"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


Fighting for Darfur: review & givewaway

As bombs fall over Libya, the Security Council debates what actions to take (or not take) with regards to the civil war in Cote d'Ivoire, and those of us with the luxury of distance debate whether what will happen there might constitute genocide in technical terms (or not), I've spent the last few days reading Rebecca Hamilton's excellent new book, Fighting for Darfur.

Unlike the Cote d'Ivoire crisis, a large, international advocacy movement formed around the Darfur crisis, yet, at the end of the day, the movement was never able to achieve its primary goal of ensuring civilian protection in the region. Hamilton sets out to explain why. After the Rwandan genocide, most advocates, academics, and politicians believed that if a sustained, large, grassroots movement could be formed and maintained to pressure American officials to stop genocide and other crimes against humanity, then there wouldn't be any more Rwandas.

The advocates were wrong. Hamilton, herself a prominent player in the Darfur advocacy movement, provides an analysis as to why that is simultaneously an insider's view and a more detached, analytical take on the question. While highlighting the Darfur movement's successes (including the development of sustained pressure on the US government, a Security Council resolution, and the appointment of a series of special envoys for Sudan), she finds that several dynamics interfered in reaching the ultimate goal of civilian protection. For one, most advocates had difficulty understanding that both the situation in Southern Sudan and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the Darfur crisis had to be addressed simultaneously, difficult as this was. Says Sam Bell, a leader in the movement, "I think one of the biggest missing pieces for the movement initially was context, understanding the context."

This theme of a lack of contextual understanding pervades Hamilton's analysis. Advocates failed to understand that Sudan was not like Rwanda, that the situation in Sudan had evolved considerably by 2007-08, that their insistence on military action could - and did - have negative consequences for humanitarian operations serving Darfuris. But the biggest failure of understanding context came in understanding the role that the United States government could ultimately play in Darfur - or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Hamilton concludes that the advocates took years to finally understand that controlling the situation in Sudan is beyond the full reach of the United States government, the Chinese, or even the United Nations. Quite simply, we can't do everything.

It's a sobering realization, and not one that Hamilton reaches lightly. Fighting for Darfur is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in advocacy, diplomacy, Sudan, and/or grassroots activism. That said, I do have a couple of criticisms. First, the book is a bit uncritical of specific organizations, even while acknowledging the difficulties and constraints that several groups faced (eg, GI-Net was run by college students with little experience in any professional setting for its first few years of existence and thus faced difficulties figuring out how to direct the money it had raised). I understand why Hamilton could not do so - she is, in many instances, writing about her friends and colleagues - but for those interested in learning how to do advocacy better, it would have been nice to have some analysis of the groups' relative degrees of effectiveness. Why was one organization able to attract large numbers of donors and email list subscribers while others struggled? Why were there so many organizations under the Darfur advocacy umbrella to begin with? Would a more coordinated effort have been able to better inform grassroots activists as the situation evolved?

Second, while understanding that Hamilton needed to finish the book and get on with her life, I do wish that the publication had been delayed until after the results of this January's referendum. Hamilton spends a few paragraphs in the book's conclusion articulating the common-among-advocates view that the referendum might have evolved into violence, but of course that didn't happen. (To be sure, the question of what will happen in Abyei and other contested areas remains to be seen.) It would have been interesting to read reactions from those in the advocacy community who predicted - even assumed - that violence was inevitable and to hear them articulate what they thought made a difference. I suspect that the real answer to that question has a lot to do with Khartoum acting in its own self-interest and Scott Gration's insistence on engaging with Khartoum throughout the process, but those dynamics have not been particularly appreciated by Darfur advocates.

All in all, I found Fighting for Darfur to be a fantastic read. I highly recommend it if you are in the advocacy community or want to learn more about those who are. Have you read Fighting for Darfur or were you involved in the Darfur advocacy movement? What do you think?

As a special treat, I am pleased to be able to give away one copy of Fighting for Darfur to a lucky reader. All you have to do to win is leave a comment below before Saturday at 5pm EDT. I'll use a random integer generator to pick the winner, post it here, and the winner will have 48 hours to email me with your mailing address. If he/she doesn't do so in that time, I'll pick another winner.

N.B. I was provided with a complimentary review copy of Fighting for Darfur by the author, but was not compensated for this review, nor was I provided with talking points. All opinions contained in this post are mine alone.

