• peacemaking
  • knowledge
  • peacebuild
  • women
  • peacekeeping

Saviours And Survivors: Darfur, Politics And The War On Terror

Mahmood Mamdani (ed.)
Published by: Human Sciences Research Council Press, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-7969-2252-6

Reviewed by Karanja Mbugua, Senior Analyst with ACCORD’s Peacemaking Unit
In the African Journal on Conflict Resolution Volume 9 No. 1, 2009

The conflict in Darfur, Sudan, has attracted a tremendous amount of attention in the last six years. Scholars, humanitarian organisations and investigative commissions and panels sponsored by the African Union and the United Nations have produced a large amount of information and analyses regarding the context, actors, causes and consequences, underlying goals and interests, and other dynamics that have been driving the conflict. These analyses, which reflect the different views and interests of the various groups in Sudan and in the West, are human rights, political science or anthropological narratives of Darfur in particular, and Sudan in general.

Saviours and Survivors deviates from this narrow focus and situates Darfur in the historical and contemporary world context. The book’s central theme is a critique of the assumptions and biases underpinning the Save Darfur Coalition – the American organisation that has championed and internationalised the Darfur situation. The author recognises that the discourse over the conflict in Darfur has been highly polarising. He questions the prevailing orthodoxies and whether the “quick fixes” coming from the West can solve the problems in Darfur.

The book is divided into three parts and nine chapters, which are structured around four profound ideas. The first idea is a critical analysis of the dominant narrative that informs the writing of Sudan’s history. At the heart of this narrative are two related ideas: Arabisation and settler-native dichotomy (pp. 75-108; 145-170). The book interrogates these two ideas by digging deep into the historical evolution of Darfur and Sudanese society. It explores ancient sultanates and merchant kingdoms that existed prior to the formation of the modern state, and unpacks their internal dynastic contradictions and rivalries. It also analyses the socio-political issues that divide the centre of power in Khartoum and the peripheries such as Darfur, and their related ideological foundations.

Mamdani’s historical account presents the conflict in Darfur more as a product of a long encounter between the colonial and post-colonial powers in Africa, and less as an outcome of immediate political grievances. He unpacks the term Arabisation, and weaves it into a larger theoretical analysis that includes Egypt. He also delves deep into the settler-native theoretical dichotomy – which is the central argument in his other two books, When Victims Becomes Killers: Colonialism, Nativism and the Genocide in Rwanda and Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism. The settler-native framework critiques historiography where the core narrative is that pivotal social and economic change in African societies was driven from outside. In this narrative, the key to political history was the relation between settlers (or outsiders/drivers of change) and the natives. Mamdani applies the argument to Darfur’s history, which depicts some groups as settlers and others as natives. As he notes, the settler-native dichotomy played a key role in the 1987-1989 conflict in Darfur (p. 170). Mamdani summarises his critique with a call for an alternative narrative.

The book’s second central idea is that the conflict in Darfur started as a civil war in the region, in which all actors saw themselves as victims (pp. 231-236). The civil war raged in 1987-1989, long before the National Islamic Front (NIF) came to power – and it did not involve the central government. “It was known as the Arab-Fur war,” Mamdani writes. “For the first time, all Arab tribes came together under a single banner known as ‘the Arab Gathering’…” (p. 236). Among the key causes of the conflict were climate changes and desertification. The key driver of the conflict, however, was the “tribal definition of right of access to productive natural resources” (p. 244), whose core element is the settler-native narrative. Consequently, the conflict took on “ideological and ‘racist’ leanings which were heavily laden with tribal bigotry” (p. 233). Mamdani avers that one of the key reasons the NIF coup actors cited, when they overthrew the government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1989, was his government’s failure to stop the conflict in Darfur. The author argues that the government became a party to the conflict after 1989, when its resolution attempts failed. That argument notwithstanding, Mamdani does not excuse the failure of the government of Sudan to resolve the conflict after 2003.

