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Perspectives on the Darfur Debate

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Perspectives on the Darfur Debate

Posted by Laura Heaton on May 10, 2009

The much-anticipated Darfur debate between Enough co-Founder John Prendergast and Professor Mahmood Mamdani generated lively and sometimes heated responses in the auditorium at Columbia University that evening last month and on the blogosphere in the following days.

We asked a couple of audience members to weigh in on the debate a few days after the fact, and their reactions are interesting to highlight.

It was telling that Mamdani’s presentation of the problem focused on Save Darfur, while Prendergast defined the problem as the situation on the ground for Darfuris at this very moment. For a debate, there was precious little back-and-forth, and the rebuttals that did occur were primarily Prendergast fact-checking Mamdani’s assertions.

To Mamdani, the way forward in Sudan is to find a political solution. But he “will not lay out a blueprint” and offers scant concrete ideas beyond insisting that the U.S. leave the situation in the hands of the African Union. ‘These things take time,’ he said. Unsurprisingly, the comment did not sit well with the Darfuris in the audience that night. During the Q&A, a couple of Sudanese lambasted Mamdani for trying to keep the debate about Darfur in the theoretical realm while lives were at-risk on the ground. To this, I would add: It has been six years. The African Union has not been successful in solving the problem, and there’s little evidence to suggest that suddenly the AU will rise to the challenge alone.

Maher Sattar is an intern at the microfinance organization BRAC USA in New York City and a recent graduate of Wesleyan University.

Instead of sparring over who won the debate we should look at what important lessons emerged, and for me, that lesson is understanding the way forward and the best way to achieve peace in Darfur and the greater Sudan.

I respect Professor Mamdani and Mr. Prendergast and I believe these two individuals want the same thing; they just lie on different sides of the aisle. One is an academic scholar; the other is a practitioner. Due to this very fact, both will have limitations as well as significant disagreements in their arguments. Their main divisions lie in the pursuit of peace and justice. What comes first? Should one be sacrificed for the other?

Despite the complex challenges, I came away from the debate feeling that there are some real opportunities to promote peace in Sudan today. I believe that African problems should and can be solved by Africans, but I also believe that momentum and resources are key. The international community, pressured by activists in the United States and beyond, is crucial to generating momentum and the much needed diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a lasting solution.

Ahmed Salim is a Master’s student at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs with a concentration in international security policy.

The video of the event is ready to watch, so take a look for yourself and then weigh in through our comment section or on Twitter using the hashtag #enuf.