UPDATE: The winner of the Fighting for Darfur giveaway, chosen via a random number generator, was comment #8, Akhila. Congratulations and thanks to everyone who entered. Akhila, please shoot me an email with your mailing address and I'll get the book to you asap.


Blogger Andy Crow said...

Hi Laura,

Are you willing to post overseas? (I'm based in the UK) Don't worry if you just want to keep the competition within the US.

Cheers, Andy

Thursday, March 31, 2011 9:47:00 AM

Blogger Nathan Anderith said...

That sounds like a great book. Put me in the running for a copy.

I remember many of the student groups on my campus holding events and talks about the Darfur crisis. All of them focused on the tragedy itself, listing shocking casualty numbers and showing slide after slide of photogenic victims, eventually coming to the conclusion that "something must be done." Who should do what, and with what consequences, was always left unsaid.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 10:43:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this, really good review. Plan to write one as well as soon as I'm done reading. What are your thoughts on the way she frames the idea of "black", "Arab", "non-Arab", and the whole construct of "race" at the beginning of the book?

Thursday, March 31, 2011 11:18:00 AM

Anonymous NotaBene said...

Thanks for the stimulating review. I'll have to check it out and see if it will be appropriate for a class I'm teaching next semester on humanitarianism in Africa. Please put me in the contest.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 11:23:00 AM

Blogger Houston said...

Count me in! Great review.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 11:41:00 AM

Anonymous jina said...

I don't want to be in the contest -- I read the book already -- but I to say that I actually appreciate that the book isn't an advocacy manual of sorts. You're right that that the missing information on advocacy effectiveness would be interesting, but I was pleased the author instead did the (harder?) work of connecting the dots between advocacy and global response. Teasing out what influenced the real movers in Darfur -- the US and the UN and China -- is really, really hard work... and possibly more useful than which group got more email signers-up and why.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 12:28:00 PM

Blogger scfrd said...

Thanks for the review. I'll put my name in for the drawing.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 12:44:00 PM

Anonymous Akhila said...

I'd love to be in the running to win the book. It sounds like a great read and from all the positive reviews I've seen lately, it seems worthwhile. Thanks for the review!

Thursday, March 31, 2011 1:12:00 PM

Blogger Roving Bandit said...

I'll give you a dollar to rig the draw in my favour.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 3:44:00 PM

Anonymous Brett said...

I'll give you twice whatever Roving Bandit offers (unless exceeding the value of the book, in which case I would pay the value of the book) to rig the draw in my favor.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 5:49:00 PM

Anonymous Meghan said...

I'd love a copy- sounds great!

Thursday, March 31, 2011 7:18:00 PM

Blogger ewaffle said...

A lot of the coverage of Sudan over the past year or so (NYT, Guardian, BBC) made it seem as if Darfur and Southern Sudan had little to do with each other--one was a human rights disaster story the other a secession and possible civil war story.

We count on academics who take a longer and more dispassionate view to show us how it all connects.

Please put me into the drawing.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 7:31:00 PM

Blogger Serena Mithbaokar said...

As a child of the Save Darfur movement and as someone who's grown to understand the complexities of Sudan, I can relate to Hamilton's argument. Thank you for your review. Please consider me in the drawing.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 9:00:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Thanks, everyone. I will send it abroad, so don't hesitate to enter if you aren't stateside.

Roving Bandit, I'm trying to institutionalize the rule of law around here...

Thursday, March 31, 2011 11:46:00 PM

Anonymous yolanda said...

count me in too

Friday, April 01, 2011 1:43:00 AM

Anonymous Jenny H said...

Sounds like an excellent read! I will recommend this for my employer's book club -- we work in promoting corporate engagement in global health, so goodness knows that we need to make sure to do advocacy right. Please count me in for the draw.

Friday, April 01, 2011 7:06:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Darfur conflict and previously the South Sudan one are based on a plan from the USA and some of its allies (Uganda, Rwanda, Israel...) in order to establish an alliance of countries rules by friendly head of states, that will never discuss their decisions even if it's bad for their country and also if it's possible leaders that are non-muslim or at least against Iran, Venezuela...

IMF useless programs, UN peacekeepers that spent all their time in camps wherever they are. not a word from the so called international community

Until African leaders stand up and stop begging western countries for everything, there won't be any change. They should not accept any lessons or advice from people that uses all the means to achieve their goals, but do the same.

No doubt that youth of my generation will adopt a completely different policy in order to change these behaviors.

