about Sudan speaks of its Arabs as settlers, with the inference that they are somehow less African than people assumed to be of pure black stock. If whites in Kenya and Zimbabwe, not to mention South Africa, vociferously maintain their African-ness, what then to make of the Arab presence in Sudan, whose slow penetration and widespread intermarriage, Mr. Mamdani writes, “commenced in the early decades of Islam” and “reached a climax” from the 8th to the 15th century, “when the Arab tribes overran much of the country”? More interestingly, the author maintains that much of what we see today as a racial divide in Sudan has its roots in colonial history, when Britain “broke up native society into different ethnicities, and ‘tribalized’ each ethnicity by bringing it under the absolute authority of one or more British-sanctioned ‘native authorities,’ ” balancing “the whole by playing one off against the others.” Mr. Mamdani calls this British tactic of administratively reinforcing distinctions among colonial subjects “re-identify and rule” and says that it was copied by European powers across the continent, with deadly consequences — as in Rwanda, where Belgium’s intervention hardened distinctions between Hutu and Tutsi.""