August 24, 2019

What about the responsibilities of policymakers?

Fighting for Darfur spends a lot of time looking at successes and failings of activists. But what about the policymakers they were targeting? The next set of questions tries to get at the intersection of citizen engagement and policy formulation from the perspective of those who are responsible for policy inside the government:

Darfur activists spent years trying to build a domestic political cost into the calculations of U.S. officials responsible for acting on Darfur. In Congress this enabled them to secure significant amounts of funding for Darfur, but inside the administration perverse incentives sometimes came into play. In Fighting for Darfur, U.S. special envoy Andrew Natsios expresses his frustration that the narrative of the conflict presented by activists did not fit with events on the ground but he warns the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, that trying to correct these misperceptions would be “politically dangerous.” What do you think of Natsios’ warning? To the extent Natsios was right, and advocates were out of touch with changes on the ground, what responsibility do policymakers have to correct those misperceptions? In a democratic system, how should they weigh that responsibility against any domestic political cost?


  1. Rebecca Hamilton says:

    Thanks to @texasinafrica for co-hosting this question. I’m posting responses from her readers below.

    Tom Murphy said:
    Wow. Now I know why I did not choose this tough question.

    I tend to be an idealist when it comes to this and have a low tolerance for the presentation of simple narratives which betray the truth. Understandably, we want to digest something which is easier to comprehend and share forward.

    This creates problems, like the one Negroponte points out, that make the space for complexity small and for clarifications and corrections even smaller. It pins political actors to the narrative and makes them cater to it since any suggestion of it being wrong can be seen as not taking the issue seriously or finding excuses not to act.

    The ideal would be to ignore the domestic political cost, but that does not seem possible if an administration wants to be effective.

  2. Rebecca Hamilton says:

    Ibrahim Adam wrote on Texas in Africa:
    As an ordinary Sudanese living in Sudan, I’m very concerned about this very shallow advocacy ‘lessons’ about Darfur and Sudan in US junior/middle/high school classes and universities across the USA over the last five years or so:

    1) Neither Ms Hamilton – a diehard activist writing a Darfur teaching supplement, nice – nor the eager band of (similarly non-Sudanese) activist teachers/lecturers have anything more than a flimsy understanding of the social, political, and economic dynamics of the ‘real’ as opposed to the ‘virtual’ Sudan of the blogosphere.

    2) The latter – said ‘virtual’ Sudan – is dominated by a tired caricature (and be clear – that’s exactly what it is) of Sudan, perpetuated by US media, academicians, activists and, sadly, quite a lot of American politicians, too.

    What is that caricature?

    In a nutshell: – a predatory, hooligan, racist Arab-centric ‘Khartoum’ dominating the poor ‘Black African’ ‘periphery’.

    3) Bringing ‘Sudan’ into the classrooms and lecture theatres of the USA is simply breeding a new generation of Sudan haters in the USA – the politicians, business leaders etc of tomorrow. Indeed I’ve read many ‘Darfur projects’ by junior/middle/high schoolers in the USA that make me cringe and howl in exasperation when they portray (invariably) Sudan as a simple morality tale of good (i.e. Black Africans – whatever that means), and evil (i.e. Sudanese Arabs – whatever that means, too).

    Is that education/furthering REAL understanding???? That’s as simple as saying that African Americans have poor ‘social’ outcomes ‘cos, simply, Caucasian Americans hate them and want it that way; seductive, but wrong and ultimately very shallow.

    4) In short, the new found interest of academicians in topical Sudan issues has had the unintended (though patently forecastable) consequences of making’ Northern Sudanese’ the new bogeymen of America’s youth; i.e. the Serbs; Nazis; white South Africans during apartheid of yesteryear.

    5) Indoctrinating American schoolchildren and college students on, at best, a very tenuous understanding of the dynamics of Sudan, is risible – and akin to the – deserved – opprobrium directed at Saudi madrassas and schools that turn out piles and piles of anti-Israeli discourse/hatred to their subjects – and continue the destructive inter-generational pattern of Arab-Israeli hate.

    6) There really is no difference to the Saudi madrassas’s anti-Israeli reflex and the edu-activism in American schools and colleges about Darfur or other topical Sudan issues.

    7) My parting thoughts? Stop pimping Sudan.

    Do remember that it is a country – and not a pit stop for ‘intellectual’ masturbation by generally deeply uninformed US activists and academicians: the USA has maxed out on Sudan and bad, bad ‘Khartoum’ (the convenient whipping post for Republicans, Progressives, Democrats and all and sundry) – and, believe me, the majority of ordinary Sudanese are sick to the back teeth of it.


    Ibrahim Adam

    El Fasher

    North Darfur

  3. Rebecca Hamilton says:

    Roving Bandit wrote on Texas in Africa:

    Ibrahim – I think this is a case of the state being confused with the people. Of course ordinary Northern Sudanese citizens should not be demonized, and there is a real risk of that occuring, but we equally should not deny or forget the crimes committed by the Khartoum government.

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