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Scholar Will Dobson Reviews ‘Saviors and Survivors’

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Scholar Will Dobson Reviews ‘Saviors and Survivors’

Posted by Laura Heaton on May 20, 2009

An excellent, balanced review written by William Dobson, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, of Columbia professor Mahmood Mamdani’s recent book, Saviors and Survivors, appeared over the weekend in the Financial Times. An expert in U.S. foreign policy, national security, and political reform, Dobson is currently writing a book on the conduct of authoritarian regimes around the world. His analysis of Professor Mamdani’s controversial book is well worth a read. Here’s a clip:

Many parties have been blamed for this destruction: Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir; the rebel groups that launched an insurgency against Khartoum in 2003; the government-backed Janjaweed fighters; a slow-to-act United Nations and African Union; and an international community that doesn’t intervene. Now, according to Mahmood Mamdani, we should add another group to the list: humanitarians who have led the campaign to end the violence.

Mamdani is a Columbia University professor of political science and anthropology. In Saviors and Survivors he targets Save Darfur and similar western advocacy groups for their role in Sudan.
Save Darfur is currently the largest US-based grassroots advocacy group focused on Darfur. Founded in 2004, the organisation is a coalition of more than 180 religious, political and human rights groups, all aimed at ending the fighting in Sudan.

Like many issue-based advocacy movements, Save Darfur organises rallies, plans letter-writing campaigns and lobbies politicians at all levels of government. It wanted to ensure that the international community did not again fail to prevent atrocities – as it had in Rwanda in 1994 – and has mobilised millions of people. It is probably one of the most successful advocacy movements since the anti-apartheid campaign of the 1980s.

Mamdani extends his argument to advocacy groups in general, but he singles out Save Darfur for attention: “Save Darfur activists combine a contemptuous attitude toward knowing with an imperative to act,” Mamdani writes. “They employ techniques of protest politics against their own government … and turn a deaf ear to experts who they claim only complicate the story with so many details as to miss the main point.”

He charges the movement with something worse than empty moralising, however. Save Darfur, argues Mamdani, is the newest colonial power in a long history of colonial abuse.

Click here to read the full review.