DARFUR NOW? (and who’s next?)

I saw the documentary film Darfur Now a few nights ago with a friend—and when we left, we didn’t say much. I’m not sure why, but I think this was because these massacres feel endless, and there’s really not much to say.

And anyway, the question that matters is what is there to do?

This is where the film shows six different people trying and doing different things, according to their circumstances and natures, to alleviate the suffering on the ground in Darfur.

Although Darfur Now is not a deeply political or historically detailed film (perhaps because these heinous situations, like in the Congo, Northern Uganda and elsewhere, are so utterly complex), the film brought home the systemic horrors of everyday life there; a lying, violent government, the marauding Janjaweed, the usual international contradictions, efforts and impotence, the struggle to get international awareness and support to really effect change, and just the ongoing ability for humans to be brutal to each other.

The immediate complexity of the battle lines are evident when one official says something about how the brutality is not about Arabs and blacks—the people are the same—and one of the victims in the camp, who is black, says, and I am paraphrasing, we are not Arabs—it is the Arabs who are doing this.

As for Sudan itself, civil war is nothing new. Indeed, it has been mired by civil war more than any other African country (if I remember correctly) since the inception of its independence. From Uganda Rising, on the section on colonialism:

In Sudan, the British ruled the Arabs in the north and the blacks in the south as separate colonies—only to combine the areas before independence in 1956. The result has been relentless civil war, the Darfur massacres being the latest tragedy.

But this horrendous, systematic attack in Darfur has steered away from the North/South battle lines drawn with independence.

STAR POWER

The film itself magnified a strange (perhaps) modern reality: for starters, a general lack of wise, nuanced, active or compassionate political leadership from virtually anywhere.

One could argue leadership’s almost always been that way.

But in this modern day, or at least in this documentary, actors are the voices of leadership (which speaks volumes of both desperation and farce in an absolutely un-farcical misery).

Profoundly trying to demand action in this case are Don Cheadle and George Clooney, with Governor Arnold “The Terminater” Schwarzenegger helping out with the signing of a divestment bill that prevents California from economically supporting the Darfur atrocities.

Well god bless ‘em—seriously—but it is a curious state of affairs, and I could weep just writing here about humanity’s limitations, individually and collectively, for myriad reasons.

The Toronto International Film Festival listing describes the film this way:

The ongoing atrocities in Darfur, Sudan, remain one of the world’s great challenges—not just to our politicians but to each of us individually. Eventually, when the crisis ends, what can we say we did to help resolve it?

This is the question that drives Ted Braun’s urgent, necessary new documentary. Darfur Now follows six people who have taken up the challenge to help stop the murder, rape and displacement the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit people of Darfur have suffered since 2003.

One of those six is a movie star [and the seventh person would be George Clooney], and it is to this film’s great credit that his work on Darfur is stitched seamlessly together with the others’ efforts.

Don Cheadle first became active in humanitarian crises in Africa after starring in Hotel Rwanda.

Darfur Now shows him continuing to spend the currency of his celebrity to make the situation in Darfur more widely known and impossible to dismiss.

“We’re trying to speak in a loud voice now,” he says, “so that people cannot say ‘I was unaware.’ They can only say ‘I acted’ or ‘I stood by.’”?

INDIVIDUALS

I am often inspired and amazed by how many ordinary people—Adam Sterling (of the Sudan Divestment Task Force) in this film, for example—give so much to do extraordinary things for people in desperate need (and doing anything has a taste of the extraordinary).

And those in the film, battered sisters and brothers on the ground in Darfur—Hejewa Adam (a woman whose child was killed and has joined a rebel group to fight the Janjaweed and Khartoum), Pablo Recalde (the World Food Program) and Ahmed Mohammed Abakar (a local, displaced sheik)—who keep trying to do something with their various windows of hope and desperation.

AND THE ICC

And the ongoing yet inconceivable challenges for the International Criminal Court’s passionate Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

As has been witnessed in Northern Uganda and elsewhere, indicting war criminals is a lot more straightforward than bringing them to justice.

