on March 4, 2011
This is a book about the popular movement in support of Darfur, and as such is pertinent to all those who marched in a rallies, wrote letters to their representatives, formed clubs or in other ways advocated around issues of Darfur, human rights, prevention of genocide or promotion of peace. The book is a very accessible read, rather than an dense academic study such as the works of Alex De Waal. It takes a hard look at the rapid if at times chaotic creation of a mass advocacy movement to address what the US government had determined to be genocide, a movement which despite achieving impressive ability to persuade Congress was unsuccessful at helping to end the conflict which inspired it.
The history of the development of the movement and of events in Sudan is well told. One of Hamilton's strengths was clearly her access to political decision makers in the US, the UN and in Sudan. The book is very good at bringing out the individuals in historical events, such as the description of how Colin Powell made the genocide call, or President Bush's agreement to refer Sudan to the International Criminal Court.
There are a lot of tough subjects in the book for advocacy campaigners to mull over. One such challenge is how to sustain a mass movement which is not able to absorb detailed information about evolving events. Another subject is the costs and benefits of the international court's indictment of President Bashir, an issue referred to as justice vs. peace. Coming from a humanitarian background myself I have long thought that humanitarian costs should be added to this list.
The book points out that as a shiny new organization, one of the biggest flaws of the Save Darfur movement was its lack understanding of Sudanese politics. Its Darfur-specific approach ignored the many years of work by the US government and US NGOs in South Sudan, an area to which the pendulum of political and public interest swung back to with the independence vote. In her summary Hamilton suggests that a more unified one-Sudan approach may have enabled US policy makers to achieve results at a national level. Unfortunately this is going to remain one of the untested theories of history.
on March 25, 2011
In Fighting for Darfur, author Bec Hamilton, combines inquisition and an investigative eye for complexities of the Darfur crisis in Sudan. With exemplary clarity and thoroughness, Ms. Hamilton offers an incisive historical account and examination of the genocidal crisis in Darfur and the causes and effects of the crisis. This is a remarkably comprehensive engagement and a timely call on our conscience to better understand how we can deal with ethnic conflicts, genocide, and policy choices that have resulted in devastating catastrophe. Ms. Hamilton's exclusive interviews are quite revealing and provocative as she tackles the and debates the issues of nationalism, governance, food security; while placing those debates by theorizing about Sudan's future in lieu of its past and present. I have read several books about the Sudan and I covered the region quite a bit as a journalist in the 1990s. This text is one of the most successful contribution to the literature and it shows Hamilton's great adaptability and versatility in covering the region and country as special correspondent for major national media and think tanks.
The reviewer, YUSUF KALYANGO, is an Africanist and an international media scholar. He teaches at Ohio University in the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism. He is the author of a book titled "African Media and Democratization: Public Opinion, Ownership and Rule of Law" (2011).
on March 9, 2011
This book is a must-read for "movement builders" in any field - and any foreign policy professional.
It is a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the US government's decision-making process on Sudan and at the genesis of the mass movement that made Darfur a domestic policy issue in America.
Hamilton challenges her former academic mentor (and Pulitzer Prize-winning author) Samantha Power's assertion that a lack of domestic political will for involvement is the barrier to stopping genocide abroad by outlining the growth and influence of the Darfur mass movement and contrasting it with outcomes - or lack thereof - on the ground in Sudan.
For those who believe that building a movement is enough - or that every action has an equal and opposite reaction in the world of international politics - this book serves as a necessary deconstruction to those notions, while also providing advocates and policymakers alike with examples of what does and does not actually create real change on the ground.
on March 6, 2011
"Fighting for Darfur" chronicles the story of the Darfur advocacy movement from its inception to its rise as the one of the most powerful social movements of the previous decade. Hamilton uses her extraordinary access to everyone from former Secretary of State Colin Powell to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's chief advisers to supply insider accounts from the U.S. government, the U.N., the International Criminal Court, the Sudanese government, and advocacy organizations like Save Darfur and the Genocide Intervention Network.
"Fighting for Darfur" is much more than a blow-by-blow account of the movement, however. Throughout the book, Hamilton incisively analyzes the options available to both activists and those in power. It is often sobering. Activists who lacked even a basic knowledge of Sudan's history and politics consistently prioritized peacekeepers over creating conditions for a political settlement that would ensure peacekeepers could actually protect civilians. In the end, they got neither.
Although Samantha Power's "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide" posited that a domestic constituency for international human rights issues could ensure their peaceful resolution, Hamilton persuasively argues that although such a constituency is necessary for bringing such conflicts to the fore, they are insufficient in world where BRIC countries and others provide alternatives to American economic and political support.
As someone who participated in the movement, this book is a painful but necessary corrective to the often blithely self-celebratory narratives that activists of all kinds tell themselves, which all but preclude the possibility of effective action in the future. Activists, Hamilton suggests, need to start thinking more carefully about core principles before gearing up for their next campaign.
Despite the word "Darfur" in the book's title, "Fighting for Darfur" has lessons that are applicable to a broader readership, even to those activists working on issues wholly unrelated to human rights. In the same way that histories of the Civil Rights Movement are still studied around the world for lessons on effecting political change, so Hamilton's book provides critical insights that I think will prove salutary for activists of all stripes.
on March 13, 2011
Fighting for Darfur is a masterpiece which examines former efforts to end the genocide in Darfur over the past several years. Every social justice advocate can learn from this book by examining past mistakes leading activists have made, as well as correct choices which can save lives. Hamilton takes the still complicated topics of public advocacy, political will vs. national interest, and the crime of genocide itself and makes it simpler for newer advocates to understand, but presents her research in such a way that applies to even the most seasoned fighter for public action.
This is definitely a must read book for anyone seeking to create a positive change in the world, whether it be large or small.
on March 16, 2011
Worth a read. I wrote a review for the Columbia Review of Journalism here: [...] But here are my last two sentences:
Hamilton concludes, "The tragedy of the advocacy effort is that the first sustained movement to pressure the US government to fight genocide and mass atrocity arose in response to a crisis where the US itself became less influential." Or: nice try, but better luck next time.
on July 27, 2014
Having time and energy over the past years organizing support for various causes (some successful, some much less so) I am intrigued with Rebecca Hamilton’s experience and her analysis of it in "Fighting for Darfur".
Regarding her use of the term "genocide", naming is essential to disseminating one’s views about something. If one gets there first and is able to create or control the name it can be very powerful. For example, if one calls the conflict in Darfur genocide inflicted by the regime in Khartoum then not opposing Khartoum makes one implicit in genocide. Organized, large scale slaughter of civilians, while horrifying and immoral, may not call for military intervention that could result in more death and greater destruction. Genocide will always come under the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) so what we call it is important.
Years ago we used a lot of loaded terms, almost always inaccurately–fascism was the genocide of the day–and in doing so weakened the authority we had developed through organizing. Hamilton is an indefatigable advocate and a good organizer but the "Save Darfur" movement showed how limited first world political organizing can be in trying to deal with Third/Developing world issues.