The last two sentences of the book summarize what is a very radical thesis for good liberals and their desire to stop genocide in the world. "More than anything else, `the responsibility to protect' is a right to punish but without being held accountable--a clarion call for the recolonization of `failed' states in Africa. In its present form, the call for justice is really a slogan that masks a big power agenda in Africa." Mamdani distinguishes between the justice of the victor and that of the victim. The former punishes losers, for possibly real crimes. It is a victor's vengeance. The latter seeks an avenue of reconciliation: being able to abide unpunished crimes with the goal of living together in the future.
Even though I follow the news rather closely the Sudan and Darfur are nothing like what I imagined them to be. To the extent they were in my consciousness I saw the government and its Janjaweed henchmen as perpetrators and Dafurees and Southern Christians as victims, the former of camel riding killers supported by radical Arab or Islamic fundamentalist villains. It is so much more complicated, that I find it hard to tease out all the various actors and their roles in the ongoing drama. It is as complicated as medieval East Indian history, the ethnic groups, their flavors of religion, multitudes of kinds of rulers and social organizations, on top of which are a series of outside political influences which waxed and waned. From Darfur being the source of slaves into the 20th century, to British and Egyptian imperialism retribalizing the country after it was somewhat united by the Mahdi. Gordon's martyrdom was that of a fool imperialist and its redemption at Obdurman by Kitchener was certainly a war crime though the Madhi's rule was not so innocent---things that the author did not go into very deeply because it was not essential for his argument. So the conflict is not bad Arab Muslims and their camel riding surrogates against good Africans simply trying to defend their homes.
Rulers after independence kept the colonial arrangement of ruling through tribal leaders going. This undermined rather flexible arrangements where land was shared according to needs of different pastoralists and farmers. Arab versus African had not been a living distinction. The British/Egyptian rulers hardened divisions that were much more fluid with camel herders, pastoralists, and farmers sharing different parts of the land in complex ways. Sudanese governments adhered to the idea that the locals were entitled to dars of land and that migrant settlers were somehow second class.
Mamdani does an excellent job of laying out the intricate ethnic differences that underlay Sudanese society---difference that often make the notion of people all belonging to one country irrelevant. Speaking with a First Nation Bear Laker in British Columbia, the idea that even Bear Lakers were one is kind of absurd. He related in detail how those living adjacent to Nisga'a, Gitksan, Kaska, Talhtan, Sekanni, and Witsuwiten intermarried and had different identification, so that recitation of lineage on meeting was an important part of figuring out how to relate, and divisions, even within bands (subunits of tribes), could not be understood without knowing these lineages. The history of the complex interrelationships between groups over time and the influence of outsiders undermines the "Save Darfur" or UN attempts to assign criminals and victims. That the Janjaweed have engaged in excessive brutality which are indeed crimes against humanity is true. But condemning them alone does not take into account desertification which has forced camel herders southward, the arming of different parties by Libyans, Americans French and Israelis, the wars in Chad, the artificiality of its border with Darfur, the role of cattle herders, the changing governments in Khartoum and their respective drives towards modernizations (both by communists and Islamists) along with the war against the south, and the rebellion of landed Darfurees against the central government. The crimes of the latter may not amount to those of the Janjaweed but they are not inconsiderable and may be just as much crimes against humanity. The deadliness of the struggle may be attributed to a fight over land, the losers of which face starvation. The image of Arab settlers driving southward is not accurate. There were "Arabs" among the Sultanates of Dar Fur and Funj. Skin color, religion and language are not adequate distinctions. "Save Darfur," but for whom? "Arab was the identity of power in riverine Sudan but not in Dar Fur. There is no single history of `Arabization'..... migration has at best played a marginal role." Into this mix has waded the International Criminal Court. From Mamdani's view this is a court which accuses according to the interests of various members of the Security Counsel by dictating what cases may or may not be heard. Certainly the war crimes of the United Sates in Iraq far exceed any killing in Sudan in terms of both death and population displacements, Yet Africa is the main target of the ICC.
What is the solution. For Mamdani it is to come about by internal reconciliation not international imposition. This has succeeded in the Ivory Coast and South Africa It was undermined in Uganda where the US client government was exempted from accusations while its rebelling opposition was accused. In Darfur the preference of displaced people might be stay in camps supported by UN humanitarian aid rather than seek reconciliation which is the goal of African Union Forces. The UN's role is ultimately undermining of a solution and ends up serving US or European recolonization of Africa. As painful as it might be at first, Mamdani feels that the peoples of Africa must settle things among themselves--seeking the justice of the survivor, and be wary of how the industrial world would keep them subjugated in order to extract their wealth.
As inadequately as I have characterized it, this is a "must read" book for liberals and radicals. And for those who stand on the sidelines it is a warning not to let the well-intentioned pull on your heart strings blind you to the complexities of the world and the not so honorable acts of your representatives.
Charlie Fisher author of Dismantling Discontent: Buddha's Way Through Darwin's World