March 23, 2023

What next?

Alex de Waal and Nick Kristof come from relatively different ends of the Darfur advocacy spectrum. Yet last week de Waal’s Making Sense of Darfur piece asked “Can Sudan Activism Transform Itself for the Obama Era?”  and last month Kristof’s On The Ground blog began by saying “The Save Darfur movement seems to be losing steam. It is riven by internal debate, it is being ignored by the Obama administration, and it suffered a frontal attack from Mahmood Mamdani . . . ”  And I would add to this mix that quite apart from whatever is going on in the U.S. Administration, everyone I’ve been speaking with here at the AU is talking in terms of Darfur policy being “stuck” from the perspective of a way forward on the ground.

So how to get “unstuck”?

This week I’ll be running a series of reflections on the way forward. Assuming the answer to de Waal’s question of whether activism can transform itself is yes, the next question is if it should, how? Are we talking a radical shift, or has the extent of both the change needed to engage the Obama Administration, and the change needed to move the situation inside Sudan been overstated? And does this sense that the movement is floundering come from blockage at the activist end (do activists need new tactics to keep the movement going?) or is the real problem at the policy end? My money is on the latter, although invariably these things are related.

The first post will be from grassroots organizer, Tim Nonn, who has a proposal to pitch for a wholesale shift towards a strategy of civil disobedience. This very much focuses on the  – what does the movement need to keep itself going and thereby keep the attention of governments – end of things. Later in the week we will have people coming from the other end of the problem whereby the current impasse is primarily due to confusion at the policy end, regardless of the cohesion or otherwise of the advocacy movement.

Anyone who has other ideas is encouraged to either send them via the submit a question tab, so that I can post it, or use the comments function. However it has been usefully pointed out to me that this discussion could become a little difficult to manage(!) So a few parameters:

1. Let us start from a (rebuttable) presumption that anyone who can be bothered to take the time to write a thoughtful post on these issues has the concern of Darfuris at heart. Thus while we may disagree on tactics and strategies, we are all on the same side. I know there are people feeling strongly about the way forward and I want this to be a useful forum for people to reflect on different options and not head into the realm of personal attacks. If it turns out to be impossible, I’ll quit and head back to a one-way webspace for my own musings.

2. I will try to do a brief intro to each piece that identifies which of the two issues is primarily being addressed – i.e. tactics for keeping the movement going/increasing it’s power/building political will OR strategic questions of what policies to be pushing for. Of course these issues run in parallel and end up being inter-related, but clarification of which is the focus should help the structure of the discussion.

3. So the discussion doesn’t get too unwiedly, I’ll pose one or two questions with respect to each post for any subsequent discussion on the website to focus on.


  1. Nell Okie says:

    I agree with mass civil disobedience.

  2. theprisoner6 says:

    Although I agree with a need for a change in course, I am not sure that civil disobedience without a clearly-stated objective can be successful. In most cases where civil disobedience has been successful, two conditions had to apply: 1)the target was clearly defined and affected by its actions, and 2) the need for a sustained movement and high coordination was required.

    Because the real target is the current Sudanese government and tacit support by other governments, I feel that any act of civil disobedience may fail its impact. Perhaps as some right-wing groups support Jewish settlements in the West Bank, we should consider heavy funding and strategic support by an organization on the ground in Sudan. Or work to find a way to create such an organization. Perhaps civil disobedience coordinated with this local group’s actions would work well.

    The key is a clearly stated directive. Maybe some of you know what you expect your host country to do, but for myself, I am unclear. By stating a directive, you may reduce the number of people willing to commit civil disobedience, but you will increase their loyalty, I think.

  3. Let us assume for a minute that a global campaign of repetitive acts of non-violent civil disobedience does have a positive effect on our nation’s leaders. What exactly would we be pushing them to do? Can we simply ride on the ask of “establish a viable plan on solving the crisis in Darfur”, or is that too general? I tend to the latter. I believe that before we can even talk tactics, we must iron out a specific set of policies we wish to see carried out. I think what Ms. Hamilton is insinuating (and please do correct me if I am wrong), is that the most we can do as activists is apply pressure to our own governments, who in turn can only implement certain foreign policies that would hopefully work to resolve the crisis. So before we jump right in, shouldn’t we come together on what those foreign policies would be? Personally, I have too little faith that if our government is left to its own will (even if that will has been imposed by activist efforts), that it will come up with the right plan for Sudan.

    I think whatever activist strategies we use, whether it be civil disobedience or something else, they will have to focus on restoring our threat credibility in the eyes of the GoS. They have called our bluff time and time again (and by “our”, I mean the international community, not just the US), and now are fearless.

    To tie all this into Ms. Hamilton’s original question, what next for the Darfur movement, I think what we need is 1) A reminder and reality check of how bad the situation still is, 2) A viable plan that the entire activist community can get behind, and 3) Substantial results that will not discourage the movement but instead motivate us to keep working. This conflict has been going on for six years – most people, including activists, assume that the situation is no longer grave, that there is no longer a need for urgent action. A proper wake up call is necessary. But until the community can come together as one movement, it will not matter how much compassion or motivation we have – without becoming unified, we will all keep fighting each other for the same goal (as we have been since this movement began) … and even if we all come behind one plan – if we see no substantial progress, the movement will constantly lose steam.

  4. Dear Sunish
    I don’t think that “the most we can do as activists is apply pressure to our own governments” – although I do think that is where activism has it’s greatest “value added” – for want a better term.
    There’s a lot in your comment that gets us to the heart of the difficulties – Namely activists need to have a viable policy in mind if for no other reason than not to be “duped” by politicians saying they are doing something on Darfur to appease activists, without really do what is needed to create change on the ground. On the other hand, getting into policy prescriptions has a tendency (or at least has until now had a tendency) to divide the advocacy community which, in turn, weakens its impact on the “applying pressure” metric.
    If there was a specific policy that everyone could get behind, then we would not be at this “impasse”, which is why I said in my intro that in terms of the root of the current problem, my money is that it lies at the policy end of the spectrum. So I guess it’s an ongoing process of getting to a point where there is a set of policy asks concrete enough not to allow the government to appear to be doing something when all they are doing is making noises that will appease activists, yet general enough that it doesn’t create such splits among the diverse advocacy community that their ability to create pressure is weakened. Which is all very easy to say, and yet extremely hard to turn into practice while there are continuing disagreements about what the facts on the ground actually are. . .


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