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

5.09.2011

advocacy, policy, & misperceptions

Bec Hamilton, author of the fantastic book on Darfur advocacy, Fighting for Darfur, is in the process of creating a discussion guide for those wanting to use her book in the classroom. To that end, she's asked several bloggers (including UN Dispatch's Mark Leon Goldberg, Tom Murphy of A View from the Cave, and me) to host discussions on these questions.

I got to choose the questions to ask here, so I picked ones that have to do with the relationship between advocacy, policy, and perceptions since that's always a popular topic on Texas in Africa. Bec would love to get your feedback, both on the questions themselves (Are they useful to think about? Are they clear?) and through answers to the questions. Keep in mind that these are designed to be used in a university-level classroom with students who may or may not have prior familiarity with the Darfur crisis.
Darfur activists spent years trying to build a domestic political cost into the calculations of U.S. officials responsible for acting on Darfur. In Congress this enabled them to secure significant amounts of funding for Darfur, but inside the administration perverse incentives sometimes came into play. In Fighting for Darfur, U.S. special envoy Andrew Natsios expresses his frustration that the narrative of the conflict presented by activists did not fit with events on the ground but he warns the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, that trying to correct this misperceptions would be “politically dangerous.” What do you think of Natsios’ warning? To the extent Natsios was right, and advocates were out of touch with changes on the ground, what responsibility do policymakers have to correct those misperceptions? In a democratic system, how should they weigh that responsibility against any domestic political cost?
Can we help Bec out? What do you think? If you don't want to answer here, she's also collecting answers to this question on her blog here. You can view and answer all the questions discussed in the series here.

6 Comments:

Blogger Tom Murphy said...

Wow. Now I know why I did not choose this tough question.

I tend to be an idealist when it comes to this and have a low tolerance for the presentation of simple narratives which betray the truth. Understandably, we want to digest something which is easier to comprehend and share forward.

This creates problems, like the one Negroponte points out, that make the space for complexity small and for clarifications and corrections even smaller. It pins political actors to the narrative and makes them cater to it since any suggestion of it being wrong can be seen as not taking the issue seriously or finding excuses not to act.

The ideal would be to ignore the domestic political cost, but that does not seem possible if an administration wants to be effective.

Monday, May 09, 2011 9:34:00 AM

 
Blogger Ibrahim said...

As an ordinary Sudanese living in Sudan, I'm very concerned about this very shallow advocacy ‘lessons’ about Darfur and Sudan in US junior/middle/high school classes and universities across the USA over the last five years or so:

1) Neither Ms Hamilton - a diehard activist writing a Darfur teaching supplement, nice - nor the eager band of (similarly non-Sudanese) activist teachers/lecturers have anything more than a flimsy understanding of the social, political, and economic dynamics of the 'real' as opposed to the 'virtual' Sudan of the blogosphere.

2) The latter - said 'virtual' Sudan - is dominated by a tired caricature (and be clear - that's exactly what it is) of Sudan, perpetuated by US media, academicians, activists and, sadly, quite a lot of American politicians, too.

What is that caricature?

In a nutshell: - a predatory, hooligan, racist Arab-centric 'Khartoum' dominating the poor 'Black African' 'periphery'.

3) Bringing 'Sudan' into the classrooms and lecture theatres of the USA is simply breeding a new generation of Sudan haters in the USA – the politicians, business leaders etc of tomorrow. Indeed I've read many 'Darfur projects' by junior/middle/high schoolers in the USA that make me cringe and howl in exasperation when they portray (invariably) Sudan as a simple morality tale of good (i.e. Black Africans - whatever that means), and evil (i.e. Sudanese Arabs - whatever that means, too).

Is that education/furthering REAL understanding???? That's as simple as saying that African Americans have poor 'social' outcomes 'cos, simply, Caucasian Americans hate them and want it that way; seductive, but wrong and ultimately very shallow.

