The crisis gripping Darfur, in western Sudan, has been prominently in the news for weeks now.
Media reports claim that up to a million people have been displaced and up to 50,000 killed as a result of what is reported as attacks by the Janjaweed militia, backed by the Sudanese government.
Certainly the TV pictures and reports look horrifying, with women and children desperate for food and medical aid, and views of burnt out villages, and naturally many people internationally want action to resolve this humanitarian emergency.
At the end of July Blair spoke of having the “moral responsibility to deal with this and to deal with it by any means that we can.” General Jackson, chief of the British general staff, immediately confirmed that this could mean sending British troops back into Sudan; it was a de facto colony of Britain until 1956.
The United Nations is saying that the world’s worst humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Darfur and its Security Council has passed a US resolution calling on Sudan’s government to halt atrocities by Arab militias within 30 days or face further action. Both houses of the US Congress have denounced “genocide” in Darfur.
Ten years after the Rwanda genocide cost 800,000 lives the British and US governments are saying that action must be taken to prevent something similar occurring again. Suddenly, in a number of countries, enormous publicity is being given to the terrible situation in Darfur and there is a growing clamour for intervention.
But after the Iraq invasion there are widespread suspicions, especially in Africa and in Arab countries, that both Blair and Bush are using Darfur for their own cynical purposes. Further south in Africa there is a renewed possibility that full scale war will resume in the Congo. Three million people died in the last round of fighting in the Congo between 1998 and 2000, but Blair and Bush are silent on this.
Certainly both Blair and Bush want to restore their “humanitarian” credentials after the debacle of Iraq, but their concern with Sudan also has other motives. There is oil in Sudan, and in southern Darfur the oil concession is currently held by the China National Petroleum Company, perhaps as an aside Bush and Blair hope to get their hands on this oil? Already there are signs of rivalry in the region between the major imperialist powers with French troops operating in Chad on the border with Darfur.
Any intervention into Sudan by Britain, the US, France or the UN would, in reality, be a step towards a virtual re-colonisation, not this time to again set up a formal colony but to install a complaint, pro-imperialist regime.
It is possible that the African Union will send in troops from other African countries, but these forces will also be acting in the interests of the capitalist countries that sent them and/or the major imperialist powers. The cynicism of some African leaders knows no bounds. Taking a “moral high ground” Nigeria’s President Obasanjo has demanded action from the Sudanese government to stop the fighting, but he ignores the fact that, at home in Nigeria, at least 10,000 Nigerians have died in ethnic conflicts and 800,000 made internal refugees since he came to office in 1999.
What then can be done? Sudan has been gripped by civil wars in south since 1983 and in Darfur since 2003. In Darfur the central Sudanese government were backing the Janjaweed militia against the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) that are linked to one of its opponents, the Islamic leader Hassan al-Turabi.
While the crises in each country naturally have theirs own characteristics generally African nations are facing stark choices. Economically and socially African countries are not advancing, indeed in many respects they are going backwards. Since 1981 the 13% drop in national incomes per head in sub-Saharan Africa has resulted in a doubling of the numbers of people trying to survive on less than a dollar a day from 164 million to 314 million. More than half a billion Africans live on less than two dollars a day.
In this situation ethnic, tribal and religious conflicts will develop where there is no a strong workers’ movement that can offer a way forward through collective struggle against capitalism. This means building a united movement of working people and the poor that can power into their hands and decide their own future.
But many, seeing the terrible pictures from the refugee camps, will ask whether this is possible and what should be done now?
The crisis in Darfur is providing another opportunity for the western media to present Africa as a continent in chaos where Africans themselves are helpless and need western aid. Certainly the legacy of colonialism and the continuing domination of the world economy by imperialism have meant that most of Africa is in crisis, but this does not mean that there have not been very significant movements by Africans themselves. Up until the 1970s Sudan itself had one of the largest Communist Parties in Africa and the Middle East. Tragically its leaders did not rely on mobilising their supporters in a struggle for socialism, instead they made alliances with different groups of army officers, a policy which resulted in them suffering massive repression after a military coup they supported failed in 1971.
While supporting the giving of any emergency humanitarian aid the workers’ movement internationally must oppose any imperialist intervention, whether under the British, UN or African Union flags, into Sudan and give whatever support they can to those working to rebuild the forces of socialism in that country.
Sudan, geographically Africa’s largest country, was artificially created by the British Empire following Kitchener’s 1896 to 1898 campaign of military conquest. Although the colony was formally jointly run by Egypt and Britain, Egypt itself was then run by Britain, with British officers commanding the Egyptian army.
In Sudan the British colonial administration based its control upon the policy of “indirect rule” that revived the powers of tribal sheikhs and chiefs, a policy that strengthened tribalism. It also played its usual game of “divide and rule”.
During the 1920s the British, fearful of nationalism spreading into Sudan from Egypt and preparing for a possible division of the country, introduced the “Southern Policy” eviction of Muslims, of whatever ethnic origin from south and formation of so-called “closed districts” where Muslims were forbidden to settle.
Sudan was granted independence in 1956.
An edited version of this article will appear in the Socialist, newspaper of the Socialist Party, cwi in England and Wales