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I have had a chance to look at Farid Omar's article ‘Darfur at the Crossroads: Caught Between Western Hypocrisy and Muslim Complicity’. (Read it online at My impression is that while I can agree to some of the arguments he makes I am also in disagreement about some factual and interpretative errors in his discussion. I am going through his piece almost paragraph by paragraph in order to lay bare the discrepancies and factual inadequacies.

For a start, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) have not been altogether silent about the genocide in Darfur, which is instigated, aided and abetted by the Khartoum government. In a recent report made by the BBC, 9th August 2004, entitled ‘Arab League backs Sudan on Darfur’, the reporter indicated that "Arab Foreign Ministers at an emergency session in Cairo backed Khartoum's measures to disarm Arab militias and punish human rights violators. They called on the UN to give Sudan more time to resolve the conflict. And Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha said he thought the UN's end of August deadline was impractical." In effect the report indicated that, "the Arab League has rejected any sanctions or international military intervention as a response to the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region." The Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha had indicated that, "We are really committed to disarm whoever is acting outside the law". But who armed the Janjaweed? He added that, "comprehensive stability was only possible if both the Arab Janjaweed militia and rebel groups disarmed."

It is possible to read into this, firstly, the indecisive and guarded complicity of the Arab League position on the tragedy of Darfur. Genocide is not something which can be given time to be reversed. The slaughter and butchery of 30 000 Furs (not Darfuris) is a matter which needs to be brought to a close immediately. In any part of the world today any extension beyond immediacy in terminating genocide would hardly be countenanced. In the present Sudanese conflict in Darfur with the Sudanese army plus the Janjaweed on one side and African nationalist rebels on the other, who are oppressors and oppressed?

Secondly, if you compare the stance of the Arab League to that of the United Nations you will notice an enormous gap in perception of the magnitude, dimensions and perceptions of the crisis. While some of us recognize in the crisis genocide and ethnic cleansing others see a question of disarming armed bandits and rebels as the heart of the matter. I am not aware of what the OIC has or has not said, but I would agree with Farid Omar that they appear to be "strangely silent". If that is the case, then that certainly amounts to implicit complicity.

I share Peter Takirambudde, Chief of the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch's view that Sudan is "trying to manipulate opinion in the Arab world to hide the massive crimes it has committed against Sudanese citizens."

Magdi Abdelhadi of the BBC has observed, with regards to the Arab League's statement that "there were no surprises in the Arab League statement and Khartoum got what it wanted. The statement welcomed measures already taken by the Sudanese government to disarm the Janjaweed and bring those responsible for human rights violations in Darfur to justice. The Arab foreign ministers also pledged to assist Sudan and the international community in resolving the conflict peacefully. The statement was very much in line with a report by an Arab League's fact-finding mission to Darfur earlier this year, which largely exonerated the Sudanese government from responsibility and laid the blame on a combination of factors, including protracted drought, tribal conflict and under-development in western Sudan." Of course human rights violators should be brought to book. Human rights violations are unacceptable in the modern world, whether such violators are Americans in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Arab authorities in the Sudan, or human rights criminals in the Great Lakes area.

True enough, "While western hypocrisy on the situation in Darfur is really problematic, Muslim complicity in the Darfur mayhem is equally disturbing. The Muslim people and their allies around the world should stand up for Darfuris, denounce and expose western double standards and condemn the AL and the OIC for their inaction and failure to put pressure on Sudan to contain the crisis in Darfur." There I have no problems with Farid Omar's views. But then he goes on to say that, "The western media has presented the political and humanitarian crisis in Darfur and broader conflict in Sudan as a race or religious war. This is a false paradigm. The conflict in Sudan is not one pitting the so-called Muslim-Arab North and the so-called Christian/animist South, or between the Arab Janjaweed militia working in collusion with the Sudanese government and the Black Africans in Darfur. The people of Sudan are all Africans, be they Black-Africans or Arab-Africans." Here I have a bone to pick with Omar. Certainly the various conflicts or the various fronts of war in the Sudan are not simply racial or religious. That is the crude and distorted simplification of the issue. But, we must not forget that the Fur are Muslims just like the Arabs in the Sudan. Therefore the conflict cannot be put down to religious differences. Then, what is it?

For years the Khartoum regime of Muslim fundamentalists have also been pursuing ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains of Southern Kordofan with genocidal overtones against the Nuba who are also mostly Muslims. A similar tactic has been in place there, that is, using local Arab militias working hand in glove with Sudanese army units against the Nuba. In the South of the country the conflict is of much longer standing and can be said to have commenced in August 1955, with a period of low intensity conflict between1972 and 1983. Since 1983 over two million southern Sudanese have died as a result of the war.

