June 9 update, h/t Africa Files: Human Rights Watch Report–“As South Split Looms, Abuses Grow in Darfur”.
I will join with many others in recommending Rebecca Hamilton’s Fighting for Darfur as well worth buying and reading for anyone interested in American policy in Africa, citizen activism in the West as a foreign policy input, genocide as a moral and political challenge and Sudan specifically. Don’t get lost in the debate without taking time to get the book and read it–it is relatively short and quite accessible for busy non-specialists.
African Arguments features noteworthy reviews by Laura Seay of Morehouse College and Texas in Africa and Alex Thurston of Sahel Blog.
Hamilton was personally involved as a student activist and also worked for a time at the ICC after graduating from Harvard Law School before taking up this book project and journalism full-time. Combining the roles of insider and journalist lets Hamilton provide the reader with direct access to an unusual range of the players in the activist and political community and those in the U.S. government at the time. She also has direct experience and follow-up reporting from the camps in Darfur and Chad and sources in Darfur and access to officials in Khartoum. She was also able to get some of the basic U.S. government documents declassified quickly enough to be used in her reporting.
Hamilton is left asking more questions than she is able to answer in the wake of the failure of the activists to deliver any clear positive change in the situation in Darfur in spite of their success in moving the domestic American political process in such a way that the United States officially engaged in a variety of diplomatic efforts. Nonetheless, there is significant learning on offer here–and perhaps that learning can save some lives in the future.
It seems that there is some realization that the activists did not know enough about the context and specific background of the complex situation in Darfur as opposed to some other situation of mass atrocities in some other place or time. There may be ways to address this shortfall in preparation for future conflagrations. At the same time, I don’t think that it necessarily follows that our government would have accomplished more without the youthful energy and passion of the activists, or that things would not have gotten even worse in Darfur if the United States had not engaged to the extent that it did.
Writ large, this is a reminder that we don’t get second bites at the apple. Darfur is not Rwanda and cannot offer redemption for our failure to act there. Likewise, 2003 did not offer a second chance at the situation that the United States faced at the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. In fact, invading Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam Hussein ended up hamstringing the U.S. in responding to the newer crisis in Darfur. Nonetheless, from our failures we can learn, and Hamilton’s is a real contribution.
On the “to read” list, here is a review from the Stanford Social Innovation Review of More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics is Helping to Solve Global Poverty” Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel.