[Marxism] The Sudan - Enough imperial crusades

Bob Wood bobwood1 at btopenworld.com
Wed Aug 18 06:17:12 MDT 2004

The following seems to me a fairly well balanced assessment, opposing both
imperialist intervention and the nasty regime in Khartoum. But whether
African armies are the answer must be open to doubt. The pillaging of
natural resources in the eastern Congo by Rwandan and Ugandan soldiers has
been well documented, as has the asset stripping indulged in by Nigerian
troops in Liberia. Surely it is time that the left showed some solidarity
with the JEM and the SLA though?

Bob Wood

To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site, go
to http://www.guardian.co.uk

Enough imperial crusades
The alternative to armed intervention in Darfur is not passive resignation,
but support for an African Union-led solution
Peter Hallward
Wednesday August 18 2004
The Guardian

What is exceptional about the violence of the government-backed Janjaweed
militia in Darfur, is less its scale than the intense - if belated -
international attention it has received.

To oppose direct western intervention in Sudan is not to downplay Khartoum's
crimes during this latest twist in the catastrophic war that has cost
perhaps two million lives since 1983. Over the last 20 years, in order to
shore up their exclusive and authoritarian rule, Sudan's succession of
military rulers have done everything possible to sustain an often imaginary
distinction between "Arabs" and "Africans", pitting Muslims against
Christians and herders against farmers .

Before we jump to the conclusion that benevolent invasion, however, is the
natural consequence of our new-found humanitarian duties, we should remember
that this won't be the first time that either Britain or the US has
intervened in Sudan. An earlier moral crusade, the "war against slavery",
provided much of the ostensible justification for British colonisation of
the region at the end of the 19th century. Britain's disastrous southern
policy, inaugurated in 1929, made permanent the long-standing division
between a relatively prosperous (mainly Muslim) northern territory and a
much poorer (mainly animist or Christian) southern territory. The war that
began between these two territories even before the British abandoned the
colony in 1956 entered its most violent phase shortly after the Americans
began backing, in the late 70s, the flagging regime of Sudan's increasingly
reactionary General Gaafar Nimeiri.

The resulting chaos created the conditions for the Taliban-style reaction
whose effects continue to shape the situation even today. In Sudan, the
backlash against US meddling came in the form of Hassan al-Turabi's National
Islamic Front, and in 1989 a new regime took over, an unstable combination
of Turabi's NIF and another military clique led by general Omar al-Bashir.
Bashir and Turabi turned Sudan against its cold war ally, strengthened the
divisive enforcement of Islamic law and devoted new resources to the assault
on the underdeveloped south.

Despite this history, until the public relations war in Iraq started going
so badly a couple of months ago it seemed that Sudan might have done enough
to ward off further US hostility. Since 1997, the country has adhered to a
strict IMF restructuring plan that has seen foreign investment and oil
exports (along with arms imports) soar. Since 9/11, Bashir has provided the
US with a steady stream of much-vaunted intelligence. Apparent progress over
the last couple   of years towards a power-sharing peace accord between
Bashir and John Garang in the south allowed George Bush to trumpet a rare
foreign policy success, one that finally offered US investors the prospect
of access to Sudan's oil.

But Bush's opportunity to adopt an election-season cause that can appeal,
simultaneously, to fundamentalist Christians, the National Association for
the Advancement of Coloured People, multilateralist liberals and the
altruistic "left" may now be too tempting to pass up.

The crisis in Darfur clearly meets several of the criteria that must apply
before Blair and his allies feel morally obliged to put an end to the abuse
of "universal" human rights. First of all, the aggressor should be off the
payroll: this rules out Turkey, Indonesia, Colombia, Israel. More
importantly, the victims to be saved should lack an organised, militant
movement. This rules out Palestine. Failing that, these victims should
appear as helpless refugees in the wake of such a movement's defeat - this
is why we are talking about intervention now rather than during the spring
of 2003.

Finally, there should be little prospect of any awkward political issue
interfering with the primary purpose of such humanitarian missions, namely
the moral validation of western power. This has long been enough to exclude
genuine concern about the sale of arms, the spread of Aids, the consequences
of structural adjustment policies and the ruinous terms of international

The rest of us should not pretend, though, that another round of
"humanitarian intervention" would represent anything other than the soft
face of that same imperialism so hard at work today in Gaza, Afghanistan and
Iraq. Fresh from an illegal and deceitful war of aggression, Anglo-US forces
now have only one moral responsibility: to stay at home.

The alternative is certainly not passive resignation. We should fund the
immediate and forceful deployment of African peacekeepers and build on the
example recently set by Paul Kagame's Rwanda. We should help the African
Union become an effective and independent political actor, capable of
brokering equitable political solutions to the long-standing conflicts that
western intervention, almost always, has only helped provoke. We should
press our governments to reverse the policies that contribute to poverty and
violence in Sudan and its neighbours.

Most importantly, we should learn to approach conflicts like the wars in
Sudan in terms of actors and principle rather than victims and confusion.
Where they exist, we should lend direct political support to movements
working for justice and equality.

Had we been serious about the claims of Darfur's farmers for a more
equitable distribution of wealth, we should have explored ways of
contributing to their non-violent pursuit, or else supported the Sudan
Liberation Army when it launched its initially successful rebellion in
February 2003 - not simply waited to provide charity to its survivors in the
refugee camps of 2004.

And if we are still serious about the SLA's claims now, then we should
debate their merits and decide whether, and how, to help those struggling to
achieve them. This is a political question before it is a moral or
humanitarian one. Today's humanitarian crisis is precisely a result of past
political failure.

· Peter Hallward teaches at King's College London and is the author of
Absolutely Postcolonial.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

More information about the Marxism mailing list