Best Regards, Thx.

Friday, April 01, 2011 9:36:00 PM

Blogger Neleh Einwod said...

Good Evening,

I am really happy to have stumbled upon this discussion as I have had a longstanding interest in the Save Darfur movement in Canada and the United States since its inception, and was myself a founding member STAND’s student chapter at Concordia University in 2006.

Since then, I have been reflecting on many different aspects of the Save Darfur movement and am currently working on a paper looking at the recent merger between the Save Darfur Coalition and Genocide Intervention Network (November 2011).

I have read press releases and watched video interviews on the merger, and am wondering whether the merger between the these two organizations is in response to some of the critics of the Darfur movement, or whether the organizations have evolved alongside the current political and humanitarian reality in Darfur, namely since it seems that the genocide (or elements of) is over in Sudan.

I am especially curious as to how this merger is being interpreted by academics and experts who are familiar with "Making Sense of Sudan".

This is actually the first time that I have responded to a blog. Please let me know if I should be more specific or clarify any of my comments. Any feedback or direction would be appreciated as I know that this is a new and recent phenomenon whose impact has yet to play out for us to comment, debate and discuss about.

Thank you all for your time!

Helen Downie
Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec

Friday, April 01, 2011 10:03:00 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! I'd love to be entered into the giveaway.

Saturday, April 02, 2011 12:58:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Helen, I would love to read your paper when it's done - if you're circulating it, please send it my way. I'm not familiar with the merger and so am not very well-qualified to discuss it, but I would be very interested to know what Hamilton thinks.

Saturday, April 02, 2011 7:44:00 AM

Blogger sean said...


Saturday, April 02, 2011 7:54:00 AM

Blogger Karl said...

I'll throw my hat in the ring.

Saturday, April 02, 2011 7:57:00 AM

Anonymous James McCarty said...

As someone deeply interested in violent conflict in Africa, but relatively uninformed on Sudan as compared to Liberia or SA, I'd love to be entered into the contest. I'm glad I've finally come across your blog via twitter!

Saturday, April 02, 2011 8:00:00 AM

Blogger aparnaishungry said...

good review. i'm intrigued. please consider me a hopeful contender for the copy you are giving away.

Saturday, April 02, 2011 8:01:00 AM

Anonymous theblogrebel@twitter.com said...

Please include me in this contest!! I am a struggling student who is overcoming PTSD-Post Traumatic Study Disorder- In that I must constantly read now because of a certain prof at Morehouse who made her students read and write 20 page papers.

Saturday, April 02, 2011 8:18:00 AM

Blogger Winslowalrob said...

I wantz the book!

Saturday, April 02, 2011 8:47:00 AM

Anonymous MKersten said...

I'm a PhD student looking at the implications of the ICC investigations and arrest warrants on peace processes in Darfur (and Uganda). I would love to get my hands on a copy of the book.

Thanks for the blog!

I also added your blog to my own blog roll at www.justiceinconflict.com (sorry about the self-promotion!)

Saturday, April 02, 2011 8:56:00 AM

Anonymous Dave Algoso said...

Thanks for the review, Laura. After the various debates on DRC/conflict minerals advocacy last summer, I'm glad to see there are some insiders to the advocacy world taking a critical stance on how they operate. This book is now on my reading list -- though a free copy would certainly ensure I get to it sooner! I would even follow it up with a review on my blog too. :)

Saturday, April 02, 2011 12:34:00 PM

Blogger Neleh Einwod said...

Thank you so much for the reply! I am actually headed to my library now to pick up Hamilton's book. I have a feeling it will provide me with a lot of insight to my paper. I noticed a continued discussion on Twitter! I could not believe my luck with Sam Bell yesterday, he was able to answer to some of my questions on this merger, and now I look forward to consolidating his responses to the theory and other academic works on collective action/advocacy groups.

Please also count me in for this give away opportunity as well!

I would gladly share my paper with you as soon as its done! ;) I am new to the blog world and feel that I have learned so much about live and pertinent debates, especially surrounding the Save Darfur movement.

All the best - I will continue following your work.

Saturday, April 02, 2011 1:37:00 PM

Blogger Jillian said...

Hi there! Thanks for the book review, and I'd love to enter the book draw.

Saturday, April 02, 2011 1:43:00 PM

Blogger Morgan said...

Would love to be in the running for a copy. Thanks!
-Morgan R

Saturday, April 02, 2011 4:22:00 PM


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