In some aspects, Darfur presents some similarities with the Congo crisis. In the western province of Sudan, Darfur was the theatre of mass killings between militia (Janjawids) and rebellious tribes since 2003. The international community was very silent at the beginning and very slow to react. UNAMID Peace keepers arrived in Darfur in late 2007.  Sudan was seen as a “rogue state” and the public opinion had only shown their concern after the publications of the NGOs bulletins about the killings in Darfur. The reports circulated widely on the internet and created awareness in the civil society. Darfur crisis was also manipulated by the Bush administration to make a diversion on the invasion of Iraq. He claimed on CNN in 2005 that the “People in Darfur loved America”. The Darfur crisis had nothing to do with US interest but it was connected to a pro-American strategy of communication in a time of very dire crisis in Iraq. The Iraq issue created “America phobia” in the Middle-East, Africa and the Arab World in general.. To support Darfur was a way for the US diplomacy to tell the world “we aren’t that bad!”


Darfur was an internal conflict mainly motivated by Khartoum’s refusal to share the benefit of oil and the Darfurian secession movement aimed to be independent just like South Sudan. The crisis was a combination of competition for water, land, oil with the addition of climate stress. The thirst for petroleum opposed Khartoum to the regions where oil was present. The money from the oil was used by the government to eliminate the insurgents. There was no sign of US interest in this remote area, where China remains the first Sudanese economical partner. The collective effort to monitor a cease fire started only in 2007 after an ethnocide that raged for 4 years. The international community was pushed to move by the ideals of a civil society. Afro-American lobbies, North American students, Western NGOs had an impressive impact on the western audience. The civil society was a pushing factor for the western diplomacies to take action. If the civil society didn’t manage to provoke a huge movement of solidarity, it is very probable that the US diplomacy wouldn’t move an inch   like during the Rwandan genocide.

It is obnoxious to paint a caricature of humanitarian action only limited by the US quest for dominance. Our complex societies, in democratic countries, have an impact on diplomatic action. Darfur is an example of the weight of the civil society on the government, complicating the “imperialist” theory explaining every western movement from a hegemonic point of view. The ethnocide in Darfur was presented by the western press as “evil Arabs” persecuting “genuine Black” – a false and dangerous picture which does not match the ethnic reality in Darfur. Caricatures of the conflict in Darfur led to a racist western lens of the events. I personally made a film based on hundreds of interviews (Darfur Voices) and conducted field research in Darfur. My view was that the crisis could not be juridically categorized as genocidal because the conflict was not motivated by racial hatred. The source of the crisis could be attributed to the complex system of desertification. Growing droughts over decades led to unprecedented impoverishment of the soil.  This   process has incredible consequences on tribal identities and coexisting harmonies. Darfur was a war “of climate change” and certainly not a simple ethnic and racial competition as the western press (and Hollywood) portrayed it. The Darfur crisis stresses the importance to have a multidisciplinary approach connecting ecology, geography, sociology, anthropology, political science and history. A multidisciplinary approach is important to understand complex crises because it gives the researcher different tools of analysis.


The counter example of Darfur are the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Two wars decided clearly as a global project to impose an American unipolar order. The war on terror had a very important impact on humanitarian action. The War on terror has associated humanitarian efforts to military action, blurring the lines between aid and territorial security. The US army published different texts expressing that to win the war you had to win the hearts and minds, Instrumentalizing aid for military purpose. It is un-ethical to use solidarity as a military tool. The global war on terror damaged the UN image. Humanitarian Action definitely contends as a force-multiplier. (Minear, 2002, de Torrente, 2004, Vaux, 2006, Hoffman and Weiss, 2006). Aid was, therefore,  an instrument in a counterinsurgency strategy. The US army and marine corps presumed that basic security and the provision of public goods could cause populations to withdraw support from insurgency. The increased preeminence of humanitarian intervention since 2000 has transformed it as a military strategy exhibiting its black side. This trend should not be allowed to mask the bright side of humanitarian solidarity based on unconditional assistance produced by the civil society. Graces and disgraces intimately co-exist expressing how uneasy it is to built-up a theory of “Humanitarian Action” limited to the US quest for dominance even though the US hegemony is an uncontested truth since the nineties. Civil wars and secession conflicts all over the globe are largely rooted in the colonial empires and in the incapacity for nations- in ex-colonial territories to build inclusive nations uniting different ethnic groups. Post-colonial ethnical wars weren’t invented by a US neocolonial surge after Bretton-Woods leading a western block.


The western governments are responsible for what is a schizophrenic attitude towards foreign policy. Public opinion is largely influenced by non-violent argumentations and genuinely committed to “Aid” programs. Meanwhile, global interests drive a diplomacy following aggressive ends. Jihadist Taliban and Al-Qaeda followers have perfectly understood this lack of coherence and continuously defeated the West using its inner oxymoronic weaknesses. Betting on public opinion detains ascendancy in our democracies and we are unable to truly challenge our geostrategic choices when defending our values.


These different crises pointed at the instrumentalization of the concept of genocide. All massacres are not genocidal. For the international organizations, such as the UN and NATO, the term genocide has political consequences and justify military action under chapter VII of the UN charter related to the right to use force in order to protect civilians and aid workers. Chapter VII has been applied in most crises such as in Yugoslavia or more recently in Darfur (UN Security Council resolution 1769).  When the term genocide meets western interests the diplomacy use “the right to protect” in a manner corresponding, in reality, to a “justification to attack”. When there are no political interests to intervene, western diplomacies euphemize the crises and reduce the crimes in the concept of civil-wars such as those that happened in Rwanda. The notion of genocide is, then, a weapon to prepare an intervention and should be avoided by Social Science researchers. Journalists should equally be cautious in the choice of words when reporting on a conflict. Words can be used to justify aggressive ends and military intrusion.


Dr. Fabienne Le Houerou,

Chercheur (IREMAM- UMR 7310-CNRS/Aix-Marseille-Université)


About the Author:

Dr. Fabienne Le Houerou is a social science researcher working in the French National Center For Research (CNRS), Institut de Recherches et d’Etudes sur le Monde Arabe et Musulman (IREMAM) and the author of the e-book ‘Humanitarian Crises and International Relations 1959-2013‘ published by Bentham e-books, in March 2014. The book explores the sophisticated ways the International Community exploits the genuine ‘good feelings’ of the world’s Societies in order to impose an order. Fabienne Le Houérou stresses how the use of ‘honey language’ can hide a ‘vinegar reality’ in our multipolar international system.

[For Part One, click here]

[For Part Two, click here]