Saturday, March 10, 2012

Engaged Response to the Horn of Africa

Darfur: the Story Not Told By George Clooney

The civil war in the Sudanese region of Darfur, between pro-government Arab nomads and anti-government African farmers, has been one of the most brutal yet grossly misunderstood conflicts of the century.  Darfur activists, known as the Save Darfur Coalition and its supporters such as George Clooney and Mia Farrow, have claimed that the region in Western Sudan, known as Darfur, is undergoing an official policy of genocide carried out by the Sudanese government.  And when asked to justify this they point out that up two 300,000 civilians have been killed in Darfur.  What they don't mention however is how these people died.
For the vast majority of civilian deaths in Darfur, they were a result of a lack of access to nutrition and medical care that stemmed from war.  It is true that rape has occurred in Darfur, but many of these were actually spontaneous, occurring due to the breakdown of social order caused by war.  The anti-government rebels in Darfur, such as the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army, have been lauded as heroes by the Save Darfur Coalition.  But the fact is they too have been responsible for atrocities against civilians, including rape, torture, murder, and looting.  In both sides of this war children have been forced to fight as soldiers.
The fact that Darfur's problems have have been labeled genocide has not helped the people of Darfur.  On one hand, attributing most of the deaths to murder may have caused the public and the international community to overlooked the real causes of death (disease and malnutrition) and consequently have, instead of providing Darfuris with food and medicine, provided them with African Union soldiers, whose presence may have only increased tensions in Darfur.  Secondly, the claim of good vs. evil stories of evil Arab government militias fighting saintly African rebel soldiers has done two things.  One, it has allowed the rebels like the JEM and the SLA to get away with atrocities.  These rebels main support came from Chad, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda and the Sudan People's Liberation Army.  Each of these groups and countries received large amounts of foreign aid from the U.S.  Had the U.S. been aware of the rebels atrocities, they could have pressured these countries and groups into ceasing their support of the anti-government rebels in Darfur by threating to withhold foreign aid.
Second, the claims that the rebels were good and the Arab militias, such as the Janjaweed, were bad overlooked crucial information about the Arab militias.  By and large, Arab militias have been fighting in Darfur, not to exterminate, but to gain control of land to help them through droughts common to West Sudan.  Had the West been aware of the suffering of the Arabs in Darfur, we might have also given them aid to help them survive, which could have curbed their need to take land from African farmers in Darfur.  The American stance on Darfur may also have encouraged the rebels not to engage in peace negotiations.
Top: children from the Justice and Equality Movement
Bottom: Soldiers from the Sudan Liberation Army

Politics Behind African Famine
Above: an Ethiopian man starving

The North African country of Ethiopia has long been thought to suffer from famine due to drought and a lack of food being able to be grown there.  In truth however, Ethiopia has suffered from leaders who rose to power in the 1970's.
Around the 1970's the Marxist ideals became embraced by university students and left-wing intellectuals.  Protests were held throughout Ethiopia and in the streets of Addis Ababa.  All this eventually culminated into a coup against the Ethiopian monarchy in the 1970's led by Colonel Haile Mariam Mengistu.  He and his followers known as the Derg (committee) overthrew Haile Selassie and came to power becoming the first African country to attempt to implement Communism.
The promise Mengistu made to the four largest oppressed ethnic groups and the Eritreans however, were not held.  Later the Tigray, Afar, Somali, Oromo and Eritreans formed in opposition to Mengistu.  Backed by the Soviet Union however, Mengistu was able to put down these rebels.  Furthermore in the predominantly Muslim Oromo south, lands and cattle were taken away from the people in order to subjugate them with hunger.  This caused many Oromo to flee into Somalia.  The Tigray were relocated from their traditional homelands and forced to work on government projects.  The sheer labor was done with only a few loaves of bread a day.
Eventually, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, Tigray Liberation Front, Afar Liberation Front and Oromo Liberation Front launched into action, fighting the Derg for over a decade against the Derg and his Soviet weaponry.  Eventually with the Tigray, Afar, Somali and Oromo people's liberation movements they merged into the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front working with the Eritrean People's Liberation Front.
Tanks rolled into the streets of Addis Ababa.  The Derg was overthrown and Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe where he was given asylum.  The Eritreans became free and independent and Ethiopia's five largest ethnic groups (Amhara, Tigray, Afar, Somali, and Oromo) were granted their own regional states.  When it was over, Mengistu was found guilty of genocide.
We see only a small portion of the world which informs our view of reality.  Our world is so saturated by media.  Meditation allows us to see a bigger picture which can help make us agents for social change in our world.

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