I’m not talking about the Legend of Zelda here or any other MMORPG, but about the much less dreamlike crisis in Darfur in a very specific ‘real life game genre’ I dub World Wide Role Playing Game – WWRPG. Last year I wrote an article titled: ‘Darfur: History, a never ending story’and I was wondering if we could learn from our past mistakes in a way not to let happen again things we already so badly experienced. And there is definitely no simple answer to that. Because things get more and more complicated as the number of protagonists increases. I am not a Darfur specialist or a member of a Darfur advocacy group, many very well aware and acknowledged people already talk about the situation and they give their point of view and explanations about the conflict in the Sudanese region. So I don’t pretend I understand things better than other people about what is really going on there, but I am sometimes surprised, not to say shocked, by the unawareness and the easy answers I can read or hear from people supposed to ‘know’, as well as others ‘thinking’ they know it all.
I think to find a long-term solution to any problem we first have to determine what the problem is exactly, and this without any kind of preconception, preconceived view or bias. This is the most important point and the first thing we hardly ever take into consideration. I am more a listener than a talker, I like to know what people have to say, what they deeply and truly think, and what I hear is often baffling. Can we always simplify a given situation the same way we leave out parameters to simplify the form of an equation in mathematics? This oversimplification helps to quickly spread a message among the masses and to bring a short-term awareness but avoiding all the parameters, dismissing what might be the core of the problem, removing ‘la substantifique moëlle‘ could doom any effort of grasping to failure. Because to have an entire and accurate understanding of a given situation, we can’t just put aside facts only because they are too numerous or because we think they are insignificant. On the contrary, they allow us to fully size up the complexity of the problem and to get the ins and outs of the situation because they are often deeply intertwined.
Starting from this premise, is it right to reduce the root causes of what is currently happening in Darfur exclusively to an ethnic or tribal fight for power? To a war between Arabs and black Africans? Between Christians and Muslims? Northern and Southern Sudan? Or is it simply an internecine or civil war? Then we should wonder: may it be the result of an extreme socio-economic inequality in Sudan? What is the exact role of the rebels, the Janjaweeds, the militia and the Sudanese regular forces in the conflict? Who arm them, and why? Is there some kind of colonialism reminiscence or backslash in the actual conflict? What is China’s actual room for manoeuvre to pressure Sudan over the conflict in its Darfur region? Will the boycott of the Beijing Olympics save any lives in Darfur? What are the economic and political interests of Western countries in this conflict? Did something really change since more people know about Darfur? For years, displaced people and refugees are being dependent on aid from NGOs, what kind of long-term solution people of good will, wherever they come from, can offer since the population still can’t come back safely to their homes? What about sharing land in equity? And will the north allow South Sudan to separate?
Many of these questions can be unpleasant, disturbing and maybe unwanted but we should ask ourselves about what is hiding behind the answers we fear to get. I wish every situation could be summarized to a single line like we do with a tagline for movies, but the attempt to simplify things for clarity’s sake, means that the core issues are merely glossed over and all sense of the depth of the problem are lost. So if we face the right questions, will the answers and then the solutions be different? Maybe. Once again, I don’t pretend to have any answer, I just see volunteers I know being kinda desperate about the fact that absolutely nothing is different, people are still dying and all the money donated didn’t change anything, or so few. Insidiously, money, awareness and aid can even have unexpected counterproductive effects. I recently had the opportunity to ask questions to Amnesty International and Jacky Mamou, President of Collectif Urgence Darfour and Honorary President of Medecins du Monde,and it seems like without having to spell things out, they (activists, volunteers, NGOs) are way overtaken by the events and they hardly hide their growing weariness and tiredness for the situation behind their facade of optimism. They hope, expect and even pray for the conflict to end. Not very reassuring when those organizations are supposed to be the (our) powerhouse. A long-term perspective is maybe what our view of the situation lacks, because only a global approach taking into consideration economic, ethnic and historical contradictions of the region is a key prerequisite for a balanced and durable peace. This is not new, one may say this is obviously an evidence. It sure is, but then how do we get there?