The third idea in Mamdani’s book revolves around the politics of the Save Darfur Coalition (pp. 48-71). Though Mamdani appreciates that Save Darfur directed media and public attention at the height of the worst violence, his analysis advances several critiques against the coalition. First, he questions the coalition’s marketing and fundraising – which paid for offices, salary expenses and mobilisation in the United States, but it is not clear how many Darfuris it actually “saved”. Second, he queries the coalition’s failure to acknowledge the decline in mass violence and atrocities in Darfur after September 2004. Third, he questions the coalition’s understanding of the history of Darfur and Sudan, and the narrative it champions. Fourth, Mamdani critiques the coalition for the way it integrated the conflict in Darfur with the War on Terror (pp. 63-65). According to Mamdani, the Save Darfur Coalition links the conflict in Darfur to the global discourse on American power and the War on Terror. In both cases, the Arabs are on the “wrong or bad side” – as genocidaires in Darfur and as terrorists elsewhere. As he writes, “Darfur gives the Warriors of Terror a valuable asset with which to demonise an enemy: a ‘genocide’ perpetrated by Arabs” (pp. 63-64). For Mamdani, highlights of this agenda include downplaying the African engagement in Darfur and resultant successes and the ending of violence on the ground; campaigns for international troops to Darfur; and the indictment of Sudan’s leadership at the International Criminal Court.

The fourth idea in the book traces common features between the conflict in Darfur and conflicts in other post-colonial African societies (pp. 271-300). Among the cases that Mamdani considers is the counter-insurgency war against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. He also contrasts retributive justice as advocated in Darfur, and restorative justice that evolved from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mamdani draws important lessons from these cases, and highlights among them the importance of internal reconciliation (pp. 290-300).

Saviours and Survivors has several typographical errors. It also takes a strong position that can be misconstrued as an apology for the elite, who have governed Sudan since independence. Nonetheless, the book is very powerful. It is very clear in its main theme, and courageously addresses the contradictions of contemporary Africa. Mamdani avoids the two errors common among commentators on Africa: outright pessimism and the idea of “deliverance just around the corner”. He appropriately critiques the cartoon version of Darfur and Sudan, which portrays western humanitarian agencies positively as the “saviours”, and Darfurians negatively as only just the “survivors”. The book also provides commendable intellectual depth. Its critique of the dominant narrative that informs Darfur’s history challenges the minds of scholars and general readers alike.

Buy Here



Latest News and Resources

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
Prev Next

ACCORD at second African Think Tank summit

A delegation from ACCORD have attended the 2nd African Think Tank Summit, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 6 – 8 April. The event was attended by over 60 think tanks, with participants from 30 countries. The first Summit was...

10-04-2015 in General

ACCORD represented at World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit in Africa

'Vusa izizwe namhlanje!' (Wake up the nations today!) was the motto of the World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit in Africa at which the ACCORD was represented by Prof Jannie Malan, Senior Researcher and Managing Editor of the African Journal...

10-04-2015 in Knowledge Production

TfP/ACCORD support African Standby Capacity Integrated Human Resource and Database Training Course

The African Union Commission (AUC) and the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) and Regional Mechanisms (RMs) have been developing a civilian standby roster since its conceptualisation in 2010. To date, significant progress has been made to improve the roster in order...

09-04-2015 in Peacekeeping

ACCORD discuss MoU with IGAD in support of peace and security in the region

ACCORD has hosted H.E. Ambassador Tewolde Gebremeskel, the Director of Peace and Security at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). H.E. Ambassador Gebremeskel represented IGAD's Executive Secretary, H.E. Ambassador Mahboub Maalim. The visit enabled discussions between the regional body (IGAD...

09-04-2015 in General

ACCORD attend 2015 TfP AGM in Olso

The Training for Peace in Africa (TfP) Programme at ACCORD (TfP/ACCORD) have participated in the TfP Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Oslo, Norway. The AGM's purpose was to highlight the TfP Programme's main achievements and developments in 2014, and present...

