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2009-10-23

New US Strategy for Sudan Rejects Hawkish Approach

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Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University. He is a renowned scholar of African studies and is the author of several books. His latest is called Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror.

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After months of deliberation, the Obama administration unveiled a new strategy for Sudan on Monday. The White House plans to offer the Sudanese government a mix of incentives and pressure to urge Khartoum to end the crisis in Darfur and implement the 2005 peace deal between the north and the south. We get analysis from Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani, author of Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

After months of deliberation, the Obama administration unveiled a new strategy for Sudan on Monday. The White House plans to offer the Sudanese government a mix of incentives and pressure to urge Khartoum to end the crisis in Darfur and implement the 2005 peace deal between the North and the South. The new policy promises broad engagement with Khartoum, but no direct talks with President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the administration’s Sudan policy on Monday.

    HILLARY CLINTON: Our strategy has three principal objectives: first, an end to conflict, gross human rights abuses, war crimes and genocide in Darfur; second, implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement that results in a united and peaceful Sudan after 2011 or an orderly path toward two separate and viable states at peace with each other; and third, a Sudan that does not provide a safe haven for terrorists.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

The specific incentives that might be offered to Sudan and the repercussions Sudan could face for noncompliance, whether diplomatic, economic or military, remain classified. The Sudanese government reacted cautiously to the new policy. This is Ghazi Salah Eddin, the adviser to the Sudanese president.

    GHAZI SALAH EDDIN: [translated] This strategy lacks any tangible steps for the American administration to commit to. The US assumes that Sudan should take actions, while its own role is only to evaluate and respond to these actions.

AMY GOODMAN:

For more on Washington’s new Sudan strategy, we’re joined here in our firehouse studio by the African studies scholar Mahmood Mamdani. He is the Herbert Lehman Professor of Government and Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, author of several books. His latest is Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror.

Professor Mamdani, welcome to Democracy Now!

MAHMOOD MAMDANI:

Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN:

Explain the US policy right now. Has it changed?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI:

Yes, it has changed. The US policy, I think, is first and foremost an acknowledgement that conditions on the ground have changed. It’s as Hillary Clinton said in her speech, the level of mortality in Darfur declined dramatically after 2005. It’s a recognition, it’s an acknowledgement that high-level UN officials have also said this over the last six months. The outgoing head of the UN mission said that the conflict in Darfur was a low-intensity conflict. The outgoing commander of UNAMID forces said there is no longer a war in Darfur, that the main problem for refugees to return home is banditry in the countryside. So, first of all, it’s an acknowledgement that conditions have changed.

Second, it’s an acknowledgement that the US needs an integrated Sudan policy, not a separate policy for Darfur and a separate policy for the South of Sudan, that, in fact, US-Sudan policy has tended to be driven by the activist constituency strongest in the US in relation to Darfur, whereas the real issue is South-North, South Sudan. And finally, it’s a recognition that, whereas conditions in Darfur have been improving, conditions in the South have been deteriorating. And Sudan, with all of these deadlines of an election next year and a referendum the year after, is beginning to resemble a pressure cooker on the boil.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

It’s certainly a shift in how President Obama regards this, because back when he was running for president in April 2008, he said — he criticized the Bush administration, saying, “I’m deeply concerned by reports that the Bush administration is negotiating a normalization of relations with the government of Sudan. This reckless and cynical initiative would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments.” So there appears to be at least a willingness now by the administration to deal with the leadership.

MAHMOOD MAMDANI:

Well, I think that Obama then, at the time of that speech, was responding to the domestic constituency in the US, particularly the Save Darfur movement. Obama now is responding to the situation in Sudan and to the realization that the ideological nature of Save Darfur demands has made for an extremely inflexible US response to Sudan. The language of genocide has made it very difficult to negotiate with the government in power.

Just take the difference between the South and Darfur. The war in the South had been going on for much longer in Darfur. The numbers of people killed in the South were many more than in Darfur. And yet, the language of genocide was never used in the South, in spite of the fact that killings were many racialized in the South, ethnicized in Darfur. It was possible in the South to have protracted negotiations. It has not been possible to do so in Darfur.

AMY GOODMAN:

Talk about whether there is a split in the administration, the Obama administration. I mean, you’ve got, on the one hand, Andrew Natsios, who is the, what, former head of AID, the special envoy to Sudan for Bush in 2006 and ’07, told Time Magazine there’s a war in the Obama administration: on the one hand, Major General Scott Gration, on the other hand, Susan Rice.

