Saving Darfur

More than a year later these lines–written by journalist Eamon Kircher-Allen as part of the reaction to Mahmood Mamdani’s “Saviors and Survivors,” a study of Darfur Now’s campaigns and the complex history of the Darfur conflict–is still worth repeating:

As an eighth-grader learning about American slavery, I had a fantasy. I imagined that some elite Marines and I could outfit ourselves in the latest combat gear and travel back in time to the year 1820. Once we arrived in the heart of the slavery era, we’d storm the plantations with superior weaponry and free the slaves. Problem solved. It would be awesome, and I’d be a hero.

Of course, as I learned in later study, the abolition of one of history’s most monstrous atrocities was not such a simple matter. Dismantling slavery meant the splitting of a nation, a civil war that sacrificed 600,000 lives, and a burning of the South that – while possibly justified – entailed extreme and morally repugnant violence. And of course, war was only part of the solution. There were the complex political negotiations, the recalibration of society that, 150 years later, is still incomplete.

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Sean Jacobs

Also goes by Hasan Wazan. Life President.

1 Comment
  1. Kircher-Allen's attentiveness to historical context leads him to claim, in a part of his review of Mamdani which you don't quote, that his youthful idealism had been naive because the "people of 1860s United States had to solve the problem themselves." True yet not entirely helpful, though I don't mean to fault Kircher-Allen by saying this. I only mean his frustration that "the marines" could not have ended slavery neatly underscores the riddle of all development work: if the people of (Sudan or the DRC or Haiti—insert your own favorite here) must "solve the problem themselves," then what role does that leave for the well-intentioned outsider? No role at all, on the strictest interpretation of "solve the problem themselves." Yet washing one's hands of tragedy in Sudan, the DRC, etc., not only contradicts our sense of shared humanity, but also becomes less and less practical as the global community draws closer together.

    I conclude, with a frustration equal to Kircher-Allen's, that I would like to hear fewer people who care about development work lecture others as if they know precisely what role the well-intentioned outsider should play. I suggest there is no definitive answer and that outsiders and insiders will engage in continuous negotiation—complicated by a blurring of lines between them as the outsiders' involvement grows—until (praise the Lord!) no more development work remains to be done.

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