Is There a Save Darfur Industrial Complex?

African tragedies, observed Ugandan scholar and Columbia University professor Mahmood Mamdani in a March 20 presentation at Howard University, usually occur in the dead of night, outside the sight, concern or hearing of the Western public. The exception to this, he noted, has been Darfur. No armchair observer, Mamdani has traveled and worked extensively in Darfur as a consultant to the African Union in its attempts to peacefully resolve the conflict there.

Mamdani called Save Darfur “the most successful piece of single issue organizing since the Vietnam era antiwar movement, really more successful than the antiwar movement.” But Save Darfur, with slogans like “boots on the ground,” “out of Iraq, into Darfur” and persistent demands for the creation of “no fly zones” is far from being an antiwar movement.

As Black Agenda Report (BAR) pointed in a 2007 article, “Ten Reasons Why ‘Save Darfur’ is a PR Scam to Justify the Next US Oil and Resource Wars in Africa,” Save Darfur is no grassroots movement either.

The backers and founders of the ‘Save Darfur’ movement are the well-connected and well-funded U.S. foreign policy elite. According to a copyrighted Washington Post story this summer,

The “Save Darfur (Coalition) was created in 2005 by two groups concerned about genocide in the African country — the American Jewish World Service and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum . . .

The coalition has a staff of 30 with expertise in policy and public relations. Its budget was about $15 million in the most recent fiscal year . . .

‘Save Darfur will not say exactly how much it has spent on its ads, which this week have attempted to shame China, host of the 2008 Olympics, into easing its support for Sudan. But a coalition spokeswoman said the amount is in the millions of dollars.’

Though the “Save Darfur” PR campaign employs viral marketing techniques, reaching out to college students, even to black bloggers, it is not a grassroots affair, as were the movement against apartheid and in support of African liberation movements in South Africa, Namibia, Angola and Mozambique a generation ago. Top heavy with evangelical Christians who preach the coming war for the end of the world, and with elements known for their uncritical support of Israeli rejectionism in the Middle East, the Save Darfur movement is clearly an establishment affair, a propaganda campaign that spends millions of dollars each month to manufacture consent for US military intervention in Africa under the cloak of stopping or preventing genocide.

None of the funds raised by the “Save Darfur Coalition”, the flagship of the “Save Darfur Movement” go to help needy Africans on the ground in Darfur, according to 2008 stories in both the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The Appeal of Save Darfur to US Audiences

Mamdani explained the unique appeal of the Save Darfur Movement to US audiences by noting that unlike US responsibility for the one million Iraqi dead over the last six years, the Save Darfur Movement does not demand that we understand Darfur’s history, ethnography, or the complexities of the current conflict there, or acknowledge any culpability of our own. Unlike the killings in Iraq, Save Darfur does not demand that Americans respond as citizens, with a need to account for responsibilities and actions, but merely as human beings with a need to feel powerful and justified. Save Darfur, Mamdani argued, has de-historicized and de-politicized the conflict for its American audience, presenting them with a simple morality play in which they can be the heroes.

Everybody wants to be a hero. Nobody wants to be a citizen.

And what could be more heroically self-justifying and self-affirming than intervening on the side of the angels in the picture of straight-up racial conflict presented to us by the Save Darfur Movement? The trouble is, it’s an utterly false picture. The historic and present uses and definitions of race in America are not nearly the same as those in Africa. Most of Darfur’s janjaweed who committed atrocities against civilians in Darfur are as black as those they murdered, and just as indigenous. The prosecutors at the International Criminal Court who recently indicted the Sudanese president are accountable only to the wealthy nations of the UN Security Council, not to anybody on the African continent. And the casualty figures thrown out by Save Darfur are wildly inflated.

Darfuri Casualties Inflated by Save Darfur and US Authorities

Professor Mamdani noted that in response to a request from members of Congress, GAO, the independent US government agency whose job it is to monitor the accuracy of information disseminated by other organs of government assessed the widely varying casualty figures coming out of Darfur in 2006. 2004-2006 was the time when the atrocities in Darfur were at their height. They took the low-end figures of 50 to 70 thousand dead, which came from the World Health Organization, and the much higher ones of 200 to 400 thousand coming from people affiliated with Save Darfur, and submitted them to the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists told GAO that the lower figures were more accurate, and those were used in its 2006 assessment of the Darfur situation.