And regardless of the crimes—and of course they are horrendous, whether Charles Taylor, Joseph Kony, Slobodan Milošević or Ahmed Haroun, Sudan’s State Minister for Humanitarian Affairs [god knows what the word for Orwellian is in any of the 134 languages spoken in Sudan] and former State Minister of the Interior, and Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Janjaweed, for war crimes and crimes against humanity—not everyone even agrees that indictments are the best way to bring about peace.

But to speak the obvious, there is no easy answer that I can see, for any of this misery.

People must do and will do what they can—unfortunately that human instinct includes those people and forces exacerbating violence.

Why? I don’t know, but the inequities in the world are staggering, and within these inequites are massive amounts of small arms and weaponry, manipulation and, perhaps worst of all, finite resources. And people at war and killing each other can be good for business.

THE CHINA SYNDROME

Here China (and Russia, I have read, but to a much lesser degree) is making, by their greed and hatred of freedom and human rights, the heinous situation more heinous—with oil once again greasing the allowance of unspeakable misery.

This from a Reuters news article:

The Small Arms Survey said China’s financial support to Sudan indirectly helped finance its wars, lifting Khartoum’s income to at least $1.3 billion a year from oil revenues.

Chinese companies have controlling interests in Sudan’s largest oil blocks and 50 percent of its largest refinery. But Chinese investment was larger than just oil, the report said.

“China is now northern Sudan’s most important trade partner,” the report said, adding investment was in construction, dams and railways as well as the energy sector.

On arms, the report said Chinese-Sudanese military relations strengthened from 2002 with high-level exchange visits.

While little information is available, it cited U.N. figures showing China as the largest military weapons and parts supplier to Sudan in 2004 and 2005, overtaking Iran. In 2005 it supplied almost $25 million worth.

The report said pressure from advocacy groups and negative media attention ahead of China hosting the 2008 Olympic Games had pushed Beijing to use its influence over Sudan more wisely.

The full article is here.

And this from the Children’s Hunger Relief Fund:

Since early 2003, government-supported [Omar Bashir] militias called the Janjaweed [“devils on horseback”] have carried out a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing against the civilian population of Darfur (Western Sudan).

The Janjaweed have been ruthlessly and viciously eliminating entire communities and ways of life: villages are razed, women and girls raped and branded, men and boys murdered, and food and water supplies targeted and destroyed. The government-sponsored campaign has led to the deaths of almost 300,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million others from their homes.

Although there were some hopeful signs in 2005 that the violence was abating, the attacks have increased since the beginning of 2006. As an indication of the cruelty of this campaign, food convoys have been specifically targeted. Refugees in the camps and aid workers have also been attacked.

Many refugee families are headed up by women with no form of income, as the men have been killed trying to defend their homes and villages. There are also many orphans who have lost or been separated from their parents during attacks.

Large parts of Darfur are desert, and conditions are difficult and dangerous during the best of times. The deadly combination of the Janjaweed and the regional drought have made these the very worst of times.

Indeed. If nothing else, make yourself aware. If you figure out exactly what should be done by you, please do it.

Love more, please, and lots of love to you and yours. May they sleep well…

Pete

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One Response to “DARFUR NOW? (and who’s next?)”

  1. Karen says:

    Hi Pete,

    A little social commentary if I may. Next Tuesday our great state will turn out in dribbles to decide, among other things, if we should amend the section of the state constitution that deals with who has the right of suffrage. The amendment would consist of deleting the words “idiot or insane person? and inserting instead the phrase “’person who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to lack the capacity to understand the act of voting’ shall not enjoy the right of suffrage.?

    Two thousand and seven and we are just getting around to changing this and from us you expect competent attention to places like Darfur?

    But I have to wonder, if this amendment passes will voter turnout increase in the next election because more people qualify to vote.

    Sorry, my mood is showing.

    In all fairness, the other questions involve appropriating additional funds for tax reform (tax me to reform my taxes?), open spaces/historical preservation, and stem cell research.

    May the gods see fit to protect us from ourselves.

    In truth, I think most people would try to help in places like Darfur if they: 1) had some idea of how to help besides throwing money or writing a congressman; 2) trusted agencies to use funds and manpower wisely, and; 3) actually had some proof their actions were making a difference.

    By the way, did you hear about the report on 60 Minutes about “plumpynut?? That stuff seems to have the potential to do some serious good.

    Keep on livin’, lovin’, and laughin’,
    Karen

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