When the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, Ambassador Princeton Lyman, visited Pittsburgh this week, he met with members of the
Sudanese community and activists from the Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition (PDEC).
In the process, he not only updated his audiences on the current situation in Sudan and South Sudan, but also helped us think through a crisis in the advocacy movement arising from the growing complexity of the challenges on the ground.
For the past nine years, PDEC has organized bus trips, marches, postcard campaigns, petition campaigns, fasts, exhibits, conferences and speakers
series to highlight atrocities, which some were calling genocide, in Darfur, Western Sudan. All this time, we have enjoyed considerable support in the Jewish community.
Our aim has been to urge government action to help resolve the crises.
As time went by, we saw many changes: the introduction of a United Nations-African Union civilian protection force in Darfur (UNAMID), a peace agreement signed by the government of Sudan and one Darfur rebel group, a referendum on separation by Southern Sudanese leading to South Sudan
independence, charges brought by the ICC against Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and genocide, unresolved North-South issues over oil, border demarcation, and the status of Abyei, and links between rebel activity and Sudanese government bombing in the border areas leading to a humanitarian access emergency in the Nuba Mountains as well as in parts of Darfur where millions live in IDP camps.
In the process, the seemingly simple picture and simple objective we had concerning the Darfur crisis in 2004 — stop the hands of the oppressors, block the Janjaweed and the Sudanese government’s Antonov bombers from harming innocent civilians in their villages — had to yield to a much more complex picture, where U.S. government influence, while significant, played its hand indirectly through entities such as the African Union, the United Nations, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
The United States could not press a button and make all well. We advocates had to learn about indirectness.
We are still trying to deal with these changes and align our advocacy more closely with the challenges and opportunities, which are really existent. Some of our most prominent advocates nationally continue to call for a tougher stance against the Bashir regime and a willingness to consider forms of intervention, for instance, imposition of a no-fly zone and/or a program (solely under U.S. auspices if all else fails) to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of the Nuba mountains.
On the other hand, it seems clear that with much diplomatic capital invested in resolving North-South issues, and with rebel forces fighting the Sudan government in Nuba, the U.S. government wants to play a more “diplomatic” hand.
The complexity of the new paradigms brought on in large part through South Sudan’s independence compels advocates to rethink the laudable but growingly insufficient resort to rhetorical condemnations. What specific measures are needed to move Sudan including Darfur toward a peaceful and democratic constitution? What specific measures need to be taken to bring stability and democracy to South Sudan?
A Darfuri friend in Pittsburgh recently told me he read that the al-Qaida offshoot forces in Mali, routed by the French, are now finding their way into Darfur. This reminded me that we need to understand, among other things, the specifics of U.S. goals and objectives in Sudan and across the band of sub-Saharan Africa including Sudan’s supposed role in the U.S.’s anti-terrorism strategy.
For many years, the mantra has been “don’t stand by, stand up.” Many young people and adults have answered this call, which grew out of an awareness of the fact of mass cruelty in history and the way it must have been abetted by inaction, but there comes a point where slogging replaces the charge of the light brigade, and we advocates must have something to offer that fits into a larger frame of concerns and priorities or else the effort will inevitably bog down or run out of steam. We urge Jewish community members and organizations to remain a vital part of this campaign.
(David L. Rosenberg, of Mt. Lebanon, has been volunteer coordinator of Pittsburgh Darfur Emergency Coalition since its inception in 2004.)