In the case of the war in southern Sudan the international media has too often simplified the struggle as a conflict between a Christian and animist South against a Muslim North. The real fact of the matter is that it is a struggle between Arabs and Arabized Nubians and the Africans of the Sudan whether they are Fur, Zaghawa, Messalit and other similar groups in the west or the Ingessana in the east or the Beja/Hadendowa in the Kassala area adjacent to Eritrea. Some Nubians are now rejecting Arabism. The struggle in the Sudan is an age-old struggle between the forces for the Arabization of Africans and African nationalism, which rejects Arabization.

It is not simply a question of Islam against Christians and animists. I have in the past on many occasions indicated to friends in the Southern Sudan that they have for too long allowed their position to be sold short by playing to the international media and other interests which simply defined the struggle as one between Christians and animists in confrontation with Muslims. The explosion of media attention in the wake of the emergence of the Darfur crisis has underscored the falsity of the religious explanation of the conflict. If the Fur, Messalit, Zaghawa, Ingessana and Beja are Muslims certainly the struggle of the Sudan is not a religious conflict of Muslims and non-Muslims.

The history of the Arabs in the Sudan has been part of the history of the Arabs in Africa. Arabs entered Africa in the middle of the 7th century AD and have been steadily Arabizing Africans starting with the Berbers of northern Africa who till today have to a degree been resisting Arabization.

The Sudan and Mauritania are possibly the most decisive flash points in this process. Will Africans steadily accept to be culturally Arabized or will they resist Arabization and remain culturally rooted in their histories?

This is the real question of the Sudan and Africa. I say that I believe Africans prefer to remain African and not to become Arabs. I say this without prejudice to Arabs or those Africans who have become Arabized and wish to remain so. Just as much as Arabs have the right to protect their identity, history and culture, Africans also have a similar right. Just as much as Arabs wish to see the realization of Arab unity (el watani el arabi), Africans also most fervently wish to see the unity of Africans. The Arab League with all its weaknesses represents contemporary aspirations of Arabs for Arab unity.

As I have often argued, for as long as the pursuit of this ideal is conducted democratically for the freedom of Arab peoples, the ideal deserves the support of all progressive and well meaning people. But this must not be allowed to proceed geographically, politically, economically and culturally at the expense of Africans. Where does the border of the Arab world end and who are the people beyond the borders of the Arab world? Africans need to answer this question for themselves.

Today on the maps of the Arab League the Arab world includes about a third of Africa's geographical area. There are some of us who say enough is enough. No further expansion at the expense of Africans is tolerable. The notion Arab-Africans is a term used in the Sudan to hide the realities of Arabization. It is a concept, which has become in some ways a Trojan horse for Arab expansionism in Africa. Culturally and otherwise, people will always mix and adopt new identities, but this must not become a one-way traffic to Arabization and the cultural denationalisation of Africans.

In the broad historical experience of Africans two imperialisms can be pointed to, Arab and Western imperialism. Historically, Arab imperialism in Africa is older than western imperialism by a millennium. The day Africans realize that Arabs are not Africans and Africans are not Arabs but that the two peoples must live together in peace and with humanity towards each other their recognition of the African identity would have moved one step further and would have made a decisive conceptual move towards the ultimate achievement of African unity. The unity of Africa embraces historically, culturally and psychologically more directly the African Diaspora than the Arab north of Africa. In this sense, the African Diaspora is central to Pan-Africanism and African unity.

In a manuscript I am currently writing I have made the point that, if we want to maintain the rigour of the logic of the Diaspora link, we must, as Africans, define our reality on a historical and cultural basis. In this respect, geography is only useful in as far as it helps us to understand the historical and social process. We can therefore hardly define the reality of contemporary Africa as a geographical expression; that is, Africans as all who live on the continent of Africa. The argument has a resounding and irresistible flip-side, which is that, all who do not live on the continent or not born on the continent, are not Africans. This is the distorted logic, which pushes out the African Diaspora. We must not equate citizenship with nationality or cultural identity. A state may have people of different nationalities.

I do not agree that the so-called "race and religious analogy of the conflict is part of the ideological ploy of U.S. imperialism to generate anti-Arab hostility among African-Americans and Black Africans, to win support of African-Americans and Black African Christians for the US neo-Conservatives/Christian right project against Arab and Muslim Africans, and in particular against Sudanese Muslims. It is also aimed at undermining the long standing Afro-Arab solidarity that has historically striven against the forces of western imperialism, colonialism, apartheid and the occupation in Palestine."

