It’s Nice to See that at least One Magazine has a Competent Cover Editor

July 31, 2004

There is only one appropriate cover for any weekly magazine covering last week’s news…


Read their news story (free) or their editorial (subscription required).

The key part of the editorial is this:

So what can be done? … Surely, the most realistic approach would be to try to deliver food and medical supplies to the needy, but to stay out of Sudan’s internal politics?

There is no time for such caution, however. Aid cannot reach Darfur in adequate quantities unless the Sudanese government stops obstructing its delivery… This regime will only stop killing if forced to. It was largely outside pressure that pushed it to talk peace with the south—and that peace process is at risk if the mayhem in Darfur continues.

There are several levers that could be used, but the great powers are not all pulling in the same direction. An arms embargo would be a start, but Russia, which is selling fighter jets to Khartoum, is likely to oppose it. The threat of an oil embargo would be more potent. Unless the Sudanese government makes a serious and immediate effort to rein in its killers, its main source of hard currency should be shut off. The French and Chinese governments may not like this idea, however, as their oil firms have interests in Sudan. As a last resort, outsiders should be prepared to use force. If certain members of the UN Security Council, mindful of their own ugly records in terrorising turbulent provinces, veto such a proposal, a coalition of the willing should go ahead regardless. There is a precedent: without approval from the Security Council, NATO intervened in Kosovo to curb ethnic cleansing.

The trickiest obstacles to military intervention are neither legal nor moral, but practical. Darfur is a long way away, and as the rains grow heavier, its few roads are growing steadily less passable. Western troops would be welcomed by some of the people there, but would arouse violent passions among Sudanese Islamists, who are already warning of a “crusader” plot against Muslims. (Islamist protests against the Sudanese regime itself, a leading killer of Muslims, have been muted.)

The least bad approach would be to send an African force, under the auspices of the AU. Western powers could provide most of the funding (the AU has practically no money), logistics, electronic intelligence and possibly air cover. Willing African nations, whose soldiers would cause less affront than white ones, could provide the boots on the ground. Their mandate would have to be robust—they should be allowed to shoot to kill. But their mission should be narrowly defined: to protect refugees trying to return home, and to police a ceasefire while government and rebels negotiate a political solution. It might work. But the world has already dithered too long to save tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of lives.

I am largely in agreement with the Economist’s editors. However, I disagree strongly on the following:

1) The truly pressing issue is not return of the internally displaced and repatriation of the refugees, but preventing pestilence from claiming their lives. As Andrew Natsios, Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), forcefully framed the issue on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer back on June 24:

You see, whether you call it a genocide or not, the issue is that we have not yet lost 300,000 or 400,000 people. We will lose that many people this fall if we do not run this relief effort without any restrictions by the government of Sudan and without Janjaweed attacks, we could have as many as a million people die by the end of this calendar year.

We carefully calculated this using epidemiological data – we’re entering, for example, the meningitis season right now. We just found one instance of polio. We could have a polio epidemic. Malaria will start because of the rains. And there are already epidemics of measles in some of the camps, which will kill a lot of children under five. So the worst is yet to come.

The worst will start in September to December when we’ll have a massive loss of life. What we could do is dramatically drop the number of people who are dying.

I concede that there are major logistical problems now if only because the rainy season has begun, let alone because of the Sudanese military and their Janjaweed paramilitaries. As Human Rights Watch explains in its valuable page answering frequently asked questions about the crisis in Darfur:

What are the concerns for humanitarian aid?

As it stands, almost a million people require urgent humanitarian assistance—health care, nutritional support, shelter, clean water and above all protection from continuing attacks. A few international humanitarian agencies are working in Darfur, but the amount of aid so far is far from sufficient.

How long would it take for food aid to reach Darfurians?

It takes approximately four months from the date of payment for the relief food to reach the intended beneficiaries, barring logistical problems of transport during the rainy season and diversion of food by armed groups.

How has the Sudanese government cooperated with food aid?

During the 21-year conflict in the south, the Sudanese government continually frustrated the international relief community by erecting an elaborate scheme of regulations that choked off relief. In 1988 its delays and deliberate neglect to deliver relief during a famine cost the lives of approximately 250,000 people. In 1998, another famine, provoked in part by such obstructions, cost the lives of approximately 100,000 people. So far, the Sudanese government has erected similar obstacles to full humanitarian access in Darfur.

How [does the] rainy season affect food delivery? [This answer was written in late May.]

The roads in Darfur will be impassible or extremely difficult to traverse once the rains start in late June, and food deliveries on these roads will be erratic. Rains have already started in the southern part of the region and are advancing north to fill the dry wadis or river beds with swift waters. The rail lines to Darfur are in poor condition and only reach as far as Nyala, South Darfur. There is no pre-existing relief infrastructure in Darfur such as in the south, where pilots are familiar with landmarks and there are many delivery points, airstrips, and now roads.

However, roads impassable to large trucks and the lack of air strips are no excuse. If experts agree that a major influx of humanitarian aid supplies are needed now, they could be airdropped at least to the more major established refugee camps in neighboring Chad and the larger internally-displaced person camps within Sudan as soon as peacekeeping troops are on the ground to protect aid workers distributing them. (The Darfur Map Center at the United Nations’ Sudan Information Gateway has many detailed, frequently updated maps detailing the logistical and epidemiological challenges.)

While “Darfur is a long way away,” as the Economist‘s editors say, it is not truly far away from both French and US Military bases. As I explained in a previous post (“We Cannot Save Everyone, But We Must Save Everyone We Can”), the largest overseas basing of French military is on the Horn of Africa in Djibouti, and one of these installations, Camp Le Monier, has largely been leased to the US military. (For much more information on this, again one can consult the following links from the general Djibouti page and the specific Camp Le Monier page.)

2) While inflaming Islamists and giving them an arena in which to score propaganda points are arguably decisive concerns when it comes to, say, invading and occupying an oil-rich country that poses no short-term threat to the US, only a medium- to long-term one, they cannot be allowed to become decisive when it comes to stopping genocide (which here is of African Muslims, no less!).

3) Even if in the end tragically not much is done this year, we should make it clear that those Sudanese officials who have abetted this proto-genocide will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. If a small-budget NGO like Human Rights Watch can already have obtained documentary proof of Sudanese government complicity in the Janjaweed assault on Darfur, then surely the US intelligence services can supply ample proof for successful prosecutions for crimes against humanity.

Finally, if I may be permitted, let me close on the following note of hypermorality—the poem opening Primo Levi’s book If This Is a Man (often titled Survival in Auschwitz in its US printings):

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:

    Consider if this is a man
    Who works in the mud
    Who does not know peace
    Who fights for a scrap of bread
    Who dies because of a yes or a no.
    Consider if this is a woman,
    Without hair and without name
    With no more strength to remember,
    Her eyes empty and her womb cold
    Like a frog in winter.

Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
    Or may your house fall apart,
    May illness impede you,
    May your children turn their faces from you.

If you are wondering what you can do, check out the “How Can I Help?” page of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as its comprehensive listing of non-governmental aid agencies working in the region. Also, check out the “What You Can Do About Darfur” page from Human Rights Watch.


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