The State Department however, produced reports with two different sets of casualty figures, low numbers for the use of its policymakers, and the higher ones produced by Save Darfur and its allies for public consumption.

To this day, Mamdani contended, the US public is being fed grossly inflated on Darfuri casualties. He recounted a briefing he attended where the commander of the African Union’s forces reported 1,500 deaths in Darfur in all of 2008, as many as Save Darfur and the US government claim are dying every month.

Comparing Darfur and the Congo, Fake vs Real Genocides

Nobody disputes that there is a bipartisan military industrial complex in the US, which creates the “facts” it requires to justify interventions around the world. The Save Darfur coalition, comprising as it does figures who trace their activism to the Freedom Movement like Congressman John Lewis, along with the compatriots of the late Jerry Falwell, would not hold on any other issue under the sun. It is a creation of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, which urgently needs “humanitarian” cover for its imperial ambitions to control Africa’s oil and other resources.

The blatant hypocrisy of the Save Darfur Movement is most evident when one compares the manufactured concern over 50 to 70 thousand dead in Darfur to the ink and air devoted to five million dead in neighboring Congo. But using professor Mamdani’s yardstick, it’s not hard to understand. Intervening in Darfur makes us heroes. But in the Congo, proxies of the US and the West have been instigated the invasion and depopulation and plundering of the whole of Eastern Congo. There is a lake of oil beneath Sudan, much of it in Darfur. But the Chinese are pumping that oil, not Chevron or BP or Exxon.

To return to our own 2007 article on the Save Darfur movement”

The selective and cynical application of the term “genocide” to Sudan, rather than to the Congo where ten to twenty times as many Africans have been murdered reveals the depth of hypocrisy around the “Save Darfur” movement. In the Congo, where local gangsters, mercenaries and warlords along with invading armies from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola engage in slaughter, mass rape and regional depopulation on a scale that dwarfs anything happening in Sudan, all the players eagerly compete to guarantee that the extraction of vital coltan for Western computers and cell phones, the export of uranium for Western reactors and nukes, along with diamonds, gold, copper, timber and other Congolese resources continue undisturbed.

Former UN Ambassador Andrew Young and George H.W. Bush both serve on the board of Barrcik Gold, one of the largest and most active mining concerns in war-torn Congo. Evidently, with profits from the brutal extraction of Congolese wealth flowing to the West, there can be no Congolese “genocide” worth noting, much less interfering with. For their purposes, U.S. strategic planners may regard their Congolese model as the ideal means of capturing African wealth at minimal cost without the bother of official U.S. boots on the ground.

Responding to the very real genocide in the Congo would require ordinary Americans to think like citizens rather then heroic self-affirmers. But that’s a hard sell.

We can only hope that the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other members of Congress who last month lent their credibility to the Save Darfur people can get over their self affirming “heroism” and begin to meet Dr. Mamdani’s challenge: to act like citizens and the leaders of citizens, to do the homework, to help others do the homework and to face up to our responsibilities for real genocide in the Congo, and prolonging the war in Sudan. It’s not too late.

Bruce Dixon is the managing editor of the Black Agenda Report, where this article first appeared. Read other articles by Bruce, or visit Bruce's website.

9 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. olivia said on May 6th, 2009 at 9:50am #

    Unfortunately Mamdani has his own agenda, he gives little credence to the people of Darfur, the ones who have had this last genocide perpetrated upon them. Though not entirely wrong of course he is so irritated by the fact that the Save Darfur movement originated with religious groups he can’t see the forest for the trees.

    When it was brought to his attention, at his recent debate with Prendergast at Columbia, by a member of his audience who happened to have been Sudanese and female, that there were many in Darfur who have been protesting this all along and she asked him why he derisively in a most condescending way almost mimicked their call for “the white man” to come and save them, and why does he not feel the need to include what those in Darfur want, he made it clear once again that those who are not there know better.

    He is irritated by the fact that the money which goes to Save Darfur is only for advocacy, yet advocacy is clearly what is needed.

    Dr.Mamdani is very knowledgeable, but as with many academics he looks at things not from the perspective of what needs to be done but only from historical context to tell us what can’t be done. This has always been a deterrent. Just look at the genocides throughout history and tell me it isn’t so.

