Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The saved and the damned

I have been reading Mahmood Mamdani's Saviours and Survivors. It is a book of extraordinary power, not merely contesting the follies of the 'Save Darfur' bunch, but rectifying a whole distorted tradition of writing about Darfur from the colonial age to the present. More will follow on this in future posts, but as I was reading that, I got this in my inbox:

So, a quote from Mamdani seems apt:

"Another example of silent death is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In 2006, UNICEF issued a 'child alert' on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The report documented that '1200 people die each day in the DRC' due to the conflict and that 'over half of them are children'. On the basis of four mortality studies between 1998 and 2004, the International Rescue Committee estimated that 'about 3.9 million people have died as a result of the conflict between August, 1998 and April, 2004'. ... Those disturbed by evidence of silent slaughter around Africa, such as the English journalist Lara Pawson, have focused on silence as the price exacted by Western corporations with an interest in these locations. Pawson points out that about 8 percent of US oil imports have come from Angola, before and after 2002. the war may have led to the death of 3 percent of Angola's population, but it did not halt the flow of oil to the United States, even if the oil fields in question had to be protected by Cuban soldiers. She points to the Congo, where a UN panel of experts highlighted the role of up to eighteen British-based companies in the plundering of Congo's minerals, the revenue from which fueled the conflict in the eastern part of the country. The UN Security Council advised governments to follow up investigations into the biggest of these companies, such as Anglo American, and Barclays Bank, advice the British government continues to ignore, citing a lack of adequate evidence. A 2005 Human Rights Watch report alleged that AngloGold Ashanti, part of the mining giant Anglo American, had developed links with mercenaries and warlords in order to gain access to gold-rich mining areas in eastern Congo. These accusations notwithstanding, Lara Pawson reminds us, Anglo American's chairman, Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, was invited to join the UK prime minister Tony Blair's Commission for Africa and played a leading role in it. ... The economic factor may explain the silences of power in the face of some human catastrophes (Congo, Angola, Uganda) but cannot by itself explain the opposite phenomenon: popular outrage, as in the case of Darfur. The most important factor that distinguishes Darfur from any other African tragedy - Congo, malaria, AIDS - is that Darfur has become the core concern of a domestic social and political movement in the United States, one whose scale recalls the antiwar movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s..." (pp. 20-22).