As we wrote in the last issue of WR, Africa “shows in frightening detail the real future that the capitalist mode of production has for humanity”. Few, if any, regions have escaped the never ending cycle of wars, disease, famine and ‘natural’ disasters that have ravaged the continent for the last century, as the imperialist powers have fought over the right to exploit its rich resources. During the Cold War African nations were at the centre of tensions between the two major blocs led by the USA and the USSR. The effect of this conflict on the region was devastating. We need only look at Somalia, which was just one of the many countries that was exhausted by these inter-imperialist rivalries, and it has suffered even more since the collapse of the blocs and the changing attitudes of its former ‘sponsors’ (see: WR 297, ‘Somalia: social collapse and imperialist war’).
When able, the bourgeoisie, here and abroad, is careful to ensure that the reality of Africa’s crisis rarely hits the headlines. But this is not always possible when, as with the Middle East recently, the level of violence or human suffering makes a news blackout impossible. Fortunately for the bourgeoisie there is a get-out clause: when things get too bad, they play the ‘humanitarian’ card. Although not unique to Africa - who can forget recent British and US ‘humanitarian interventions’ in Bosnia and Afghanistan - this term has a particular historic resonance when used in reference to the continent, which for decades has suffered at the hands of the ‘humanitarians’ of the main imperialist powers.
The latest region to feel the glare of the gaze of the ‘international community’ is Darfur, the semi-arid western province of Sudan, Africa’s largest country, where in 2003 ethnic violence over water shortages and grazing rights exploded between indigenous black Africans who make up the majority of the population within the region, and the state and their pro-government Arab militia, the Janjaweed, who have been armed and supported by the Sudanese government in Khartoum. The latter is understandably keen to play down any suggestion of genocide, but no-one seems to know how many have been killed or displaced during the last three years in what the United Nations (UN) has called a “man-made catastrophe of an unprecedented scale” (The Economist 09/09/6). Estimates range from 200,000 to 300,000 dead with as many as 2 million displaced, many of whom have fled to neighbouring Chad. Seven thousand ill equipped African Union (AU) troops sent to the region as ‘peacekeepers’ have failed to stop the killing and were scheduled to leave the area in September. Darfur has become a “byword for appalling bloodshed” (The Economist 09/09/6).
A descent into chaos
The conflict in Darfur is often presented as being one between good (the victims of the Janjaweed) and evil (the ‘hard-line’ Islamist regime which has set the Arab death squads on tens of thousands of civilians). But this is only one aspect of the conflict, which is becoming increasingly chaotic over recent months. There are divisions between different Islamic factions in the capital, and the African rebel forces have themselves fragmented along tribal lines:
“The dynamic of the fighting has shifted since the peace agreement from a more-or-less two-way conflict between central government and rebels to a more complex war also involving heavy fighting between various rebel factions.
In a further sign of increasing divisions, a new faction - the National Redemption Front (NRF) - emerged in July 2006. It is a coalition including JEM and ex-SLA commanders who deserted both Minnawi and Nur.
The NRF soon held sway in much of north Darfur, where there were reports of a build-up of government troops in August.
The SLA initially united supporters from Fur, Zaghawa and Massaleit tribes, but split after May along increasingly tribal lines. Minnawi is a Zaghawa, like about 8 percent of Darfur’s population. Nur is a Fur, who at 30 percent of the region’s population are the largest ethnic group in Darfur. JEM is mostly Zaghawa.
The Sudanese military appeared to support Minnawi’s side, and his faction was accused of using Janjaweed-like tactics, including a government attack helicopter disguised as a relief flight, and of raping and killing women from the Fur tribe. Meanwhile, Nur’s supporters were also accused of gang-raping women for having Zaghawa husbands” (Reuters AlertNet).
Local imperialist tensions involving Sudan and its neighbours have also sharpened:
“The conflict in Darfur has soured relations with Chad. Chad’s president, Idriss Deby, is a member of the Zaghawa tribe whose members live on both sides of the border and are among rebels fighting against Khartoum.