  2. Klaatu said on May 6th, 2009 at 11:35am #

    Mamdani is clearly correct, of course, and what Olivia calls “religious groups” are in fact Zionist-based organizations, and Darfur is both a great distractor from Zionist atrocities in Gaza, and makes the Zionists’ enemy (Arabs and Islam) look “evil”. Another version of the shell game.

  3. Felicia said on May 6th, 2009 at 12:03pm #

    Excellent article! Thank you for getting the word out, although many in the African American community have been saying this for years, as have many of the scholars who originally called attention to the crisis in Darfur, like Alex de Waal (who has refused to sign on the well-funded “movement”). For that reason, the major rally in DC in 2006 had virtually no African Americans present. In the heart of DC no less! The contingent of Sudanese were carefully filmed by the media – it looked like those staged “protests” you see in totalitarian countries. In fact, the few African Americans who did attend, appeared to be mostly, (not all) plainclothes law enforcement officers.

    Still the pressure to accept the distorted and wildly inaccurate picture of what is happening in Darfur put forward by the “movement” with help from Exxon-Mobil lobbyist Ernst & Young, has been enormous. For example, one large branch of the NAACP in the DC/Md area did not address Darfur – until a very large contribution- I do not know the source – that was more ten times what they were seeking for a college outreach program came in. Then, suddenly, a Darfur plank was added. I suspect similar financial pressures are being applied all over the country. If you want to get at the truth, follow the money.

    You also could address the security interests in the region, including the role of AFRICOM, for one. For another, there is the question of Israel’s security interests – some very legitimate, others less so – in the region. It is a matter of historical record that the Israelis have been funding weapons and fighters in the Sudan for decades. They are very worried about the resources available in the country, the presence of a moderate (yes, moderate) Islamic government that is rather independent and the relationship and proximity of that government to Egypt. In addition, the actions and financial and security interests of neighboring countries such as Chad (the invasion in 2008), which has a large and powerful Christian minority (possibly adding a religious proxy war in the region to the mix??), and Uganda are also worth examining.

    Keep up the good work, and keep asking questions!! The truth is starting to come out.

  4. cuibono said on May 6th, 2009 at 5:37pm #

    Kudos to the brilliant Bruce Dixon, whose insight into these usually misreported issues is matched only by his mastery of the writer’s craft. It’s not just what he says but the way he says it, the way he organizes and presents the information, making it easy to grasp.

    Thanks also to Klautu for the prompt rebuttal of the nauseous Olivia and also to Felicia for the thoughtful and informative comment, re which I have but one quibble: I’m sorry but I have to reject the notion that the Zionist Apartheid State has any “legitimate security concerns”, any more than the Dritte Reich or the Confederate States of America had anything resembling such.

  5. AaronG said on May 6th, 2009 at 7:19pm #

    Great article Bruce!

    Felicia wrote: “If you want to get at the truth, follow the money.”

    Here, here. I believe that that’s the only rule of thumb needed in analyzing power. 500 years ago, Big Religion used to rule the world. Although still very influential, money (Big Business) now dominates and uses the subservient Religion to achieve its means.

    Race and religion are always used by power to divide – black people are dying in the Congo and no one (The Media) cares, but if black people are being killed in Darfur by those “dirty Arab Muslims”, enemy number one at the moment, then all of a sudden it’s a world emergency. Work that logic out, will you??

  6. Synic3 said on May 7th, 2009 at 10:38am #

    An excellet article that illuminates many points.
    The Darfurians are black Muslims like the rest of Northern Suddan.
    So, there is no what is so called “Muslim aggression” by the Media.
    The trouble started in Darfur when oil was discovered and many
    hidden hands started urging some elements of Darfur to secede from Sudan to keep all the oil revenues, setting the stage for fragmenting
    Sudan and eating it piece by piece by these hidden hands.

