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.