Executive Member, SGMD
Rebecca Hamilton, author and Washington Post special correspondent, discusses the current situation in Darfur and U.S. involvement over the years.
Rebecca Hamilton, special correspondent for the Washington Post, spent four years reporting and writing her book, Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide. Hamilton spoke at Ohio University on Tuesday, March 1st, 2011, in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Her visit was sponsored by the Institute for International Journalism and the African Studies program at Ohio University in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
In an interview with this author, Hamilton said that now her focus is “to get people interested in actually learning the lessons that are there to be learned from our engagement with Darfur – what worked, what didn’t work, and what that means for how we can do better next time.”
The American public’s interest in the Darfur conflict dramatically increased after former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004 referred to the situation as genocide during his address to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“That determination was pivotal as a catalyst for the formation of what can broadly be called the ‘Save Darfur Movement,’” Hamilton said. “I think the use of the word ‘genocide’ resonated very, very strongly for many communities in the United States.”
During her speech at Scripps Anderson Auditorium on Tuesday evening, Hamilton said several factors contributed to the genocide in Darfur, including land disputes as a result of desertification in the area, a pan-Arab ideology, and arms flows as a result of the Cold War.
Click Here to Watch her Video Interview
The Sudanese government in Khartoum fed off of an already existing inter-ethnic conflict by providing weapons and monetary aid to the Janjaweed, a nomadic Arab group at odds with the generally sedentary non-Arab Sudanese in Darfur. This was done when non-Arab groups known as the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement rebelled against the government on the grounds that they were socio-economically marginalized and were not being represented in power sharing.
The Janjaweed are responsible for such atrocities as looting and ravaging towns and for abducting, sexually assaulting, gang raping, and murdering non-Arab Sudanese citizens on a mass scale.
The Sudanese government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Justice and Equality Movement in February, 2010.
Millions of the Sudanese people are currently displaced as a direct result of the conflict in Darfur.
Hamilton has met some “phenomenal” women at these camps who are raising children in “conditions that are totally unacceptable, and still retaining – trying to retain – some hope for the future because they just have to keep going for their kids as much as anything else.”
The displacement camps are heavily skewed toward women because often during the violence women were raped and men were killed, and those men who were not killed were often part of a rebel group.
“But now the world is starting to walk away from Darfur, even though the situation there is not resolved,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton noted that the situation is actually much worse now than it has been in many years, as there has been more displacement in the past two months than in the five years before that.
“Today, I think people have started to realize that it’s not the 2003, 2004 situation,” Hamilton said. “But they sort of think that if there are not these huge massacres occurring, that somehow the situation is fine, failing to appreciate that when you still have 2.7 million people who can’t return to their homes, this is not a situation that is okay and that still needs a huge amount of work.”
Another part of Sudan has been in the news recently. A referendum occurred in January, resulting in the decision to have an independent South Sudan.
Hamilton said a lot of people know that there was a referendum in southern Sudan and that it went peacefully. “What’s frightening is that very many people think that that dealt with the situation in Darfur, failing to realize that South Sudan is a completely different part of the country.”
Southern Sudanese have decided to make English the official language. Since the official language has long been Arabic, these Arabic-speaking teachers are now struggling to teach their students in English.
A language barrier in Sudan is not the only obstacle in the classroom – there are also a disproportionate number of boys to girls in school.
Certain economic situations further complicate relations between northern and southern Sudan. The government in Khartoum has gathered a $35 billion debt, and they want the Southern government to take on a piece of that debt.
Part of this debt was incurred from fueling the military budget for the long war against southern Sudan in which 2 million people died.
“What does it mean for 2 million people to die?” Hamilton asked during her public lecture. “Every single person I interviewed had a family member who died. That’s the only way that I could wrap my head around it.”
There are also questions of citizenship rights in the new two-state Sudan, and an agreement needs to be reached concerning the sharing of oil wealth.
There has been a great deal of media attention on the referendum that passed in January in southern Sudan, but this has detracted from the media coverage in Darfur.
“It seems we can only focus on just the South, or just Darfur, and never able to put the whole picture together,” Hamilton said. “That’s what really needs to happen.”