Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Sudan: the effects of misrepresentation

To say the current conflict in Sudan has been underreported would be an understatement. Not only has it been underreported, but Sudan as a whole has been more or less forgotten by the West and its neighbours.

Alex De Waal made a compelling point on his SSRC blog where he points out that there’s a “Missing Academic Generation” on Sudan. He claims that there’s a missing generation of scholars on Sudan. There are those who taught and lived in Sudan in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s; and there’s the new breed that are producing new literature on Sudan. But none in between. He narrows down the reasons to the country’s self isolation, US imposed sanctions and Arabicization of the education system.

That’s fine; we all know the detrimental effects of isolation and sanctions. North Korea is a glaring example. However, a sudden surge of comparatively little media attention showed the more worrying effects of isolation and sanctions, and that’s misrepresentation.

Most articles being written about Sudan these days highlight the conflict as being more or less oil related. Every single article that tries to address the issue in Abyei paints a one-dimensional picture of the conflict. The phrase “oil-rich region of Abyei” is more common in literature about Sudan these days than a plausible solution. Now that the fighting has spilled over the state’s border, South Kurdofan gets an honourable mention as “oil rich South Kurdofan.”

The problem with such reporting is that the real stories get lost in the middle. Western reporters have failed miserably in addressing the real issues behind the conflict in Sudan. They seem to concentrate way too much on the oil wealth of the conflict ridden regions, and in doing that not paying much attention to other issues.

A recent news story about the development plans for South Sudan claimed that the World Bank recommended a $75 million trust fund for development purposes, while at the same time the government of the South is planning a $50 million independence celebration. This is ludicrous. It is unacceptable. But is it being disparaged? No, because people are too busy thinking about the “genocides” happening all over Sudan.

What’s more deplorable than all this is the overuse of the word “genocide.” Thanks to the over publicized Nickolas Kristof, Darfur and all other conflict regions in Sudan are now synonymous with genocide, ethnic cleansing and human rights violations. Every single report I have read about Sudan in the last 6 months – with no exceptions – has mentioned genocide at least once. A recent article posted on Nicholas Kristof’s blog, written by Samuel Totten, asks if Omar Al Bashir is up to genocide again. The base for this argument is the current hostilities in the Nuba Mountains in South Kurdofan. The region, mind you, is home to 30,000 rebel fighters who took up arms in a rebellion to demand their rights.

Some of you at this point will automatically assume that I’m a supporter of Omar Al Bashir and the NCP. I’m far from that. I’m not denying the deaths and violence, but using the genocide label so freely distorts the picture and is very counterproductive to those who are trying to voice their concerns.

So the point here is that when you label a conflict like that in the Nuba Mountains as genocide, you automatically remove the will, courage and audacity of those who took up arms from the equation. They become helpless civilians rather than freedom fighters (or whatever you want to call them). There’s a huge responsibility on the reporter to tell the story how it is. It is actually extremely condescending to have a western reporter classify the conflict in the country as genocide when it’s not, because of the sympathy and pity that are associated with the term.

This misrepresentation of events in Sudan is more dangerous than most people think, and because the conflict in Sudan is so underreported, we tend to inadvertently rely on such reports coming from the ground.

The coverage of the Arab revolutions was so immaculate because reporters knew the details of most of the inner workings of the political systems in the Arab countries, and most of the history associated with them. In Sudan’s case however, people just see governmental offences on African dominated “oil-rich” regions, they draw their conclusion there and then, and call it genocide.

Sudan’s history is intricate and requires an understanding. Even the local historians and political scientists – whose views are never taken into consideration when the issue of Sudan arises – are currently having a hard time understanding the predicament that the government has gotten itself in.

Mansour Khalid, a profound Sudanese political figure, published a book called “A Government They Deserve” in 1989. In this book he highlights how, since independence in 1956, the Sudanese elite have relentlessly failed their country and their people. I absolutely agree. It has been the North’s duty and responsibility – since they’re the educated ones – to ensure a united egalitarian multi-ethnic country, and not only has the North failed but it succeeded in doing exactly the opposite. You have to keep in mind that this book was written before the advent of the NCP. I could only imagine what Dr Khalid would have to say now.

The problems in Sudan are real and very serious, and I personally think it’s time that the Sudanese “elite” take responsibility and act for the future of the country as a whole. For that to happen, political, ethical, racial and religious differences have to be put aside. The government needs to stop categorizing the intellectuals as Umma Party or Communist Party, and take their advice where necessary; because in all honesty, they need as much help as they can get. This is no time to put the blame on political parties or corrupt officials, Sudan’s problem needs to be solved and it needs to be solved now, not tomorrow or the day after.

There has to be immediate, unbiased coverage of the hostilities in the South and West of the country. Calls for the genocide police and classifying rebellions as genocidal attempts by the government is doing injustice to those on the ground fighting for their rights.

1 comment:

jimi said...

Dear Muiz,
Well said. I appreciate any single word you mentioned.
If we are against the current regime in Sudan, it is not necessary to support all accusations against the Government of Sudan just to show that we are opposition.
All the best dear.
Gamal Karrar
Addis Ababa