John Hockenberry: For thousands of people in the United States, the issues in Sudan and Darfur is a moral imperative.
Crowd [on tape]: SAVE DARFUR! SAVE DARFUR! SAVE DARFUR!
John Hockenberry: People participating in a rally in San Francisco in April. Save Darfur. It's become a rallying cry among American liberals, conservatives, Muslims, Jews, and Christians, that the conflict in the region should be stopped and that the regime which in Sudan has already been issued an arrest warrant by the World Court in the Hague, Sudan's President stands accused of war crimes, but he's still in office. Should there be regime change and massive, international intervention in Sudan? We're now here with Mahmood Mamdani, a professor of Government at Columbia University and author of the controversial Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror. Professor, thanks for joining us.
Mahmood Mamdani: Thanks for having me.
John Hockenberry: Does the profile of Darfur in the United States, particularly among liberals and those protesters that you heard there, help in discovering or finding an international policy that's going to assist the people of Sudan to end this brutality?
Mahmood Mamdani: Well look, concern has to be based on information. The commander of the U.N. forces in Darfur report that throughout the year 2008, the number of civilians that died in Darfur is roughly around 1500. That is less than 135 a month. That is less than what the U.N. would consider an emergency in any other part of the world. Those organized by Save Darfur in the U.S. do not know this. The media does not report on this. The fact is, the level of violence which was high in 2003-2004 dipped very low starting in 2005. Which means this is an opportunity for a political resolution of the conflict, not for talking about an external intervention.
John Hockenberry: So is the, the numbers themselves an argument against calling what's going on in Darfur genocide?
Mahmood Mamdani: Well the numbers tell us what the trend is. They tell us that the level of violence is going down. They also tell us another thing. They tell us that the causes of death are multiple. Violence is one of them. A larger cause is the effect of drought and desertification. They also tell us, if we care to learn about the history of the conflict, they tell us that the conflict began before the present government even came into power. It began in 1987, '89, with the worst effects of the violence, I'm sorry, of the drought and desertification, which pushed northern nomads down south and initiated a conflict around the best land in the south of Darfur.
John Hockenberry: Although professor, we've seen again and again in Africa that external climatic changes have political consequences in the sense that competition for resources is reflected in politics and brutality against certain groups, and the displaced groups in Sudan may be an example of this.
Mahmood Mamdani: Well the thing is that in most complex conflicts, there are multiple causes. Here, you have the environmental change. Then you have a land system which deprives certain groups of land, starting from the early colonial period. Then you have the effects of the civil war in Chad, which again in the mid-80's became a war that got integrated into the Cold War. The Reagan administration, France and Israel supported one side, Gaddafi and the Soviet Union supported the other side, the opposition crossed the border into Darfur where it armed and trained, and precisely when Darfur had not a drop of water in the mid-80's, it was awash with guns. The big powers got involved before even the government of Sudan got involved in Darfur.
John Hockenberry: Professor, the question really is in the eye of the beholder. The violence can look like the workings out of history but it can also look like genocide, depending on who you are. Here's a man named Ali, who called into a radio program that you were a guest on here on WNYC last march. His name is Ali, and he claims that there is genocide in Darfur. Listen and then respond, please.
Ali [on tape]: Being myself from Darfur, I've got a lot of family member who died in Darfur, government bombing by airplane, government burning the villages, government helping the gang buy machine gun, buy everything, buy money, buy knife to kill the people. So how are the people going to fight? I don't know they're going to fight.
John Hockenberry: That man says he doesn't know the meaning of genocide based on the analysis that you were giving. What's your response?
Mahmood Mamdani: Well, everything that Ali says is true. And everything he says was true in 1987, '89. In fact, the word genocide was used by one side in '87, at the 1989 reconciliation conference. And the word ethnic cleansing was used by the other side. It was a brutal civil war in '87, '89 and then a brutal insurgency and contra-insurgency in 2003, 2004. None of what he says would be true today. As I said, from January 2005 the level of violence has dropped. But an opportunity is being missed. I think the African situation shows that when you have an ongoing conflict simmering year after year, you have to look for a political solution, and that political solution is not taking people to court.
John Hockenberry: Isn't there also the danger, Professor, that history and looking at the causes and a focus on the complexity of the conflict possibly threatens to repeat what happened in Rwanda where a hesitation on the part of the international community really amplified the violence?
Mahmood Mamdani: Well I think we need to revisit Rwanda. Save Darfur is telling it's supporters that the lesson of Rwanda is that there's no point in talking about causes of conflicts. That, in fact, who were Hutu and who were Tutsi, the Hutu were killing Tutsi, the Tutsi were dead. It's like telling somebody that if a person is critically ill and you bring a doctor, you tell the doctor that there's no point in diagnosis, just perscribe, and then going a step further and saying the prescription should be given by the most outraged and the most concerned person, information doesn't matter. Well that simply is the wrong conclusion to draw from Rwanda. The fact is that in Rwanda there was a political conference in Arusha and the conference did not hold because certain groups in Rwanda were left out of the conference, and those groups had no interest in implementing the results of--
John Hockenberry: So, the notion of repeating the experience of Rwanda is itself complex, and possibly caution is prescribed. Mahmood Mamdani, we're going to leave it there. Professor of Government at Columbia University and author of the controversial Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror, thank you, sir.