- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mahmood Mamdani, a Uganda-born professor of anthropology and political science at Columbia University, has created a raging controversy over whether the Sudanese government’s response to a six-year rebellion in Darfur constitutes a genocide.

In a new book, “Saviors and Survivors,” the Columbia professor weaves history, statistics on deaths and displacements, and 156 pages of footnotes to support his view that no genocide occurred in the country’s vast westernmost province.

Beyond facts, his interpretation bundles 19th-century British colonialism, the Cold War struggle against Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi and his allies in Darfur’s neighbor, Chad, and the war on terrorism into a narrative on Darfur’s plight.

The professor contends that there is no evidence of intent by the Islamic fundamentalist government of President Omar Bashir to exterminate a whole group of people in the province, which would justify the label “genocide.”

The label was used by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell during the first term of President George W. Bush. But the United Nations and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands — which has indicted Lt. Gen. Bashir for war crimes — have avoided using the term.

The ethnic groups targeted by Sudan’s government and allied Janjaweed militias are the regions three main tribes - the Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit, all close to the border with Chad. Chadian President Idriss Deby is an ethnic Zaghawa, Mr. Mamdani said.

Mr. Mamdani did not dispute reports of a scorched-earth policy, in which entire villages have been flattened, along with massacres and mass rapes that have killed an estimated 300,000 people and driven 2.5 million more into squalid refugee camps, according to agencies supporting victims.

However, the sheer complexity of the racial, ethnic and occupational patterns in Darfur, Mr. Mamdani argued, negate a simple labeling of the conflict as a genocide by Sudanese Arabs against black Africans.

This is how the Save Darfur Coalition depicts the conflict, Mr. Mamdani said.

The campaign seeks international intervention against the government. A spokesman for the group declined to answer questions for this report.

Stephen Hayes, president of the Washington-based Corporate Council on Africa, another group closely watching the Darfur situation, cautions against overly simplistic characterizations of the conflict.

“The situation is far more complex than presented in the media or by any one lobby. It is historic in its roots and also has an environmental component to it. It is a very difficult situation that I do not see resolved in the near future,” Mr. Hayes said.

The Save Darfur Coalition is a group of nongovernmental faith-based and humanitarian agencies, supported by socially conscious entertainment stars such as George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Mia Farrow.

The coalition recently addressed Mr. Mamdani’s conclusions in a statement to “Here and Now,”a program produced by a Boston public radio station.

It said Mr. Mamdani “completely rejects the legitimacy of organizations like the Save Darfur Coalition — whose mission is to amplify the voice of the victims in order to mobilize the international community to pursue a comprehensive strategy of policies to resolve the conflict.”

The coalition said the professor preaches “a disjointed conspiracy that the Darfur movement is a front for supporters of U.S. policies on Iraq and the war on terror.”

It also charged that he “promotes a false image of Save Darfur in order to support his claims about the geopolitics of humanitarian intervention in Africa.”

John Norris, executive director of Enough Project, another advocacy group for Darfur victims, said the term “genocide” is justified, given the scorched-earth policy that the Sudanese government has pursued to crush its opposition in western Sudan.

Mr. Norris also acknowledged that “the Darfur conflict is not the black-and-white-racial conflict” as described by some.

Enough Project is part of the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank. It seeks to combat genocide and other war crimes of the 21st century.

A key supporter of the Darfur genocide theory and a founder and director of Enough Project is John Prendergast, a longtime critic of the Arab fundamentalist government in Khartoum.

In March, President Obama named J. Scott Gration, a retired Air Force major general and specialist in African affairs, as special envoy to Sudan, to seek a diplomatic solution to the Darfur conflict.

Last month, Mr. Gration visited China, which wields considerable influence in Sudan because of its business ties. A delegation from the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa also held talks with Sudanese officials in Khartoum last month. Initial weeks of Mr. Gration’s appointment, however, were dominated by efforts to return representatives of international aid agencies, which had been expelled by the Bashir government.

The expulsions followed the International Criminal Court’s indictment in March against Gen. Bashir, accusing him of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Gen. Bashir immediately undertook a journey through friendly Arab nations in the region, such as Egypt and Qatar, where he was received warmly. The court has no police force and depends on national governments to arrest its indictees.

Mr. Mamdani said the struggle in Darfur began as a land grab by landless nomadic tribes who lost their pastures as severe desertification moved the Sahara’s border south, producing a local conflict from 1987 to 1989.

It remained a local civil war until 2003, when two Darfur groups - the Justice and Equality Movement, partly under the influence of Hassan Turabi, a radical Islamic intellectual who had fallen out of favor with Gen. Bashir, and the Sudanese Liberation Army, taking its cues from the success of the southern Sudanese People’s Liberation Front - turned the fight into a struggle against the national government.

The two Darfur groups charged discrimination when the Sudanese government made peace with a separate insurgency in southern Sudan, which it had fought the central government for more than two decades.

A key factor in both rebellions, Mr. Mamdani said, is the presence of oil in both regions.

Another parallel between the Darfur and the southern Sudanese rebellions is that in both cases, international humanitarian agencies sided with the rebels against the Khartoum government, he said.

The two rebel movements in Darfur are splintered, and the international community has drawn up several agreements that have failed to stop the conflict.

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