The 'genocide' in Darfur isn't what it seems
Activist hype, though well-intentioned may have misdirected funds that could have saved lives.
The "Save Darfur" movement is one of the largest American activist movements in recent history.Skip to next paragraph
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It emerged in the summer of 2004 in reaction to an issue that had little impact on the lives of average Americans: a year-old civil war in Darfur. Horrific stories of rape, murder, and genocide began to appear in US newspapers and define Darfur. Millions were moved by these accounts and organized a movement to stop the violence.
In the next five years, however, the war in Darfur became one of the most misunderstood conflicts in recent history.
That's because the activist campaigns mischaracterized and sensationalized it in order to grow the movement. Such distortion helped the PR effort, but it arguably hurt the very people who needed help.
Activists inflated casualty rates, often claiming that hundreds of thousands of Darfurians have been "killed." What they tended to leave out was that the majority of the casualties occurred as a result of disease and malnutrition ( stemming from war).
Differentiating between those may seem insignificant in the shadow of the horrific acts of war crimes in Darfur, but ignoring these categorizations has led many activists to put pressure on the US government to fund violence-prevention plans and international peacekeeping troops, often in lieu of providing humanitarian aid and funds for peacemaking.
The Save Darfur Coalition has been particularly effective in using its scores of followers to pressure policymakers. They have hired lobbyists in Washington to draft legislation and pressure politicians to focus their efforts on violence prevention and UN troop deployment.
Before these lobbyists were hired, the US had sent a total of $1.01 billion dollars to Darfur. Of this, $839 million (83 percent) was allocated to refugee camps and humanitarian assistance, while $175 million (17 percent) was directed to fund peacekeeping activities. These numbers show that Washington was initially more focused on providing humanitarian aid than peacekeeping.
From 2006 until 2008, when the Save Darfur Coalition and many other groups began to pressure the government, the allocation of US funds shifted dramatically from humanitarian aid to peacekeeping, presumably due to the influence of the lobbyists and public pressure campaigns.
Of the $2.01 billion that was spent, $1.03 billion (51.3 percent) was spent on humanitarian aid, while $980 million (48.7 percent) was spent on funding peacekeeping missions, a significant shift toward peacekeeping.
In the end, these proportional changes were problematic because, as many casualty surveys show, the number of people who were "killed" in Darfur declined significantly after the April 8 cease-fire of 2004, while the rate of those who were dying of disease and malnutrition remained high.
Had the Darfur activists not advocated for a reallocation of funds, more lives would probably have been saved.
Many activists have also mischaracterized the nature of the violence in Darfur, intimating that the government of Sudan and rogue Arab tribes have been responsible for most, if not all, of the bloodshed. "Save Darfur" advertisements, newsletters, and websites frequently use the term "ongoing genocide" to describe the conflict.
The term "genocide" was originally used to provide a sense of gravity so that international governments and institutions would respond more rapidly to the conflict.