08 May 2013

Activism Debate Continues with de Waal's Latest Salvo

The Enough Project has been an important player in raising awareness with regards to genocide in Darfur, rape and conflict minerals in the DR Congo and the atrocities committed by Joseph Kony and the LRA.

But Tufts University academic Alex de Waal is not a fan. The head of the World Peace Foundation sought to reclaim activism from the likes of the Enough Project and Invisible Children in a recent blog post.
The U.S. government didn’t need the Enough Project to know that bad things were happening in Darfur, that Joseph Kony is a villain, and that the war in eastern Congo is causing desperate suffering. But maybe it needs principled and brave people to tell it that the interventions in Somalia, Libya and Mali are deeply problematic, that its friends in power in Juba, Kampala and Kigali need to be more honest and less militaristic.
It’s no secret that de Wall and Enough Project head John Prendergast do not see eye to eye on activism. A debate between the two regarding Darfur in 2007 tipped away from substance and towards personal. Prendergast wrote:
Some of your writings (and no, I haven’t read all of them) tend to blame activists for things getting worse on the ground in Darfur, and for the failure of the Darfur Peace Agreemeent of 2006. At least that is what most activists perceive your intentions to be. And I understand that. It is hard to get published these days on Sudan, so an argument like that is very attractive to editors. The fact that it is not true is irrelevant, it appears.
The effort in Darfur caused more problems than it solved argued de Waal at the time.
Darfur is a pretty sorry mess today. No one should be patting themselves on the back for that. The Darfur Peace Agreement failed. The activist campaign hasn’t succeeded either. Did you stop any offensives in the last two years? I rather think that the SLA fighters in north Darfur did that. And be careful about proclaiming that protection is on its way.
An event a few months ago at Tufts University explored the very topic of activism. It opened with comments from de Waal who argued that current activism is problematic because it is carried out and led by people from places that are unaffected by a given problem. He pointed towards conflict minerals as an example of Western activists assigning a solution to a problem in the eastern DR Congo without Congolese serving in a leadership role.

The activism today is ‘designer activism’ meant to purely gain in popularity, said de Waal. Lawyer and blogger Amanda Taub said she agreed with the ideas set forth by de Wall when looking at Kony 2012 and the Save Darfur effort. In order to reach a large audience, campaigns must turn complex conflicts into simple stories that have small, achievable and palatable recommendations, explained Taub.

“There is a problem with always putting the US government as center of intervention,” said Taub. “We are a powerful country, but we don’t have magical powers.”

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