For the last several years the crisis in Darfur, Sudan has been presented to U.S. by the media repeatedly as a case of genocide where the "international community" (i.e. the U.S. and the E.U.) must DO SOMETHING to stop the killing. The basic story told is simple: The Islamist government of Sudan is using janjaweed militias to commit genocide against (Black) Africans while the world looks on.
The story is always nearly the same whether it is put forth by the National Review, the New York Times or even such progressive outlets as Democracy Now!
It is certainly true that the Sudanese government has committed atrocities and that Darfur is suffering a humanitarian crisis. Yet, with a wildly propagandistic western media and a Western elite bent on dominating the world, great caution is necessary. Below are four (but by no means all of) the misrepresentations put forth by the Save Darfur! movement and some of the information they are not telling us.
1. The U.S. is not involved in the Darfur crisis.
The dominant line of the Save Darfur! movement and even many of the movement’s critics is that the U.S. is uninvolved in Sudan. The reality is entirely different.
The U.S. has been involved in Sudan for a long time.
The dictatorship of Sudanese president Jaafar al-Nimeiri (1964-1984) was strongly supported by the U.S. Under Nimeiri’s leadership in the early 1980s, Sudan received hundreds of millions of dollars from the U.S. government.
Nevertheless, Nimeiri went too far for the people of Sudan after he imposed harsh economic austerity measures and instituted Islamic sharia law across the country in 1983. Despite last minute assistance from the U.S. the Nimeiri government was overthrown in 1985. (It is notable that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) rebellion in the south, led by John Garang, began in 1983 when the U.S. was on the opposite side.) The coup was followed by a transitional government and then several years of shaky and troubled democratic government which the National Islamic Front (NIF) brought to an end in 1989 by launching a successful coup.
Initially, the U.S. maintained a relatively positive position on the N.I.F. government but when Sudan opposed the Gulf War in 1991 the U.S. turned hostile quickly. U.S. opposition to the regime and support for the SPLA escalated under Clinton.
In 1996, the U.S. supplied frontline states Uganda, Ethiopia and Eritrea with $20 million in “nonlethal” military assistance much of which went to the S.P.L.A. The Christian right and various “humanitarian groups” have also long supported the SPLA. According to John Cherian of India’s Frontline Magazine the U.S. gave some $2 billion to the SPLA over the years. (1)
In 1998 the U.S. undertook a cruise missile attack on Sudan’s sole pharmaceutical plant, a murderous and blatant violation of international law. (US claims that the pharmaceutical plant was being used to develop chemical weapons were never backed with proper evidence and were later demolished by those familiar with the plant.) The U.S. campaign against Sudan even prompted former President Carter to call U.S. policy “the biggest obstacle to peace in Sudan”. (Boston Globe Dec. 8, 1999)
While the media have shown how the Bush administration and the Sudanese government have improved cooperation after the September 11 attacks (much to the outrage of the Save Darfur! movement), the continued U.S. support for the SPLA over the years has hardly been examined. The SPLA are closely connected with the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) rebels in Darfur. There are also allegations from western sources that the U.S. has supported the rebels in Darfur. (2)
An examination of U.S. policy shows a conflict between different economic and political elites some of whom favor working with the Sudanese government and others who favor attacking or overthrowing it. U.S. private military contractors (mercenaries) including DynCorp and Pacific Architects and Engineering, the latter bought by military contractor, Lockheed, are working in Sudan under a contract to support the A.U. mission and the North-South peace agreement. (3)
None of the Save Darfur! movement’s main “experts” (Professor Eric Reeves, John Prendergast, Alex DeWaal, or Samantha Power) discuss the active U.S. role in Sudan. A look at one of these “stop genocide” experts shows not merely bias but in the case of John Prendergast, a gross conflict of interest.
John Prendergast of the Crises Group (formerly the International Crisis Group) was the National Security Council staffer on African Affairs (1997-98) at a time when the U.S. bombed Sudan’s sole pharmaceutical factory (in total violation of international law) and openly supported the S.P.L.A.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Prendergast never discusses honestly U.S. support for the rebel groups or his own role in U.S. policy during the 1990s. (4) What is truly shocking is that Prendergast has appeared as an expert not only in the mainstream media but in alternative and progressive media as well. In an appearance on Democracy Now! (May 2, 2007) Prendergast appeared with actor Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda) to discuss the situation in Sudan. He was never questioned as to his own role in the U.S. campaign against Sudan during the 1990s just as Democracy Now! has not, to the best of this writer’s knowledge, ever acknowledged the record of U.S. intervention in Sudan throughout the 1990s and beyond.