August 24, 2019


I’m keen to see the reactions from the advocacy community to “Darfuristan” – a 12-page article by Ben Wallace-Wells in Rolling Stone magazine this month (if you’re interested in sending me a post on it, please email!). The title sums up Wallace-Well’s take on the situation beautifully – Darfur as quagmire.

He begins the article with some vignettes from his travels with Gration. It feels familiar to me. I wasn’t there for the original discussion, but have heard Gration recount his conversation with the sheiks about the latrines. The anecdote, about how in the village the IDPs used to take responsibility for the latrines, but now they are in the camps they feel it is the NGOs’ responsibility, symbolizes for Gration what is going wrong in the IDP community – a growing culture of dependency on external actors. It’s a theme Wallace-Wells carries through to the article’s first segment on Aid. The end of the segment concludes with his interview with a Darfuri, eking out his living from his home village, who says that if he could have stayed in the camps instead he would have. “Dignity matters. A ration card matters more” concludes Wells-Wallace. Forced into a choice between food and dignity, I guess most people do choose food. The Darfuris I have spoken with, like most people on the planet, don’t want to have to choose. They want both.

The segment on Justice falls into the standard trap of painting a picture, promulgated by Khartoum, to suggest that the ICC caused the expulsion of the humanitarians. To state the obvious, it was Khartoum’s choice to thwart the humanitarian operation, and it is a choice they had already been making long before the ICC came along. The absence of an ICC indictment in previous years never stopped Khartoum from obstructing humanitarian’s visas,   PNG-ing leading humanitarians, or completely suspending the operations of lead aid organizations.  That conventional wisdom now suddenly holds that the ICC is the cause of something that was happening before the ICC was even referred the situation, is a testament to Khartoum’s skillful framing of the situation.

Of course the two events are correlated; Bashir’s indictment gave him a wonderful pretext to up the ante on his longstanding dislike of many aspects of the aid operation in Darfur. But a more useful, not to mention, accurate, framing of this correlation would note that if Bashir had believed that any actor or group of actors in the international community really cared about Darfuris, he would have calculated that the consequences to him of expelling the organizations would have been greater than the benefits he derived from doing so – and thus not have done it (Yes, you are correct if you notice this means I do not believe Bashir is crazy). The correlation only exists because Bashir knew he could use the ICC as a pretext to expel the organizations and get away with it. Conveniently for both Bashir and every other world leader, the ICC is now the scapegoat.

Okay, I won’t go blow-by-blow through the article as it is well worth reading it in full. Plenty of good reporting in it, despite my gripes noted above. The article ends where the title suggests it might – essentially saying Khartoum is Khartoum. It’s that good ol’ refrain – these situations are complex and we outsiders know only enough to (at best) maintain an ugly status quo until our short attention spans move elsewhere . . .


  1. […] a reaction to Darfuristan from Sean Brooks, who works at Save Darfur and also blogs in his personal […]

  2. […] from journalist Rob Crilly – who has just finished writing his own book on Darfur – regarding the Darfuristan piece in Rolling […]

  3. […] bloggers who react to the recent Rolling Stone piece “Darfuristan.” Bec’s take here, Rob Crilly’s here, and Sean Brooks’ […]

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