Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror
By Mahmood Mamdani
Pantheon, 2009, 416 pp.
Darfur and the Crime of Genocide
By John Hagan and Wenona Rymond-Richmond
Cambridge University Press, 2008, 296 pp.
As Darfur continues to generate new books, it is easy to forget that debates about the nature of the violence in that province of western Sudan and the appropriate international response go back at least to 2003. These two books offer radically different critiques of the Western response to the violence since then. The middle four chapters of Mamdani's book provide an account of Darfur's troubled history and place the origins of the present conflict in British colonial administrative policies that served to harden ethnic identities and cleavages. Relying mostly on secondary sources, these chapters break little new ground but provide a highly readable empirical introduction to a complex history. The book's first couple of chapters and its conclusion, on the other hand, offer a highly polemic critique of the international media's coverage of the conflict and of calls by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), mostly U.S. ones, for intervention. Mamdani starts by asking, not unreasonably, why international public opinion has been mobilized more effectively by events in Darfur than by the considerably more murderous conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He asserts that the main reason is that the media's portrayal of the violence in Darfur as being perpetrated by Arabs on Africans has resonated with Americans, given the Bush administration's "war on terror" and the war in Iraq. This popular mobilization has been particularly useful to the U.S. government, the book argues, as it wants to control the substantial petroleum reserves recently discovered in Sudan. He reserves his most provocative prose for an NGO most Americans are only vaguely aware of, the Save Darfur Coalition, which he accuses of facilitating the West's recolonization of Africa. Given the often harsh rhetoric he directs at different proposals to end the violence, the book is surprisingly thin on policy prescriptions, alluding only to the rather obvious need for democratic political reform in Sudan.
For Hagan and Rymond-Richmond, on the other hand, the available evidence from the field amounts to a compelling criminal case for genocide, and they support a considerably more forceful prosecution of the authorities in Khartoum through international legal channels than most. Emphasizing legal issues, they advocate a criminological approach to such a prosecution, and their book constitutes a lawyer's brief arguing that in fact genocide has been taking place, providing chilling excerpts from interviews of victims. The book focuses on the available evidence of the actual acts of violence and the volition behind them and is less interested in the sociological dynamics that might help contextualize the violence.