The ongoing genocide in Darfur

By Medha Subramani

Calgarian Darfur activist Ameera Abbo asked her father if she should come visit family in Darfur.

“Don’t come-you may be the only one to survive from our family,” he explained.

The worsening genocide in Darfur by the government-backed Arab Janjaweed militia against Abbo’s Darfurian community is met in Canada by a largely apathetic media and public, despite our direct ties to the conflict.

The conflict boils down to the economic and political marginalization of Darfur by the largely Arab central government, according to University of Calgary anthropology professor Robin Thelwall.

The government exploits local issues of ecology and economics to conceal its own genocidal agenda, aimed at allowing those adhering to its own extremist brand of religion and racist ideology to inhabit the land, explained Freedom Quest executive director Mel Middleton.

“Without government arming of militias, these issues would be minor conflicts and would resolve themselves with traditional methods,” said Middleton.

Mustafa Mousa, a Darfurian who has lived in Calgary for two and a half years agreed.

“The people in Darfur have their own customs, own language and own tradition,” said Mousa. “They refused to implement that other [Arab] culture. Because of this, the Khartoum government wanted to remove them from their area and bring Arab people to live in there.”

This summer marked the largest influx, more than 30,000 Arabs from Chad into Darfur, all with Sudanese government documentation, confirming that the government is actively repopulating the region to change its demographics, according to a Jul. 14, 2007 article featured in the Independent.

Sudan’s use of Russian and Chinese artillery, jets and equipment has people wondering where they got the money to buy these things. That’s where Canada steps in. Calgary’s own Talisman Energy Inc.’s $650 million investment in building an oil pipeline provided important moral cover to the government, which then was able to mortgage the oil that was in the ground on credit, which it used to buy weapons, explained Middleton.

“Corporations make more profit by dealing with dictatorships than they do by dealing with democracies,” said Middleton. “It suits the aspirations of some of these corporate players to have that kind of a regime in place, they can make bigger profits.”

Divestment from businesses operating in Sudan as well as the imposition of economic sanctions has been widely advocated. However, this is a moot point.

“To say that a company shouldn’t go into a community would be not recognizing that there is a major potential benefit,” said U of C business ethics professor Loren Falkenberg. According to Falkenberg, a company whose profits are greater than the developing country’s GDP has a disproportionate amount of economic power and can use their moral suasion to keep the government in check.

Falkenberg explained Talisman did not advertise its very positive effect on the surrounding community including the $12 million to be distributed in the community over time after it left.

“If you did the accounting, there would be some money going to arms but it wasn’t to the level that the opponents suggested,” said Falkenberg. “What is the trade-off? Is the trade-off worthwhile between providing jobs and economic infrastructure knowing that some of that money may be misused by the government?”

It seems myopic to say that if a Canadian company is not invested there nobody else will be, noted Centre for Public Interest Accounting director Dean Neu.

“Sudan has a resource that the world needs and wants and there will always be someone who is willing to take those resources from the ground,” said Neu. “They may have more or less ethical concerns and standards. I don’t think that when a company decides to leave a situation, we as activists have won the battle. It means that we have to start all over again by influencing the new company.”

Jane Wells, a producer of The Devil Came on Horseback, a documentary following the Darfur genocide, lauded the huge growth of student activism on the issue of genocide in Darfur following the movie’s release.

“There has been a huge grassroots movement in Canada, U.S., U.K. and elsewhere,” said Wells.

At the U of C Students Take Action Now: Darfur want to raise awareness on campus about Darfur, combatting widespread apathy and ignorance.

“We’re trying to get our voice heard for the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” said STAND campus representative Parminder Raeewal.

China, whose Olympic slogan is “One World, One Dream,” is one of the largest traders in arms with Sudan.

“Since this is the first time they are coming onto the world stage, we should embarrass them and say that what you’re doing is wrong.”

Wells explained activists should try to use this limited opportunity to persuade China to use its economic clout to do the right thing.

STAND has a whole host of on-campus activities like documentary showings, a Darfur fast, a breakdancing competition and the genocide hotline that connects citizens to important MPs, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“I think that is a very valid course of action,” said Wells. “We have to tell our elected officials that ending genocide is a priority. At the end of the day this thing will only end if we put pressure on politicians internationally.”

With startling comparisons to Rwanda, the situation in Darfur has been termed a “genocide in slow motion,” the international community “impotent” and popular and international response as “criminally negligent” in the face of the 21st century’s first genocide by popular press and activists like Middleton.

With a few notable exceptions, the mainstream media in Alberta has effectively dodged the Darfur conflict. When a Calgarian company was involved in Sudan and a report brought up human rights abuses, the company would threaten legal action. The second, more shaming reason is that most of the mainstream simply doesn’t care about Africa, explained Middleton.

“Africa is sort of off the beaten track,” said Middleton. “It’s not something that the general public is very interested in so they don’t report on it anyway.”

Thelwall was far more skeptical of what the international community could do to solve the underlying cause of the conflict, limited to dialogue between the highly splintered Darfurian rebel groups and the government.

“No one from the outside’s going to make any difference,” said Thelwall. “They’ll stop people from dying but they won’t stop the problem because, at the end, it is a Sudanese problem with two sides and their vested interests.”

The peacekeeping mission has been thus far delegated to ill-equipped and poorly funded African Union troops. Their governments are easily manipulated by Khartoum, who insists on an “African solution to an African problem.” However, Khartoum’s reluctance towards outside help is an indication that they have something to hide.

“I don’t see any reason for them to be there,” said Abbo regarding the AU. “They are doing nothing.”

The UNAMID force of 26,000 troops will be a joint AU and UN mission, but it’s having trouble taking off. The Sudanese government, which has to provide visas and appropriate infrastructure for the force is using its usual delaying tactics, noted Wells. The force was first scheduled to be there in Oct., then Dec., now next spring.

“By the time they get the permission from the Sudanese government, everybody will be finished,” said Abbo, who noted he doesn’t understand why the international community is accommodating the Sudanese government while more people die.

“Who are they going to save later on?” said Abbo. “That’s what we want from Canada. It has to intervene. Then only it will have the honour of being called a peace-building country.”

Though Canada has been a major contributor in relation to other countries, the results on the ground are negligible. Middleton called our contribution “token humanitarian aid.” Canada needs to provide leadership as it did during the South African apartheid, said Middleton. Mousa and Raeewal also stressed the importance of increasing aid and security to the Internal Displaced Persons camps, where attacks still occur, and living conditions are dismal.

“We have a $14 billion surplus,” said Middleton. “We have the resources to do this. We’ve got the UN resolution; we have the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, which was a Canadian initiative. We only lack the political will.”

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