The high point of the Darfur crisis came about when the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued a warrant of arrest for the Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir in July 2008. Bashir’s charges included conspiracy to commit genocide along with other war crimes. He was also charged with racially polarizing Darfur between blacks and Arabs, subjecting survivors to slow death from malnutrition and torture in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. The single source of violence in all these charges was President Bashir’s government.
In this book published in the US in 2010 by Three Rivers Press (and earlier by Verso Books), Mamdani argues that what really happened in Darfur was not a genocide but a civil war, similar to what took place in Northern Uganda, Congo, Chad and other African countries. Mamdani argues that the Darfur conflict was essentially a conflict over land that escalated due to the Saherian drought and the war in neighboring Chad. More dangerously, the cold war of 1970-90 and competing oil interests in the region, put Darfur on an uncertain road and set the stage for future events. With the war on terror, yet another dimension was added to the mix, bringing America into the fray as an active player.
A statement by the US Special Envoy to Sudan Andrew S. Natsios’s to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2007 appears to corroborate Mamdani’s stance that the Darfur conflict is not about Arabs eliminating Africans. Speaking to the Committee, Natsio said:
“So I think this is a very bad idea to think that this is all Africans versus all Arabs. That is simply not true, and it may make peace harder if people think the bad guys are all the Arabs and the good guys are all the African tribes. That is simply not the case…”
Mamdani further questions the premises for international intervention in the Darfur conflict. Although groups like The Save Darfur Movement estimate the death toll figures in Darfur to be between 200,000 and 450,000 – all mostly due to violent conflict, Mamdani appears not only to question these estimates but also whether the numbers in themselves qualify the conflict as a genocide.
On peace, perhaps the highpoint of this book, Mamdani stresses the need for a traditional/internally driven initiative, akin to “survivors’ justice” — the kind that informed the post-apartheid era. He calls for an inclusive political order that prioritizes protection of the civilian population. For Mamdani, an “externally imposed rescue and punishment” team, would have the very same flaws as the war on terror. Such interventions, he argues, are not movements for peace — maybe for punishment! For they never address the complexities of the crisis, but work with frames and identities; the bad and the good guys!
Along with addressing the crisis in Darfur, Mamdani tackles the issues underlining global politics in the context of Africa. He starts with highlighting the inappropriate way the western media covers Africa, often using novice reporters and mostly seeing the continent only through the lens of war.
Mamdani argues that “The Save Darfur lobby” in the United States has turned the tragedy of the people into a knife with which to cut and slice Africa by demonizing one group of Africans –African Arabs. For Mamdani, “undergirding the claim that genocide has occurred in Darfur is another born of colonial historiography”.
By looking at the International Criminal Court, United Nations and other humanitarian movements in this context, Mamdani’s Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror is accusatory and incisive, and, ultimately, a passionate call to rethink Africa’s future and place in the world.