The tragedy of Darfur, for all of us Sudanese, is and will remain a deep scar for years to come. The causes and roots of the conflict are, however, complex and intertwined. This is why many of us are baffled to the oversimplified and misleading portrayal of the conflict as Arabs against black Africans.
One of the tools of the anti-Sudan campaign has been to call for “divestment” from companies dealing with Sudan. But the recent proposal presented to the regents of the University of California, calling for divestment from Sudan (to be voted on Jan. 19 at UC San Diego) contains a precarious clause: “A policy of divestment from a foreign government shall be adopted by the University only when the United States government declares that a foreign regime is committing acts of genocide.” This proposal consequently ignores the findings of many other international bodies and leaves it solely up to the US government to be the “moral compass” of the public.
Given the recent fumbles of U.S. policy makers (WMDs, Abu Ghraib, domestic spying, etc.), one has to seriously put this clause to question. In fact, such a clause would have made it impossible for the University of California to divest from Apartheid South Africa in 1986.
Sadly, the Darfur tragedy has become a source of “political opportunism” for many groups. The fact that the U.S. government has declared Darfur a “genocide” – contradicting the investigative reports of the U.N., EU, African Union and Doctors Without Borders – should raise legitimate questions. Pointing this out should not belittle the scope of the tragedy and in some sense it does not matter what we call it. However, let us consider the following. Former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Danforth, remarked in a BBC interview that describing the conflict as “genocide” was done for “internal consumption” in an election year. The Guardian journalist, Peter Hallward wrote: “Bush’s opportunity to adopt an election-season cause [in 2004] that can appeal simultaneously to fundamentalist Christians, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, multilateralist liberals and the altruistic ‘left’… [was]… too tempting to pass up.” Jonathan Steele, another journalist, points to the “Arab bashing” that has accompanied the anti-Sudan campaign. Hence, I cannot help but suspect that the above “embedded” clause represents a commitment by some in the UC’s divest from Sudan campaign to the current U.S. administration’s unilateralism in international affairs.
Sudan has a new transitional Government of National Unity (GONU) that has been in place for a year, since the end of the civil war in the South. Is the divestment campaign seeking to destabilize GONU? The divestment from Sudan campaign claims that divestment will not hurt the Sudanese people, but given the fact that the UC system is the largest public university system in the country, divestment will only encourage many other universities and public institutions to do the same, thus denying Sudan needed foreign investment funds for relief and reconstruction.
Divestment is essentially an economic sanction. Former Southern Sudanese rebel turned Vice President John Garang, and his successor, Salva Kiir, have both expressed opposition to sanctions. The divestment campaign ignores a fact made by even some of the Sudanese government’s harshest critics such as pan-Africanist writer Dr. Abdul Raheem Tujadeen in his article titled “Darfur rebels are the major obstacle to peace.” I know that many sincerely wish to help the afflicted of Sudan and help bring an end to this conflict, and to them we are grateful; I also recognize that the Darfur issue is being exploited by some for political purposes. While the UC regents may very well vote in favor of divestment, for this campaign has much “star power” behind it, it will do so ignoring the input of many of us Sudanese who have been left out, as everyone claims to be solving our problems. I nevertheless urge the UC regents to vote this proposal down. Sudan does not need sanctions or divestment. Sudan needs help.
Isma’il Kamal is a senior history and international relations major at UC Davis.