  7. Susanne said on May 7th, 2009 at 11:27am #

    An important article and a good analysis. There are certain parallels with the constant call for humanitarian invervention in Zimbabwe in the Western media. The motives are equally questionable. The commentator Stephen Gowans, for example, has written about the opposition groups which are lionised as independently arising grassroots movements, yet are funded through “democracy” promoting organisations such as the NED and Freedom House.
    The Ruandan president, Paul Kagame, is a major war criminal, and because of the US/UK complicity in the plunder of the Congo’s riches he seems almost untouchable. Who knows, one day the tables may turn on him and he will become expendable like others before him. The terrible and shocking tragedies and the real reasons and story behind it goes largely unreported in the mainstream media. It is absolutely important that articles like this are written and disseminated as widely as possible.

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain said on May 7th, 2009 at 7:45pm #

    The ‘Save Darfur’ hypocrites are nauseatingly cynical, and racist humbugs, as they ignore the suffering inflicted by the Western neo-imperialist powers, led by the US and Israel (the Great and Lesser Satans)on Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, Lebanon and Pakistan. Indeed in most of these cases this essentially Zionist cabal, and the dupes, some undoubtedly good-hearted but cynically manipulated by ruthless racist psychopaths, actually fully support the genocide of the so-called ‘War on Terror’. As the US, under the quintessential Yankee ‘confidence-man’ and trickster, Obama, the ‘first Jewish President of the US’, as the Zionists crowed,intensifies its perennial ‘anti-insurgency’ tactic of ‘drying up the sea in which the guerillas swim’ by turning North-West Pakistan as well as Afghanistan into ‘free-fire zones’, where slaughter of women and children and de-population of the countryside are carried out with the same fervour as was witnessed in the Indian Wars, the Philippines at the turn of the 2oth century, and in Korea and Vietnam, adds yet another genocide to its unrivalled record of diabolical evil, the ‘Save Darfur’ vermin keep their double-speaking mouths tightly closed. This is the classic expression of Chomsky’s ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ victims. Those the Zionists wish dead, are ‘unworthy’ in excelsis, but the Darfurians become, for propaganda purposes only (they will revert to their true status as ‘niggers’ and ‘goyim’ when their usefuleness is over)’worthy’, if only briefly. The Zionists originally portrayed this as Islam versus poor black Christians, then shamelessly changed the discourse of hate to evil ‘Arab’ versus innocent ‘African’. Behind the scenes the Israelis, with their habitual contempt for goyim, feed the insurgency, meddling as they do in Georgia, Kurdistan, Lebanon, the Congo, always to inflame hatred and conflict. In a way, however, Darfur and the Sudan are mere proxies for the greater enemy Israel is eyeing. Israel’s unique position in controlling the US political, financial and media worlds through Jewish money-power, and hence controlling the UN as Ban’s craven and despicable performance over the Gaza Report on Israeli atrocities shows, is threatened by China’s rise. A world where China even matches the US in economic and political influence, is one where the Jews, or should I say the Judeofascist Right, secular and religo-Messianic, no longer calls the shots. Israel, and the various Jewish Lobbies have been at the centre of anti-Chinese machinations for some time. ‘Save Darfur’ and attack China is one aspect. The Tibetan exile movement and the disruption of the Beijing Olympic torch relay, was another. Here in Australia, the extreme Rightwing media, particularly the Murdoch ‘News Ltd’ sewer, has an amazing preponderance of Judaic operatives, none, dare I mention it, of the Chomsky, Uri Avnery or Gilad Atzmon type. Extreme Moslem-baiting is perennial, as is total, slavish, devotion to the Holy State, and the now reflex vilification of any criticism of Israel as ‘anti-Semitism’ and a desire to inflict a ‘New Holocaust’. Just recently, there has been a clearly co-ordinated upswell of Sinophobic hysteria, beginning with the Zionists, but soon taken up by the Opposition, the slightly more Rightwing Liberal Party. The Zionists know that they will never pull the strings in China the way they do in the US and the West, so they must de-rail China or their global dominance is doomed. Of course, an Israel reconciled with its neighbours and no longer manipulating the US political scene would be to everyone’s advantage, but the Zionist state seems determined to exert total control, to what eventual end God only knows.

  9. Ali said on May 8th, 2009 at 12:15pm #

    In response to the earlier comment about the need for American advocacy, I want to draw attention toward Alan Kuperman’s op-ed in NY Times op-ed (May 31, 2006) where he argues that the American advocacy may have actually hindered the possibility of halting violence and reaching peace agreement.