There is some evidence that Chad may have helped channel arms to Darfur. Despite this, Chad’s government has also backed Khartoum. For its part, Chad has accused Sudan of supporting some 3,000 Chadian rebels on its territory” (ibid).
The conflict also has implications for the rivalry between Eritrea and Ethiopia: “Eritrea - which itself has tense relations with a U.N. peacekeeping force monitoring its border with Ethiopia - has weighed in to support Sudan’s objections, in a sign of improved relations between Khartoum and Asmara.
The two countries previously had no diplomatic relations as Khartoum accused Eritrea of supporting an array of Sudanese opposition and rebel groups, and Asmara accused Sudan of training an insurgent group operating on their shared border” (ibid).
And, as we showed in our last issue, Ethiopia is in turn involved in the ‘civil war’ in Somalia, which means that the threat of more widespread imperialist wars now hangs over the whole of Eastern Africa. .
In the midst of all these war-like tensions, it may seem bizarre that “with low inflation, GDP growth of 8% in 2005 and 13% projected by the IMF this year, Sudan is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa” (The Economist 05/08/6). All of this in a country which has been subject to American sanctions since 1986. The reason for this is fairly simple: Sudan started exporting crude oil in 1999 and is taking full advantage of current high prices on the world market. The benefits of this ‘boom’ are likely to be short-lived and in any case they only being felt in the capital; furthermore, since oil was discovered in Darfur itself, there have been accusations that the government has unleashed the Janjaweed with the precise aim of ensuring control over the new drilling operations there. A further ‘blessing’ of Sudan’s oil is that it gives the bigger imperialist powers an added incentive for getting a foothold in the area. China, which is increasingly becoming a serious imperialist player in Africa, buys most of its oil from Sudan.
If you add to its oil reserves Sudan’s geo-strategic relationship to the Middle East and its connections with the ‘war on terror’ (it’s one of Bin Laden’s former haunts), it would seem to be an obvious target for imperialist intervention. But despite the increasing level of verbiage about the country’s humanitarian crisis, there are also a number of obstacles to the verbiage being transformed into an actual armed intervention. The US would like to develop its presence in Africa but given that it is currently stretched militarily by the ongoing chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was humiliated by its last adventure in Africa (trying to keep the ‘peace’ in Somalia), it is unlikely that it will intervene militarily with its own forces. Britain is in the same position. An article in The Economist (23/09/6) makes it clear, “no more missions please”. British forces are already struggling to fulfil their current ‘responsibilities’ and, given the growing numbers of deaths amongst British troops in Afghanistan, another ‘peace mission’ would certainly prove unpopular at home.
So we are being treated to the familiar sight of the major imperialist powers slugging it out through the UN, itself a den of thieves, using the smokescreen of ‘humanitarian intervention’ to hide their real intentions. During the last two weeks this charade has seen both Blair and Brown speaking out about the situation in Darfur with Brown using his speech at the Labour Party Conference to call for the world to “act urgently” through the UN in Darfur. A recent article in The Economist (23/09/6) states how, “on the eve of the 61st United Nations General Assembly, 32 countries held events aimed at persuading their governments to recognise a responsibility to protect the civilians of Darfur” while “a rally in New York City’s Central Park attracted upwards of 30,000 people who called for the speedy deployment of UN peacekeepers”. Even China now seems unlikely to vote against a resolution to send peace keeping troops to the area. It seems the only leader who doesn’t want a UN peace keeping force is the Sudanese president Oman Hassan al-Bashir who believes that peacekeepers will threaten the current fragile stability of the country.
Whatever happens in the forthcoming weeks and months the dispossessed of Darfur will not be ‘rescued’. There is no national solution to the problems in Sudan. What we are more likely to see is a long drawn out intervention by peacekeepers which will enable the imperialist powers involved to gain a foothold in the region whilst maintaining their commitment to the ‘international community’. This kind of ‘humanitarian aid’ is a direct expression of the imperialist free-for-all that is causing so much disaster and devastation all around the planet. It has nothing to do with real solidarity for the stricken populations of Africa. The best solidarity we can offer is to develop the class struggle in the central capitalist countries and to expose ‘humanitarian intervention’ as the vile hypocrisy that it is.