It says a great deal about the modern world that the powers that be are more interested in debating the semantics of a word -in this case genocide- than they are in actually doing anything about it. The Devil Came On Horseback proves beyond any doubt that what is happening in the Darfur region of Sudan constitutes genocide but put this evidence before the US government and the U.N. and they procrastinate like Gordon Brown faced with .....well anything. before doing sod all ...there's the Gordon Brown link again.
Former U.S. Marine Captain Brian Steidle worked as a military observer in Sudan on behalf of the African Union-taking photo's and sending reports- and this documentary is based on his time doing that particular job and the subsequent aftermath when his findings became general knowledge. The film provides a background to the conflict in Darfur which is extremely helpful in placing some context or what the viewer is about to see , rather than just saying these terrible things are happening isn't it horrible although that is also undoubtedly true.
To quickly surmise the Khartoum based Sudan government have backed an Arab militia called the Janjaweed( which translates as devil on Horse back) to systematically cleanse the Darfur region of it's indigenous African people because rebel groups the S.L.A. and J.E.M. are based there. This they do by attacking villages , killing , raping and then burning the village to the ground. Not surprisingly the survivors flee. Most have fled into neighbouring Chad ( one of the poorest countries on Earth where they are waiting to return home in huge camps) so what is effectively taking place is ethnic cleansing.
Steidle is the moral centre of this film. His growing outrage at the escalating atrocities is palpable and he frequently laments his inability to intervene... to do something .As he states as he films a gang of Janjaweed moving towards their next target in a jeep. "If only I was looking through a scope instead of a lens I could end all this". Steidle even at this early stage instinctively knows the only way to stop the slaughter is to deal with the aggressors with extreme force ( A meeting with a Janjaweed leader confirms this further)
His attempts to highlight the Darfur situation in an America dominated by Iraq inexorably gain momentum .He takes on speaking engagements where he is regularly challenged by planted Sudanese officials ( here he shows admirable restraint ) and even gets to meet Condoleezza Rice who has usual looks like she'd rather suck the marrow out of a baby than save one. The Save Darfur rally at the end , where Barack Obama speaks seems to be the moment where the impetus will finally galvanise action. Alas it doesn't and a final visit to Rwanda too see how a country can recover from acts of genocide highlights more the disgraceful lack of action from the west rather than offer any redemptive glare.
It's difficult to find fault with this film and if anything in the interests of balance I was looking harder than normal for something to criticise but this is exemplary documentary film making. It informs ( I know much more about Darfur now than I did prior to watching this DVD) but mostly it showcases how derelict the supposed egalitarian nations of the west really are. Steidle states at one point that "If America could see what is happening here (Darfur) there would be troops here within a week." But you see there is nothing for America in Darfur ..no oil , no potential exploitation (Disaster capitalism see Naomi Klein'sThe Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
..nothing. Just lots of corpses. It's all summed up best by the meeting between Steidle and an extremely dignified man in one of the refugee camps. "No Muslim countries help us" he says "only America" and shakes Steidles hand who looks hugely embarrassed. The man is referring to aid but Steidle know as do we now that America and the west really should be doing a lot lot more.