mahmood mamdani on darfur, genocide, and the british settler/native dichotomy
Provocative scholar of government and race in colonial and postcolonial Africa, Mahmood Mamdani, has recently published a new book, entitled Saviours and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror. Writes Verso Press:
Saviours and Survivors is the first account of the Darfur crisis to consider recent events within the broad context of Sudan’s history, and to examine the efficacy of the world’s response to the crisis. Illuminating the deeply rooted causes of the current conflict, Mamdani works from its colonial and Cold War origins to the war’s intensification from the 1990s to the present day. Examining how the conflict has drawn in national, regional, and global forces, Mamdani deconstructs the powerful Western lobby’s persistent calls for a military intervention dressed up as a “humanitarian intervention.” Incisive and authoritative, Saviours and Survivors will radically alter our understanding of the crisis in Darfur.
Mamdani’s views on British imperialism and settler colonialism are worth producing here too. In a recent interview for Socialist Review, Mamdani said:
Colonialism laid a foundation through history-writing, conducting a census and implementing a system of laws. It wrote a history of Sudan as one of Arab settlers conquering native tribes. As early as the 1920s, the British began to prepare a census for Sudan, which was ultimately carried out in the mid-1950s. The census was driven by three categories: tribe, groups of tribes (really language groups) and race. Arab and Negroid were defined as separate races in the census.
It is legislation that gave teeth to the categories in the census. Though racialisation was important at an ideological level, it was tribalisation – not racialisation – that drove administrative practice. Both land and administration were tribalised. To have “customary” access to land and to be appointed to “customary” positions like that of “chief”, you needed to belong to a “native” tribe. The result was systematic discrimination against non-native tribes on a tribal basis. Tribe became the basis of discrimination in colonial Sudan. This is why the civil war of 1987-89 was waged as a tribal, and not a racial, war.
At the same time, it is with the civil war of 1987-89 that we hear of “Arab” and “African” tribes, rather than the Masariyya or the Rizeigat (“Arab”) or the Fur, the Masalit and the Zaghawa (“African”), joining “tribe” to “race”. This process is accelerated after 2003 as the international media and Save Darfur not only buy into this language but turn into its main purveyors.
This is the big difference between Rwanda and Darfur. In Rwanda race was an administrative – and not just an ideological – reality in the colonial period. In Darfur the administrative reality was tribe. In Darfur race is a relatively new concept in which the international community is heavily implicated.
Filed under: Africa, Genocide, Political developments, Scholarship and insights | Leave a Comment