02-04-2015 in Peacekeeping

ACCORD publishes policy & practice brief on the eve of Nigeria's highly anticipated election

The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) has published a Policy & Practice Brief (PPB) on the upcoming election in Nigeria. Co-authored by J. Shola Omotola, a Senior Lecturer in political science and public administration at Redeemer's...

27-03-2015 in Knowledge Production

ACCORD host launch of Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu biography

On 24th March 2014 ACCORD hosted the launch of Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu's biography, entitled "A Life of Purpose". The book follows Professor Nkuhlu's memorable path from student activist, to Robben Island prisoner at 19, to becoming South Africa's first black...

26-03-2015 in Trustees

ACCORD Trustee Ambassador Modise recognized at the inaugural Ubuntu Awards

On 14 February 2015 ACCORD Trustee H.E. Ambassador Billy Modise, was one of the recipients of the Ubuntu Lifetime Achiever Award, presented at the inaugural Ubuntu Awards ceremony hosted by the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO)...

12-03-2015 in Trustees

Peacebuilding in Africa: evolving challenges, responses and new thinking

From the 23th to the 25th of February 2015, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) was represented at a conference hosted by Wilton Park in the United Kingdom, organized under the theme of 'Peacebuilding in Africa:...

12-03-2015 in Peacebuilding

TfP/ACCORD participate in expert workshop on impact of peacekeeping training on peace and security in West Africa

The Training for Peace in Africa (TfP) Programme at ACCORD (TfP/ACCORD) participated in an Expert workshop on Impact of Peacekeeping Training on Peace and Security in West Africa. The workshop forms part of a research on peacekeeping training which was...

10-03-2015 in Peacekeeping

Lesotho elections the topic of discussion at recent ACCORD internal staff seminar

On 26 February 2015, two days before the general elections that took place in the Kingdom of Lesotho, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) hosted an internal staff seminar where Thulisa Ndlela, Programme Officer in the...

06-03-2015 in Knowledge Production

TfP/ACCORD supports African Regional Consultation Seminar on UN Peace Operations Review

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon established a 17 member High-Level Independent Panel in October 2014 to undertake an assessment of the state of UN peace operations, and the emerging operational needs of the future" 'Understanding the relationship between the...

06-03-2015 in Peacekeeping

ACCORD discuss gender normative frameworks and nuanced challenges to gender parity and empowerment in Africa ahead of International Women's Day

Broad discussion and debate on the nuanced challenges to the achievement of gender parity and women's empowerment in Africa characterised an Internal Staff Seminar (ISS) recently hosted at the Durban offices of the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of...

06-03-2015 in Women

ACCORD hosts senior official from SA Department of International Relations & Cooperation

On Friday 20 February 2015, ACCORD hosted Ms Maud Dlomo, Deputy Director General (DDG) for Training, Research and Development at the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) for a visit to ACCORD House in Durban, South Africa.

23-02-2015 in General

ACCORD/TfP co-hosts experts’ roundtable on developing a Conduct and Discipline Framework for the AU PSOs

Since its establishment, the AU has played an increased and expanded role in addressing conflicts in the African Continent, including in Darfur, Burundi, Mali, the Central Africa Republic and Somalia. As part of its intervention, the AU has developed policies...

20-02-2015 in Peacekeeping

ACCORD's Executive Director participates in World Bank forum on fragility, conflict and violence

Increasing recognition of the relationships and dynamics between state fragility, conflict and violence now positions these issues amongst the central foci of conflict and development practitioners worldwide. It is in this light that ACCORD's Founder and Executive Director participated in...

20-02-2015 in Executive

Advancing an African peacebuilding agenda

From the 11th to the 12th of February 2015, the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) was represented at a conference hosted by the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, organized under the theme of...

20-02-2015 in Peacebuilding

Report on the Fourth International Africa Peace and Conflict Resolution Conference published by ACCORD

The African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), in partnership with the Center for African Peace and Conflict Resolution (CAPCR) at California State University, Sacramento, have published a report on the proceedings of the Fourth International Africa Peace...

16-02-2015 in Knowledge Production