After a lull lasting more than a year, the corporate press is, once again, zeroing in on the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region. This sudden attention corresponds with a drive to build a national political movement against the Sudanese government and in favor of U.S. military intervention in Africa’s biggest country.
This movement, which has been spearheaded by a coalition of evangelical Christian and Jewish organizations, has had some success building a campus-based movement for divestment from companies doing business with Sudan. April 30 demonstrations in Washington and other cities urged the Bush administration to intervene in Darfur. President Bush personally met with and praised coalition leaders.
Why the renewed interest? Certainly some are drawn to this movement by the devastating humanitarian crisis. But what’s in it for U.S. imperialism? Might Sudan’s substantial oil reserves have anything to do with this? It’s clear that at least one powerful section of the U.S. ruling class is pushing for increased intervention in Sudan.
The corporate media portray the conflict in Darfur as a racial war between Arabs and Africans. The reality is that all Sudanese are African, all Darfuri people are dark-skinned, and two-thirds of the world’s Arabs live in Africa. Darfur’s many ethnic groups are overwhelmingly Muslim. They label themselves “African” or “Arab” based on what language they speak.
The media and right-wing groups sow confusion by fanning anti-Arab hysteria and playing on the sympathies of African Americans for the plight of Black Africans. The accusation that Sudan’s government also plays the race card only illustrates the similarities between its tactics and those of the right-wing Bush regime.
The war in Darfur began in 2003 with an uprising against the government. For the last 20 years, Sudan has been involved in a civil war pitting the Arabic-speaking Muslim north against the mostly non-Arab south. Arab nationalism has been often used by Sudan’s government, dominated by Islamic fundamentalists, to rally support for its ongoing wars.
Darfur provided the regime with a disproportionately large number of conscripted soldiers, but as the North-South civil war was winding down, the prospect of peace brought promise of newfound wealth from exploitation of oil and gas. The Darfuri rebels demanded an end to poverty and neglect, asking that some of the new wealth be spent in Darfur.
The government responded by whipping up Arab nationalism and encouraging Arab militias to attack the rebels and their civilian supporters. The ensuing bloodshed resulted in tens of thousands of deaths, ethnic cleansing, arson, rapes and an estimated 2.5 million refugees living in squalid camps, some in neighboring Chad.
That was the situation in January 2005 when the peace agreement was signed ending the civil war between North and South. Since then the African Union (AU) has sent 7,800 peacekeepers to Darfur, while it has brokered peace talks in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. European and Arab countries have sent humanitarian aid, and the UN and NATO have helped the AU peacekeepers with some logistical support.
Meanwhile, the situation in Darfur has deteriorated as the Arab militias have split into rival factions competing with Darfuri rebels, warlords and bandits. The AU peacekeeping force is too small to oversee a region the size of Darfur, food and humanitarian assistance convoys are routinely robbed, and most “Western” countries, including the U.S., have cut down on their assistance to Darfuri civilians.
Earlier this year Bush suggested an expanded international UN role in Darfur “with NATO stewardship.” U.S. imperialism is pushing for NATO intervention, or in lieu of NATO, a UN intervention with heavy NATO involvement. NATO, after all, is a tool for U.S. domination, so if imperialism can’t intervene directly it can come in by participating in a UN force. The U.S. already has military bases in this region from the Atlantic through Mauritania, Mali and Niger to Chad. Stationing NATO troops in Sudan will complete a deployment across the continent from ocean to ocean.
NATO intervention has not brought peace to Afghanistan, nor has U.S. intervention brought peace to Iraq. The solution for Darfur requires the same international effort that brought a peace agreement to end Sudan’s North-South civil war. The peace talks in Abuja have moved slowly, but appear to be on the brink of an agreement to resolve the crisis. The U.S. should be encouraging a comprehensive peace agreement, a beefed-up AU peacekeeping force and a huge increase in humanitarian aid.
Ending the war on Iraq would free up billions of dollars for humanitarian aid in Darfur. The upcoming U.S. elections provide an opportunity for Americans to reject policies of military intervention. What is needed is real humanitarian assistance to Africa and the Middle East, not U.S. or NATO armies.