Of course western imperialism must be denounced but so also must the Arabization of Africans be fought. It is ridiculous to bracket African-Americans with US neo-conservatives in this way. It is at best disingenuous and at worst mischievous. The point, which the Darfur crisis has forcefully brought home to many Africans in the Diaspora, is the fact that ultimately the definition and identity of Africans cannot be based on colour. In the Sudan it is not possible to differentiate African from Arab on the basis of colour and I am sure that with television available worldwide many Africans in the Diaspora who have for centuries been faced with white racism find it difficult to digest the fact that most Arabs in the Sudan have black faces. The point I have elsewhere made is that amongst Arabs colours range from black to blonde. The same is true for Jews. In years to come this may be more clearly true for Europeans.

Ultimately what defines an African from an Arab are cultural and historical belongings, not nature but nurture, not biology but rather culture. The black colour which is common for most Africans happens to be a miraculous bonus, in the sense that whereas most other major peoples of the world have other attributes they share as groups based on culture, religion, language, history and geography, mixed to different degrees, in the case of Africans in the absence of clearly unifying language and religion, colour has become a most useful blessing which makes most Africans recognizable from a good distance. But, in the future increasingly there will be many Africans who are not necessarily black. This is the way the world is moving and this is the future of humanity.

From my viewpoint, part of the tragedy of Darfur is that African nationalism in the Sudan has been conveniently split between what is going on in the west, south, east and northeast. Africans have so far failed to find sufficient ground to realize that they are all fighting the same war. The Arabist rulers in Khartoum have been clever at creating convenient and tactical truces, and thereby silencing and truncating the Southerner's struggle from the Fur, Ingessana, Nuba and Beja. This amounts to success for the policy of divide and rule, which has been in the past used to such consummation by successive Arabist regimes in Khartoum, who fear and deny the predominant African character of the Sudan. What al Bashir and the Khartoum clique fear most, is that the Arabist minority may lose control of the Sudan; that the African majority may exert its preponderant character.

It is most doubtful if the Arab League, in its present form, would readily accept a thoroughly democratic solution to the national question in the Sudan. But Africans are waking up. Sooner or later the African character of the Sudan as a democratic expression of the society will triumph.

I am happy with Farid Omar's philosophically inclusive sense of humanity. But, I fear the persistence of the confusion of Arab and African on the continent and beyond. This confusion, on this specific matter, appears to be more prevalent among Africans than non-Africans. We still do not seem to know or understand who we are. I hope we do not go into another major Pan-African meeting/congress with this confusion. If this happens, we would not have made any real headway since the last one. Let us not try to foist an African identity on people who do not want to be so regarded and who reject the African identity; who continue to despise and enslave Africans. I agree with Farid Omar when he says that, "the root causes of the Sudanese conflict are primarily political and can be located in totalitarian tendencies that have overtime, suppressed the evolution of popular democracy." While this diagnosis is right the point has to be seen in relationship to the long history of oppression, slavery, war, ethnic cleansing and now genocide.

The suggestion that external forces have fanned the Sudanese conflict is grossly exaggerated and misplaced. Blaming the conflict on American arms and money and right-wing evangelical groups in the US does not do credit to the Africans of the Sudan. The Africans of the Sudan are a group oppressed by the minority Arab elite in the country. As for the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of the Sudan, we must remember that the Sudan as it is geographically represented today is like all African states an artificial creation of European powers. The British were anxious to control the whole of the Nile Basin in order to supply Egypt with its lifeline, the Nile waters.

Omar's contention that "the Sudanese government either has no interest in resolving the crisis or lacks the capacity to do so", is spot on. As for the AU I agree with Farid Omar that the about "300 Peace Monitors it has deployed in Darfur is grossly inadequate." Again Farid Omar's observation is pertinent when he writes that, "Like the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Conference, the Muslim and Arab media have also maintained a strange silence.” In sharp contrast to events in the Middle East, coverage on the horrific Darfuri scene by Al-Jazeera and other leading Arab Satellite Televisions such as the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya is dismally marginal. Failure by Muslim and Arab media to adequately cover the grisly events in Darfur smacks of complicity.

Africans need to read the lessons right in this behaviour and attitude of the Arab media. The simple truth about all the wars in the Afro-Arab borderlands is that, at best we should be able to nationally coexist in peace. But if we cannot live together in peace, then we must go our separate ways without rancour, pain and mutual torment. The members of the global community have fortunately agreed as standing international protocol, since the Treaty of Versailles, that in our times, nations and peoples have the right to self-determination.

This protocol applies equally well to the African people of the Sudan.

* Kwesi Kwaa Prah is Director of the Centre for the Advanced Studies of African Societies. This article has been used with permission of the author.

* Please send comments to [email protected]