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"Asking The Right Questions About Darfur, Sudan", Part XI, Exclusive Q & A With Dr. Alex De Waal and Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, Directors, Justice Africa

While many groups receive more limelight for their analysis, advocacy and research regarding events on the continent of Africa, those who closely follow this type of work recognize that it is Justice Africa that consistently provides some of the more insightful "on-the-ground" coverage of the Motherland, and all from a Pan-Africanist worldview. There is a consensus among those who have been exposed to the organization's coverage of the crisis in Darfur, that Justice Africa has provided some of the most detailed and nuanced critical analysis of the problem, while offering creative and constructive solutions for its hopeful resolution.

Two of Justice Africa's Directors in particular - Dr. Alex de Waal and Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem - are some of the most respected opinion leaders to be found anywhere when the subject is conflict resolution, civil society and modes of politics in Africa.

Dr. Alex de Waal is one of the very few people to be found speaking and writing on the issue of Darfur with first-hand knowledge of the region, having spent several years of research and advocacy on Sudan and its Western province. After receiving his DPhil from Oxford University, Alex de Waal is still an activist and author of several books on famine, human rights and conflict in Africa. He is editor of the ‘African Issues’ series with James Currey Publishers, served as Associate Director of Africa Watch before resigning in 1992 in protest over the U.S. military intervention in Somalia. He was a founder and director of African Rights and Chairman of Mines Advisory Group 1993-8 (co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize), and director of programmes for the International African Institute.

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem has been General Secretary of the global Pan African Movement since 1994 and is resident in Uganda and London. Tajudeen is Nigerian by origin. He was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford where he gained his DPhil in political science. He was a founder member of the Africa Resource and Information Bureau, London, and has been at the centre of numerous initiatives to promote peace and democracy in Africa. Tajudeen writes and lectures on Africa for several journals and universities. He is Chairperson of the Centre for Democratic Development and the Pan African Development Education and Advocacy Programme.

Alex de Waal and Tajudeen Abdul Raheem granted Publisher Cedric Muhammad an exclusive joint interview, conducted via e-mail, to be included as part of the website's "Asking The Right Questions About Darfur, Sudan" series.


Cedric Muhammad: How do you define the crisis in Darfur? Do you accept any of the characterizations given by others, namely, that what is taking place is primarily 1)genocide, 2)civil war or 3)a region that continues to accelerate downward due to ecological scarcity and economic underdevelopment?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal : It's ALL of the three: war, conflict driven by under-development and also ethnic cleansing/genocide.

Cedric Muhammad:You have been following the African union-brokered peace talks very closely - between the Government of Sudan and the two major armed political opposition groups, the SLA and JEM. What has been the evolution of these talks and do you hold hope for them?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal:These talks initially came about because the humanitarian crisis ran out of control, and some agreement was needed for humanitarian access. The AU was invited in because the Government Of Sudan (GoS) thought it would be a soft touch, which it has not proved to be.

There is hope for progress (see the Aug/Sept briefing posted on the JA website on Friday) but it won't be rapid.

Cedric Muhammad:Do you think the Organization Of Islamic Conference (OIC) should play a greater role in Darfur, or even as a partner with the African Union in brokering peace talks considering that the region is Islamic?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal :The OIC can play a role. It's former SG (Secretary General), Hamid Elgabid, is the AU lead mediator for Darfur. But all such efforts should be in support of the AU effort and not undermine it. (Unfortunately the Arab League has not been so constructive).

Cedric Muhammad:Can you explain for us exactly how the SLA and JEM

There has been broad speculation that external forces - regional, foreign governments, special interests, intelligence agencies and even the SPLA are responsible for their dramatic appearance on the scene in Western Sudan.

If external factors are not at play, what are the indigenous dynamics that have produced these two groups and which they represent, politically?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal :The SLA and JEM are overwhelmingly indigenous. In fact their appearance was overdue, the only surprise was that this didn't happen earlier.

The SLA springs from a tradition of radicalism in Darfur, supported by the tribal authorities of Fur, Zaghawa and Masalit.

The JEM is in large part a breakaway from Sudan's Islamist movement. They have received small amounts of external support but are basically indigenous. The origins lie in a combination of the marginalisation of Darfur, the deterioration of local governance which has led to widespread militarisation of society, and the split in Sudan's Islamist movement in 1999.

Cedric Muhammad: Do you think the Government of Sudan overplayed its hand in peace talk negotiations with the SPLA? Did they ignore the Western region of their country, and are now suffering the consequences of this error/mistake?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal : There are senior figures in the GoS who believe that they 'gave away' too much in the peace talks with the SPLA, and as a result when the insurrection began in Darfur, they said, thus far and no further. They didn't calculate that the war and humanitarian crisis would become so serious, that the international community would become so engaged, and that the crisis would destabilise the government to the extent that it did.

Cedric Muhammad: In your July 30, 2004 report you write, "Before effective disarmament (or more realistically, regulation of armaments) can take place, a workable definition of the Janjawiid is needed". I think this is a critical point you are raising that many gloss over, especially the human rights organizations. An interesting New York Times op-ed written by Sam Dealey and published August 8, 2004 raises a challenge to the belief or notion that the Janjaweed have a central authority, are monolithic and that the Sudanese government in Khartoum is in control of them. Mr. Dealey identifies a Janjaweed chief, Musa Khaber who is over a group that has "Arab" and "African" tribesman with Musa Khaber himself being a dark-skinned Berti (the Berti are said by scholars and historians to be one of the "indigenous" Black groups of Darfur). Is the mainstream media, human rights organizations and others oversimplifying the Janjaweed?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal: There are many ‘Janjawiid’ groups. Many of them are in fact Popular Defence Forces set up by the GoS in the 1990s. In many areas of Darfur, the PDF leadership was purged/changed after 1999 due to the split in the Islamist movement, and local leaders were replaced by outsiders from other parts of Darfur or beyond. The Berti are traditionally one of the most politically quiescent groups in Darfur, and there does not appear to have been a purge there. When the SLM entered Berti territory late last year they made a few political errors in terms of failing to consult with the traditional authorities, making it easier for the GoS to utilize the PDF against them.

