Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton MA

Op-Ed Published Friday, 15 September 2006.

 

Keeping “Peacekeepers” Out of Darfur (Submitted Title)

 

by keith harmon snow & Dimitri Oram

 

 

The humanitarian tragedy in the Darfur region of Sudan revolves around natural resources. Such struggles in Sudan began in the days when a budding journalist passed through Khartoum and reported on the British victory at the Battle of Omdurman. “The weapons, the methods and the fanaticism of the Middle Ages,” reported Winston Churchill, “were brought by an extraordinary anachronism into dire collision with the organization and inventions of the 19th century. The result was not surprising.” The gattling gun silenced some 60,000 Sudanese tribesmen armed only with spears, bows and arrows.

 

While colonialism died a hard death in Sudan, during the Cold War the control of the Sudan remained central to the U.S. and its anti-communist allies throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. War began in the early 1980’s, and after 1990 the U.S. supported the southern Christian rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, for over a decade, until a peace deal was struck in 2003.

 

In the 1990’s an Islamic government came to power, and tensions escalated (1998) when the Clinton Administration bombed the Al Shifta pharmaceutical factory, the country’s only producer of medical supplies. After 9/11 the Bush Administration warmed to the Government of Sudan, and today Sudan is both credited as a pivotal ally in the “War on Terror” and castigated as “a rogue Arab government committing genocide against black Africans in Darfur.”

 

Darfur is now the flashpoint for the international geopolitical chess-game to control Sudan and its resources. For example, the U.S. Sugar industry notes that Sudan is a major sugar producer, and the American Botanical Council credits Darfur with supplying two-thirds of world-supply of high-quality gum Arabic—an ingredient in soft drinks and pharmaceutical products. [1] USAID funded Gum Arabic projects throughout the 1980’s, but suspended them with the ascension of the Islamic government in the 1990’s. And, as noted by Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of the rebel Justice and Equality Movement, one of mysterious factions fighting in Darfur, “oil is everywhere in Sudan.” Darfur is rich in uranium, copper, gold and petroleum.

 

Combatants in Darfur not only arrive on camels and horses—the infamous “janjaweed” ever credited with genocide—but also in C-130 aircraft, with logistical and strategic support provided by U.S. Air Forces in Europe, under U.S. Marine General James Jones. [2] Backed by the U.S. and NATO, the 7000 troops of the African Union (AU) “peacekeeping” force have only deepened the quagmire: the AU force is accused of taking sides and there are calls for withdrawal. Rwandan troops with the AU mission in Darfur are themselves accused of having committed atrocities in the Congo. The U.S. and its allies, including Britain, Israel and Taiwan, continue to press their interests in the region: both the U.S. and Israel today support combatants in Chad, Sudan and Congo.

 

U.S. taxpayers also support the operations of U.S. troops in Uganda, Chad, and Ethiopia—three states embroiled in humanitarian crises and war. Acts of genocide and war crimes proliferate in each, but no one is calling for “peacekeeping” missions here. International aid and human rights organizations widely acknowledge that the crises in northern Uganda is the worst in the world, yet the least talked about. Atrocities routinely occur in Ethiopia, and Ethiopian military leaders defected to Eritrea last month in protest of the government’s role. Meanwhile, the attention of the U.S. public has been narrowly focused on the “moral necessity” of intervention to “stop genocide” in Darfur.

 

While spending two billion dollars a year on the world’s most neglected emergency, the United Nations Observers Mission in Congo (M.O.N.U.C.), partially funded by the U.S. public, was unable to stem the mortalities: some 30,000 Congolese have died monthly (1000 people a day) from violence, disease and malnutrition. [3] The situation in Congo remains dire, more deadly than Darfur. M.O.N.U.C. “peacekeepers” have committed atrocities against civilians. Weapons and minerals continue to flow across Congo’s borders routinely, and recent news reports claim that uranium from Congo has appeared in Iran. [4] War in Congo continues.

 

Those in the U.S. who call for intervention in Darfur fail to understand the greater geopolitical context. Given current realities in Sudan, no intervention in Darfur will proceed, and if it did it would fail. U.S. citizens should support the ongoing peace process mediated by the Eritreans, involving the Sudanese government and the Darfur resistance, which seeks to find a permanent solution to the Darfur crisis. The saying in the Horn is “all roads to peace in the Horn of Africa run through Asmara,” the Eritrean capital, and this is where the winds of change are blowing.

 

In every case, intervention in the Horn of Africa has only worsened the crises. The promise of the United Nations “peacekeeping” missions has been compromised, and attention needs to shift to reforming “peacekeeping” and “humanitarian” agendas and addressing the root causes. Sending more armed forces from outside Sudan will destroy all hope of peaceful resolution, and the people of the Horn of Africa—given their awareness of Sudan’s vast petroleum and uranium reserves, and war in Lebanon and Iraq—are deeply cynical of the motivations of Westerners who call for “peacekeeping” and “humanitarian” intervention.

 

At the Smith College Panel on Intervention in Darfur (6 July 2006), organizers, panelists and sponsors called on Mayor Claire Higgins—a signatory to the Darfur Action Group campaign of the Congregation Bnai Israel—and the Northampton City Council to hold a public hearing to explore the geopolitical realities of this conflict, in hopes to educate and inspire the public to take appropriate action. This call is repeated here, and the public is urged to support it.

 

Concerned citizens should ask for [1] transparency of U.S. foreign policy and involvement in Sudan; [2] good faith negotiations and diplomacy offering concessions and support from the U.S. and its allies; [3] respect for the sovereignty and self-determination of the people of Sudan; [4] accountability from all factions, and their backers, involved in the conflict; and [5] a withdrawal of all foreign troops from Sudanese soil.

 

War does not occur in a vacuum, and Americans will pay a high price for misguided action. We need only recall the “humanitarian” failure of the U.S. military in Somalia, and the ridicule and humiliation served to the American people as young American soldiers were dragged through the streets of that far off place.

 

 

 

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A native of Williamsburg, MA, keith harmon snow has worked on the Horn of Africa as a consultant on genocide and humanitarian aid for the United Nations (2005), and he worked in Ethiopia, Sudan and the Congo as a human rights researcher and genocide investigator for Genocide Watch (2004-2005) and Survivors Rights International (2004, 2005). Also an award-winning journalist, he has worked extensively (2004-2006) with the multinational peacekeeping forces of the United Nations Observers Mission for Congo (M.O.N.U.C.). In 2001 he reported from the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, and he has worked or reported from 17 countries in Africa. In 2006 he has been working in Congo and Afghanistan. Dimitri Oram is a human rights and genocide researcher, and writer, based in Northampton, MA. For more information: keith.harmon.snow@gmail.com.



[1] http://www.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/articleview.asp?a=2770

[2] http://usinfo.state.gov/af/Archive/2005/Oct/05-737610.html

[3] http://www.beliefnet.com/story/167/story_16759_1.html

[4] http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,20041081-2703,00.html; and also see: www.allAfrica.com: Congo-Kinshasa: Iran Sought Uranium From Congo, Says UN.