Posted by: sean | March 26, 2009

Mamdani on Darfur

Against my better judgment, yesterday I bought Mamdani’s book on Darfur, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror. Anyone who knows me knows that I have very little patience for the oeuvre of Mamdani, so I knew that I was going to hate this book, but I had no idea how bad it was actually going to be. I’m about a quarter of the way in, and so far, he’s attacked by name Save Darfur, Eric Reeves, Gérard Prunier, Philip Gourevitch, Nicholas Kristof, John Prendergast, Harold Pinter, Brad Pitt, Steven Spielberg, George Bush and Tony Blair, just to name a few, but strangely Omar al-Bashir is mentioned only once in the first 192 pages, and only to attack the ICC for focusing on “the consequences of the violence [in Darfur], not its context.” (Emphasis his – p. 5.) So, with the exception of two or three canned adjectives to slap Khartoum on the wrist (“brutal counterinsurgency”), Mamdani seems to have more of a problem with Save Darfur and Eric Reeves than he does with the Sudanese regime’s violence.

He argues that there is not and has never been a genocide in Darfur, that this is just part of the “War on Terror,” and that Dafur has just been used to draw attention away from Iraq:

For Americans, Darfur is a place without history and without politics–simply a place where perpetrators clearly identifiable as “Arabs” confront victims clearly identifiable as “Africans.” The point is that those who march and mobilize for Darfur are being asked to do so not as American citizens but as humans. If they were responding to the call of citizenship, then the focus of their action would indeed be the U.S. government’s war on Iraq. But Save Darfur has convinced them that they are in fact responding to a higher calling, a human calling. Save Darfur’s great political victory has been to thoroughly depoliticize Darfur as an issue.

Perhaps Save Darfur should be credited with an even greater success: depoliticizing Americans, especially those Americans who felt the need to do something in the face of disasters perpetrated by the Bush administration. The Save Darfur Coalition was able to capture and tame a part of this potentially rebellious constituency–especially students–thereby marginalizing and overshadowing those who continued to mobilize around Iraq. This successful displacement was indeed a model campaign, a successful lesson in depoliticization (p. 60).

So far, this is the kind of argument that Mamdani makes. In the first quarter of the book, it seems to be much more about Save Darfur than Darfur itself. I’ll surely have more to say about this book as I get further into it.



  1. […] excellent site, Making Sense of Darfur, has been taking  a close look at Mamdani’s new book on Darfur. There is a lot of commentary on the book, but the best reviews, to my mind, are those by […]

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