Breaking News

Spare a thought for Darfur

Sunday May 17 2009

Sudan's President Bashir. PHOTO/ FILE

Sudan's President Bashir. PHOTO/ FILE  

Hunger strike has become the latest weapon for saving the people of Darfur. A few celebrities are drawing most attention. It’s a sign of frustrations. Diplomacy just limps.

The most publicised participants in the Darfur Fast for Life hunger strike include Ms Mia Farrow, a US actress, Mr Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Mr John Foreman, a recording artist. US Congressman Donald Payne also features.

Late month, Ms Farrow aimed at 21 days. She lasted 12, and lost nearly 6kg. Ms Farrow claimed disappointment she had an option more than a million Darfurians lacked, to resume eating.

Ms Farrow requested Mr Branson to carry the batton for three days. On the eve of the first the previous weekend, he said mild disorientation visited. He also missed a decent meal. Mr Payne and Mr Foreman joined in Monday, also for three days. Their suffering isn’t public yet.

The organisers’ website say 300 people in 17 countries are currently fasting. That isn’t much of a brigade. The group also suggest two forms of fasts: water only, which the publicised lot opted for, and refugee ration.

The latter’s ingredients provide 1,017 calories daily. A male weighing 72kg requires 1,800 calories and a female at 54kg some 1,320. Beggars can’t be choosers.

On Tuesday, Mr Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked Online magazine pooh-poohed the fast. The celebrities are only willing to diet not die for the cause. Those wishing to lose weight “prior to an awards ceremony or a jaunt to the Bahamas, might consider dieting for Darfur.”

He forgot Mr Payne is a hands-on guy on issues African.

The Darfur conflict began as an insurgency in 2003. Unhappy people told their government “We’ve had enough.”

In effect, Sudanese Government’s mistreatment, mildly put, of some of its citizens created the insurgency. At that time, too, former US President George W. Bush told a lie and invaded Iraq. Today, the latter is relatively better off than Darfur.

While the world’s attention focused on Iraqi, celebrities, with journalists mostly passed over for Iraq assignments in tow, troops to Chad, some tearfully. The world noticed. Aid agencies flocked, especially into eastern Chad, where thousands of Darfur’ les misérables fled.

Leaders and wannabes followed, some inside Darfur. Most made hollow promises. For once, Mr Bush, a frequent butcher of the English language, got it right: genocide.

The UN says as many as 300,000 people—Sudan claims only 10,000—have been killed and more than 2.7 million displaced. It is plausible, the casualty figure would have been higher had celebrities not drawn the world’s attention to the conflict when they did.

Granted, Mr Bashir cared less about the noises, but he came constantly under international harassment. Undoubtedly, his diplomatic wiggling in response slowed the slaughter’s momentum.

Added to the harassment is eventual entry into the equation of Mr Luis Moreno-Ocampo’s International Criminal Court (ICC), and consequent indictment of President Bashir in March on five counts of crimes against humanity and two of war crimes.

An international warrant of arrests remains a millstone around Mr Bashir’s neck.

Shamelessly, the League of Arab States and the African Union—most leaders of member states know of no rights other than their own to misrule and loot national treasuries—are busy frustrating the ICC with “He might be a shaggy dog, but he’s ours.”

US President Barack Obama seems to have forgotten his campaign pledge to act on Darfur. He’s too busy solving domestic problems. Well, as one supporter pointed out, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton “isn’t in office balancing the budget”.

Other than the likes of Darfur Fast for Life and the ICC, who else is trying to stop the Darfur conflict from becoming a forgotten war? Those who don’t like them might as well shut up.

Mr Mbitiru is a freelance journalist ([email protected])