So, yes the Janjawiid are complex; but that doesn’t mean they are not subject to central control. (Though it is the nature of such militias that it is easy to set them up and much more difficult to demobilize them later.)

Cedric Muhammad:In your report you write, " The press coverage and its dichotomisation of ‘Arabs’ and ‘Africans’ continues to have the unfortunate side effect of further entrenching the racial component to the war in Darfur. As journalists are finding out when they visit Darfur, it is rarely possible to tell ‘Arab’ from ‘African’ by skin colour. Most Darfur Arabs are black, indigenous and African. They are ‘Arab’ in the old sense of being Bedouin, rather than hailing from the Arab homelands of the Nile Valley or Fertile Crescent, and their Arabism is a relatively recent political construct. This ‘Arab’-‘African’ dichotomy is likely to play out in the politics of the African Union." Could you elaborate on any and all of this, please?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal : The Arab countries within the AU are following the Arab world’s visceral opposition to any criticism of ‘Arabs’ especially when it comes from the U.S. Much of this has to do with Iraq. This has made it easier for the GoS to mobilize Arab League support for its position.

Meanwhile, the simplistic/misleading depiction of the crisis as Arab versus African, and indeed the construction of ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ as two opposed and mutually hostile categories, means that we may see the North African and Sub-Saharan blocs in the AU coming to blows over Darfur. Already, much of the African media is echoing the western simplification, and many Africans misunderstand Darfur in the way that the U.S. media has done. As for the origins of Arabism and Africanism in Darfur, this is a complicated subject; see Alex de Waal’s ‘The Road To Darfur’ in the London Review of Books,

Cedric Muhammad:The issue of racism by Arabs toward Africans and how it relates to Pan-Africanism and its nexus with Islam on the continent has been a major topic of discussion and interest since we began four years ago. What is your view of this vast subject and how can the vision of One Africa (even a "United States Of Africa") be obtained as this debate intensifies in Darfur and Sudan?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal : It is critically important that disaspora groups do not fall into the trap of taking an 'Arab' or an 'African' side in Darfur and insist that all sides in Darfur are indigenous, black and Muslim--and ALL ARE AFRICAN.

The differences are political, and the responsibility has to be an individual one for crimes against humanity. Let's not divide this community any further and play into the hands of those who want the community divided and weak (and that includes the GoS).

Cedric Muhammad: How big of a factor is oil and mineral resources in what is happening in Darfur?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal:There is no oil in Darfur. But the greater wealth in Sudan as a whole as a result of oil has definitely sharpened the conflict.

Cedric Muhammad: You present a unique view regarding how the peace process between the Sudanese government and opposition groups in Darfur is related to the peace process between the Sudanese government and the SPLA, which by all indications was nearing completion. How does one relate to another and is there a preferred order in handling them?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal : Please see our September briefing "Prospects for Peace" for our views on this. We think Naivasha has to be the centrepiece of peace in Sudan and should be completed as soon as possible.

Cedric Muhammad:What do you make of the talk that Sudan should be divided into two or four separate nations? Do you think that the talk that the South should secede is legitimate and helpful? What about the same idea for the other regions?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal : Southern Sudan has won the right to self-determination. Hopefully by the time the Southern Sudanese come to exercise this right in six to seven years, the progress in continental unity at the AU will mean that national sovereignty is less significant than today, and it will be unproblematic in Northern Sudan for the South to be an independent brother African state.

Other parts of Sudan are not demanding secession, so the issue isn't arising.

Cedric Muhammad: What do you advise us to watch in Darfur (and Sudan) in upcoming weeks and months?

Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem and Dr. Alex de Waal :The big pan-Africanist issue over Darfur in the next 12 months is the convening of the African Union Summit in Khartoum in July 2005. This must not be a cheap political victory for Khartoum or the cause of North-African/Sub Sahara African conflict within the AU, but must on the contrary be a means of (hopefully) celebrating a peace deal that brings the different parts of Africa together or (if there is no peace), for Africa as a whole to bring pressure to bear to resolve this conflict in a pan-Africanist spirit.


Part I: Exclusive Q & A With Professor Sean O'Fahey

Part II : Exclusive Q & A With Joe Madison, President, Sudan Campaign

Part III: Exclusive Q & A With Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col. United States Air Force (ret.)

Part IV: Exclusive Q & A With Salih Booker, Executive Director, Africa Action

Part V : Exclusive Q & A With Dr. Kwame Akonor, Founder, African Development Institute

Part VI: Exclusive Q & A With Georgette Gagnon and Leslie Lefkow, Africa Division, Human Rights Watch

Part VII: Part VII, Exclusive Q & A With Bill Fletcher, Jr., President, TransAfrica

Part VIII: Exclusive Q & A With Adotei Akwei, Senior Advocacy Director For Africa, Amnesty International

Part IX: Exclusive Q & A With Melvin P. Foote, Chief Executive Officer, Constituency For Africa

Part X: Exclusive Q & A With John Prendergast, Special Adviser To The President, International Crisis Group (ICG)

Thursday, September 9, 2004

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