Sunday, 12 June 2011

Darfur’s renaissance

Amin Hassan Omer

In an article published on 8 June in the mouthpiece of the National Congress Party (NCP), al-Raed, Amin Hassan Omer, the lead government negotiator with the Darfur movements in Doha, provided a rough testament to Wagner’s wound; the wound that “can only be healed by the spear that made it”. Venturing into a longue durée reading of the Darfur conflict Amin Hassan Omer, one among a few NCP figures who still claim an intellectual project if you like, argued that under the rubble of the war Darfur is about to witness a “phoenix reincarnation”, one that he likened to the emergence of post-war Japan and Germany. Amin entertained his audience with the tale of billions of dollars that are about to be poured into Darfur once a peace agreement is signed in Doha. He wrote:
“The ordeal in Darfur, prolonged as it has become, is about to transform into a blessing, since no force other than the grand mobilisation generated by war is capable of changing the face of life and pushing it forcefully into new avenues. War, although a severe calamity, has an extraordinary power to remould the people afflicted by its fire. The legacy of other nations stricken by war demonstrates how a widespread awakening, a grand renaissance, and general agility follow in the aftermath of the nightmare of war”.
In Omer’s perverse dialectic war begets development so to speak. Without really straining the argument Germany should be thankful for the Nazi adventure since it allowed it to “remould” in the “fire” of the struggle and emerge the economic power that it is today.
The grand renaissance that Omer envisions hinges on the generosity of the multitude of donors who have expressed interest in funding the Darfur rehabilitation effort, a cake that the central government in Khartoum, the Darfur state governments, and the incoming rebel signatories look forward to slicing up in proportions that remain up for grabs before it actually lands on their table. Judging by the comparison he drew to post-war Germany Omer has in mind a sort of Marshall Plan for Darfur, this time with funds from Qatar and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
What the fire of war has actually done to Darfur is to transform the mass of the Jebel Marra peasants, dispossessed by the might of firepower, into a reserve working force, a standing army of unskilled labourers, competing for day jobs in the hypertrophied urban centres of the region. To settle them in their new habitat pledges have been made by the state governments of Darfur to include the IDP camps into ambitious master plans of town development. For instance, the government of South Darfur announced on 9 June that it had allocated 2000 residential plots in Nyala to IDP households, with 8000 others in the pipeline.
The rift between policy and practice can be glimpsed live in Omdurman’s slums, the sprawling peri-urban settlements that constitute its western fringes, where hundreds of thousands if not millions of IDPs from Kordofan and Darfur sought refuge during the famine of 1984-1985. The majority of the afflicted never went back and preferred to scratch a living in the circles of the informal economy that crystallized around the now famous Suq Libya (Libya market), for some as a major node in the trans-Saharan arms trade, and for others as a tourist attraction.   
Despite its apparent peacefulness this extra Omdurman remains beyond effective government control. Its interstices provided the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), Khalil Ibrahim, with a safe hideout during the 2008 attack on the capital until he managed to find his way back to Darfur. If the labour settlements of al-Gedaref and Kenana were one recruiting ground for the JEM it can be safely claimed that a considerable chunk of its funds comes from Suq Libya or is funnelled through it. No wonder the government attempted more than once through the economic branch of its National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) to reign in the business interests of the Zaghawa merchants in the Suq.
Back to Omer, the Missouri educated political scientist and poet, he may be right that war has changed the face of life in Darfur, but the dialectic he seems so sure of is pregnant with possibilities he is not able to fathom with his statist logic. 

1 comment:

  1. It sure looks like Bashir and his henchman Harun are planning to give Southern Kordofan an opportunity to become a center for development investment as well - and soon. ;)

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This work by Magdi El Gizouli is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.