4) In short, the new found interest of academicians in topical Sudan issues has had the unintended (though patently forecastable) consequences of making' Northern Sudanese' the new bogeymen of America's youth; i.e. the Serbs; Nazis; white South Africans during apartheid of yesteryear.

5) Indoctrinating American schoolchildren and college students on, at best, a very tenuous understanding of the dynamics of Sudan, is risible - and akin to the - deserved - opprobrium directed at Saudi madrassas and schools that turn out piles and piles of anti-Israeli discourse/hatred to their subjects - and continue the destructive inter-generational pattern of Arab-Israeli hate.

6) There really is no difference to the Saudi madrassas's anti-Israeli reflex and the edu-activism in American schools and colleges about Darfur or other topical Sudan issues.

7) My parting thoughts? Stop pimping Sudan.

Do remember that it is a country - and not a pit stop for 'intellectual' masturbation by generally deeply uninformed US activists and academicians: the USA has maxed out on Sudan and bad, bad ‘Khartoum’ (the convenient whipping post for Republicans, Progressives, Democrats and all and sundry) – and, believe me, the majority of ordinary Sudanese are sick to the back teeth of it.


Yours,

Ibrahim Adam

El Fasher

North Darfur

Sudan

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 5:12:00 AM

 
Blogger Ibrahim said...

Here's an example of the consequences of shallow edu-activism about Darfur and Sudan generally.

Is that what you call being informed??? Taken from 'The Times Herald':

America must help
end Sudan genocide


May 8, 2011


I am a student at St. Clair County
Community College. My minority relations class has been discussing the problems in
Sudan.

In Sudan, many war crimes and atrocities have been committed. Unarmed innocent men, women, and children are being murdered and their villages and resources
are being destroyed and pillaged primarily because of their race.

It has been estimated that since 2004, 400,000 people have been murdered, and there are 2.5 million refugees.

Before this class, I had thought genocide ended with the Holocaust.

I'm writing in the hope of enlightening people. The more who know about Sudan, the better chance our society will find it in
its heart to help.

The more people who write our Congress and say this is something the American people cannot allow, the better chance we'll have of assisting a peaceful people at
risk of being wiped out.

If we can assist other countries in fighting their wars about
oil, why can't we assist Darfur and stop the needless slaughter of innocent people?

I recommend to anyone who feels we
shouldn't get involved in Sudan to watch the DVD "Attack on Darfur" or to visit www. savedarfur.org. You can see for yourself
why this crisis urgently needs to be addressed.

I must warn you not to let children or highly sensitive people watch the DVD. It depicts
the situation realistically and, therefore, is very disturbing.

Please write your congressional
representative and urge him or her to stop the genocide.

KRISTIE LYNCH

Clyde Township, May 2


Yours,

I Adam

Sudan

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 5:28:00 AM

 
Blogger Ibrahim said...

Here's a prime example of said unintended consequences.

Informed?

Hardly.

Where does one start in correcting such pap??

Read on - taken from the Times Herald:


America must help
end Sudan genocide


May 8, 2011|


I am a student at St. Clair County
Community College. My minority relations class has been discussing the problems in
Sudan.

In Sudan, many war crimes and atrocities have been committed. Unarmed innocent men, women, and children are being murdered and their villages and resources
are being destroyed and pillaged primarily because of their race.

It has been estimated that since 2004, 400,000 people have been murdered, and there are 2.5 million refugees. Before this
class, I had thought genocide ended with the Holocaust.

I'm writing in the hope of enlightening people. The more who know about Sudan, the better chance our society will find it in
its heart to help.

The more people who write our Congress and say this is something the American people cannot allow, the better chance we'll have of assisting a peaceful people at
risk of being wiped out.

If we can assist other countries in fighting their wars about
oil, why can't we assist Darfur and stop the needless slaughter of innocent people?

I recommend to anyone who feels we
shouldn't get involved in Sudan to watch the DVD "Attack on Darfur" or to visit www.savedarfur.org. You can see for yourself why this crisis urgently needs to be
addressed.