Yet another tough and vast question. It is easy to point out what is going wrong, but it is not my purpose. I only try to underline that many (local but also international) stakeholders are involved, each one playing a role like in a Role Playing Game. French army in Chad and its new ‘BFF’ from Libya (When Gaddafi met Sarkozy: faked orgasm?), China and Russia but also India and other countries dealing with oil and/or arms, leaders fighting for power, people fighting for their freedom… With so many protagonists (Alex de Waal I already cited in this post, wrote an article in 2004: Darfur’s deep grievances defy all hopes for an easy solution gave an insight of the, at the time, growing problem), one can hardly believe only China’s influence could affect Sudan’s behavior or either UNAMID (African Union/United Nations Hybrid operation in Darfur) could solely bring peace to the region. Nevertheless, I still believe Tall oaks from little acorns grow but the same way we had public debates and citizen action to contribute to environmental consciousness-raising, we have to bring the same efforts to make business clear of corruption and shameful acquiescence, and do not tolerate anymore business to be only motivated by the lure of money, willfully setting aside the price it may cost to the denizens (I cited in this post about Burma, France’s Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, who rejected suggestions that Total is, for being implanted in Burma and making money, an ally of the military junta in Rangoon). Because we, citizens of the world, all know wars are stoked by external interests, because we can’t beat our enemy anymore through wars and because frustration, squalor and despair create an entire generation of people seeking revenge.
Tawanda Hondora, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme declared last month (Anger rises as insecurity worsens for Darfur’s displaced children): “There can be no durable peace without ensuring that the security and human rights of these people are respected and upheld […] Darfuri youth live in a situation where there appears to be no hope for the present or future. Angry and frustrated, some of them join armed groups“.
My friend Claude who volunteered in Africa for almost 20 years, thinks bringing attention to a conflict can be useful but can also sometimes cause more damage. Oxfam in its report: Causing Hunger: An overview of the food crisis in Africa published in July 2006 indicates: “A major investment in tackling the root causes could work and it will cost the world far less – in money and human life – than continuing the cycle of too little, too late that has been the reality of famine relief in Africa for nearly half a century“. The previous year, the Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati even declared to Der Spiegel that aid to Africa “does more harm than good” and begged: “For God’s sake, please stop the aid!“.
Another report from Amnesty International is about global standards on business and human rights: “The organization is campaigning for global standards on business and human rights and stronger legal frameworks at both national and international level to hold companies to account for their human rights impact […] Amnesty International also calls on companies to make respect for human rights an integral component of their business operations, including through their dealings with other companies, partners, associates, subsidiaries, suppliers and government officials“.
A few weeks ago, Save Darfur Coalition president Jerry Fowler underscored the importance of vigorous enforcement of the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act: “The Sudanese government will only change its behavior when the political and economic cost of continuing their campaign of destruction and displacement in Darfur becomes greater than the cost of stopping it. Lives will continue to be lost if the United States and international community do not act more vigorously to impose swift and strong consequences on Sudan.”
This article mentions the Sudan Divestment Task Force. I remember a very interesting interview of executive director Adam Sterling two years ago. Here is what Save Darfur Coalition article says about Sudan Divestment Task Force: “The following companies appear on this list and, as of September 2007, maintained contracts with the federal government: Alstom (France), Lahmeyer International (Germany), Mott Macdonald (UK). All companies renewing or pursuing new contracts with the federal government must now certify that they do not support the Sudanese government…”.
All these reports and initiatives prove the situation in Darfur is way more complicated one may think at first sight. But there are also many lines of enquiry, ideas and actions that can help a lot if international pressure on Sudan can be coordinated. In a world where individualism and protectionism are expanding in over-industrialized societies threatened by unemployment and pauperization, there is little left to think globally and to realize that what some countries do or don’t, automatically induces consequences (good or bad, but sadly more often bad than good) as in the butterfly effect. Quick answers to the problems are easy to make but without trying to define the root causes first, no long-term solutions can be found. I still hear people say: ‘First we bite then we think’. Our recent experiences have proven it wrong. Those problems or situations of crisis can be anywhere in the world and about any specific domain, in Darfur as well as in the French banlieue (or about climate change and environmental issues). The point in common being we can’t and mustn’t look away and hope it is going to be solved by itself because it won’t. Sending forces or cops won’t help, either interfering. But respect, support and sustainable help, even if not the panacea or a cure-all, will contribute to find local and long-term solutions. It will take years, decades or maybe centuries before we will be conscious that our future is intertwined with each other’s one, and that the welfare of humanity depends on us all. Whatever can be the beliefs, the color of the skin or any other kind of difference, it doesn’t carry weight when put into perspective with the fate of humanity. We are so small, one would even say insignificant, in relation to the whole of the universe. We should never forget that point, but then it will be about the meaning of life, and it is another very, very vast and contentious subject I won’t address here 😉
My conclusion is a quotation from Martin Luther King, Jr. that tells it all: “Either we learn to live together as brothers and sisters on this planet or we will perish together as fools” – Cited in Declaration of Interdependence / The Gen II: Global Peace Initiative, July 2007 – Realizing the Dream.