What is exceptional about the violence of the government-backed Janjaweed militia in Darfur is less its scale than the intense 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.
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 United States 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.
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 International Monetary Fund restructuring plan that has seen foreign investment and oil exports (along with arms imports) soar. Since September 11, Omar al-Bashir has provided the US with a steady stream of much-vaunted intelligence.
Apparent progress over the past couple of years towards a power-sharing peace accord between Al-Bashir and John Garang in the south allowed US President George W 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 British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his allies feel morally obliged to put an end to the abuse of “universal” human rights.
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, such as 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.
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 (SLA) when it launched its rebellion in February last year — not simply waited to provide charity to its survivors in the refugee camps of 2004.
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. — Â