I must warn you not to let children or highly sensitive people watch the DVD. It depicts
the situation realistically and, therefore, is very disturbing.

Please write your congressional
representative and urge him or her to stop the genocide.

KRISTIE LYNCH

Clyde Township, May 2





I Adam

Sudan

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 5:54:00 AM

 
Blogger Roving Bandit said...

Ibrahim - I think this is a case of the state being confused with the people. Of course ordinary Northern Sudanese citizens should not be demonized, and there is a real risk of that occuring, but we equally should not deny or forget the crimes committed by the Khartoum government.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 10:50:00 PM

 
Blogger Ibrahim said...

“Roving Bandit” – apologies for delayed response.

I agree fully with you about confusion between state and people; but, then again, what do you expect when US activists and American and other Western journalists blur that line deliberately/lazily???

Put simply, just look how many headlines there are with. e.g. "Sudan bombs Darfur/kills/etc".

Tonnes.

Eh - what does that mean??

Thought Darfur was part of Sudan the last time I looked out of my window?? (see headlines now on Abyei – further reinforces my point.)

That blurring between state and people is deliberate; much in the same way that Saddam H and Iraq became one and the same and were used interchangeably (or even earlier PLO and Palestinians are one); i.e. de-humanise a country via its leadership, which, in turn, paves the way for traction for suggested knuckleheaded policy solutions in the US by activists (i.e. "Out of Iraq, into Darfur" and "UN peacekeepers NOW" of yesteryear) that US politicians are scared to push back on - even though they know they do nothing or very little to address the underlying causes of the conflict; see Andrew Nastios's musings about his time in the hot seat as instructive.

“Roving Bandit” - your other point about "crimes".

Here's something that I know about ALL wars:

THERE ARE NO HEROES amongst the armed protagonists IN Darfur or ANY OTHER WAR - a definition of political failure.

It's not a peeing contest about who has suffered the most (odd how that comparison is missing within the US activist community in other wars - e.g. Israelis/Palestinians).

Everybody suffers in a war.

Creating/institutionalising a permanent culture of victimhood gets nobody anywhere.

The label [War] “crimes” is also political by its very definition; crimes have been committed in a number of theatres, no??

Put simply, US activists have shown themselves to be very selective (usually going for low-hanging fruit) in what they advocate as [war] "crimes".

Moreover, surely nearly a decade of high-decibel opprobrium by US activists towards Khartoum about Darfur (and accompanying pimping of issue – thongs, t-shirts, posters, pop songs, films, plays vid games etc) is surely enough attention, especially as the drivers (mainly tribal violence – not gov vs rebels) and levels of violence have been on a downward trend (key word - a couple of roses don't make a garden) for quite a while now???

In other words, shouting "Darfur! Darfur!" is being done by activists for other reasons; no doubt fundraising plays a big part.

"Forget"?? Roving Bandit - allow me to make one more key point, please:

Social reconciliation in Sudan.

We here in Sudan don't need permission or advice from ANYBODY (least of all US activists) to acknowledge our past and move on (as the US has done with aspects of its own and not too distant ignoble past).

Your comment that we "should not deny or forget" is all the more strange considering that in the USA, African Americans that hark on about the effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws etc today are generally considered to be loonies; met with rolling eyes and a sharp intake of breath, and, overall, considered to carry a huge chip on their shoulders; i.e. not in for a dollar, in for a dime.

In short, no non-Sudanese has THE RIGHT to tell us not to forget about our past and not to “deny”; we, not the activists, are right here in the mix after all.

We will choose our own way to deal with our past.

Moreover, why US activists hark on about Darfur and the N-S civil war EVEN more than the protagonists/actors/affected themselves here in Sudan is strange to the say the least.

Sincerely,

I Adam

El Fasher

North Darfur

Sudan

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 8:53:00 AM

 

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