A Darfur Smack-down: De Waal vs. Prendergast

Newsweek hosts quite the conversation between Darfur academics/advocates Alex de Waal and John Prendergast. The whole thing is 7 pages long, however, so I paraphrase:

De Waal: Activists have made a big difference in money and attention to Darfur, but can they be sure that they are doing no harm? Could activism have impeded compromise or led us to overlook other conflicts in Sudan? Could using the genocide label here devalue the term’s currency?

Prendergast: Alex, your ideas are bizarrely misplaced. Activists have done more than you admit. They are not responsible for the Bush administration’s inaction, nor are they to blame for the genocide declaration. But it is genocide. Anyhow, you helped craft the fatally flawed 2006 peace deal and are the one doing harm.

De Waal: What the…? I thought this was supposed to be a constructive debate. And what’s this about my peace agreement? They didn’t follow a shred of my advice! Since we’re throwing elbows, however, let’s remember that you’re the one who worked for the administration that bombed Khartoum. Moreover, your genocide argument is (at best) uninformed by history and facts. But I digress. I still think that activism has unintended side effects, and they ought to be discussed intelligently.

Prendergast: I’ve risked my life in war zones for 25 years and don’t have the time or patience to listen to this. Fortunately I have the last word. We activists sometimes make mistakes and are seldom even-handed, but that doesn’t make us rebel collaborators. The real beast here is the Sudanese government, and only U.S. pressure will fix that. Activists are the only hope of real policy change towards Sudan by the U.S., and hence peace. And, oh yes, we are going to work with Darfurians.

De Waal: Newsweek inexplicably cut off our dignified conversation. Fortunately I have a blog. Now of course the main bad guys are the warring parties, but this is not to say that activists and humanitarians are blameless. And the warring parties are not cunning monoliths but incoherent and mismanaged forces, and our incoherent, mismanaged, and bellicose pressure is not necessarily helping. We should look before we advocate a leap.

Of course, the actual debate includes facts and substance, and so I encourage you to read it here. If you get past the throwing knives, there’s some pretty good information and debate, especially towards the end.

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