MAHMOOD MAMDANI:

Yes, I think that’s true. Susan Rice has been very closely related to the Save Darfur movement. Scott Gration is —

AMY GOODMAN:

She’s the US ambassador to the UN.

MAHMOOD MAMDANI:

She’s the US ambassador to the UN. Scott Gration, the new envoy, is more or less in line with previous envoys, in the sense that Andrew Natsios was the envoy under Bush. And the State Department has been hugely skeptical of the claims of Save Darfur movement. Natsios began very sympathetic to Save Darfur and ended his period extremely skeptical of it. There is a deep division inside the Obama administration, not only between those close to Save Darfur and those critical of it, but also inside Save Darfur now, between those who are much more central to the evangelical lobby, which is attuned to the South, as opposed to those organized mainly in relation to Darfur. The evangelical lobby is also worried that Sudan policy has been driven too much by a Darfur orientation, and that, in fact, the South, which is the main story, has become neglected, as Sudan resembles more of a pressure cooker on the boil and moves towards this deadline of 2011.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

And yet, you’ve also been criticized by those who support Save Darfur. Nicholas Kristof, for instance, in the New York Times talked about your book Saviors and Survivors, calling it an error-filled polemic, as being one that is trying to paper over or, not cover-up, but certainly excuse the kinds of killings that have occurred in the past. Your response to that?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI:

Well, I mean, Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece in the New York Review of Books, and basically he was defending himself, in a sense. And his point of view is the point of view of Save Darfur, is that anybody who tries to explain the context of the violence in Darfur and to direct attention from atrocities to the issues that have been fueling the violence is doing nothing but apologizing for the violence.

My own point of view is that if you are interested in stopping the cycle of violence, you have no choice but to look at the issues that feed that violence. A focus exclusively on the atrocities is like creating and catering to a pornography of violence, which is what Save Darfur has been doing.

AMY GOODMAN:

How do you think people concerned about violence in Darfur, in southern Sudan, in Democratic Republic of Congo should direct their energies?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI:

I think they have to look at the issues, and they have to be critical of the new kind of movements that have arisen in the US. I would say Save Darfur is the best example of it. Just contrast it with the antiwar movement of the ’60s or the anti-apartheid movement of the ’80s. These were basically educational movements. Issues were at the center of these movements. Their major activity, their signature activity, was the teach-in. Save Darfur has no interest in teach-in. It has no interest in education, nor in educators. Its interest is in Hollywood celebrities. Its interest is in name recognition. Its interest is not even in the university students, less and less now, much more so in high school students. I call them America’s counterparts of the child soldiers of Africa: children led into causes without understanding them. I think there has to be a certain degree of critical focus on Save Darfur-type movements, that they do not really strengthen democracy, they weaken it.

JUAN GONZALEZ:

What about the US government’s relations with Sudan in terms of the war on terror? Has that influenced at all, you think, how the US government is dealing with Sudan?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI:

I think the US government has had steady relations with Sudan on the war on terror. Relations between the two intelligence services have been strong, I would say.

But what has influenced the US mainly is a recognition that an ideologically based policy has led to inflexibility. It needs an interest-based policy. So, interest can be oil, for example, is an important interest. So it’s trying to shed the language of genocide. That’s really what this is about. We heard Secretary Clinton. The very first sentence was a reference to genocide, and that’s a bone of contention between Gration and Kerry in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Secretary Clinton, Susan Rice. But this will unfold over the next few months, as, if the policy succeeds, the unnamed carrots will have to be dished out, which is basically the sanctions policy.

AMY GOODMAN:

What do you think is the motive of Save Darfur? What’s your analysis of that organization and groups like Enough?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI:

Well, I think Save Darfur basically — I’ve been trying to figure this out. There were different kinds of groups that went into Save Darfur for different kinds of motives. There were those who came out of the South Sudan campaign and who just assumed that Darfur was another version of South Sudan, which it wasn’t. There were those who were mainly motivated by lessons of the Rwanda genocide, and they assumed that really a time comes when you can’t sort of stop and ask, “Why is this happening?” You must first act. And if you ask them, “What’s the time?” they would say, “Genocide.” And if you ask them, “How do you know it’s genocide?” they would say, “Because we’re told so.” Now that’s the real rub: We’re told so, by whom? So that genocide has become like an ideological language used by those who want to forefront a particular issue.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, Professor Mamdani, I want to thank you for being with us, a professor at Columbia University of government and anthropology. His latest book is Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror.

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