Kristoff speaks on Darfur

Nicholas_kristof_1_2[Image credit: Geoff Oliver Bugbee]

I'm late to this session. Nicholas Kristoff is speaking on Darfur. The pictures are gripping, brutal.

[upate: Ethan has posted his take on the presentation as well.]

How did we get to this situation?, he asks. The is some ethnic, racial and occupational tension. In 2003 African tribes rebelled against the central government. The solution was to wipe out the population. Beginning in 2003, the central government used the air force, army and janjawid, killing two hundred thousand and leaving two million homeless. Mutilation is a favored method to mark victims and to terrorize them.

The government blames tribal tensions. The fact that they've armed and directed them from the interior ministry and provided phones, for example, is never acknowledged. Kristoff recounts how along roads controlled by the government jajawid would be waived through in his presence, and how his translator and he were arrested, which turned out to be a good thing. The interpreter was destined to be killed otherwise. Eventually the local commander released them, but it underscored for Kristoff how complicit the central government is.

He's often asked if it's genocide. Kristoff says the systematic killing of women and children does not occur so in some technical sense perhaps it isn't. One gets the sense that he isn't comforted by that kind of distinction. It's completely lost on me.

He's also often asked how can Darfur be compared to other tragedies, such as the death toll from malaria, which is greater. He understands the calculations, but nothing has affected him more than to see a government-coordinated effort to burn people in bonfires.

"If you go to Darfur, you can't discount the existence of evil."

There is no greater assault on humanity. But, he adds, U.S. ground troops are not necessary. The government has been deeply embarrassed by the situation as it has been reported and there is an opportunity to turn up the diplomatic heat.

In general the president ought to be given credit for drawing attention to the matter. But in Kristoff's many trips back to Darfur he sees the same thing. The bullets must stop flying.

The material being supplied in relief is good, but inadequate to meet the human needs of the people in the camps. What they need is hope.

Diplomatically, there is a chance of bringing hope to Darfur. But if the carnage is left unchallenged, other countries in the region could be destabilized.

When asked why we should care, Kristoff says that failed states are an international problem that cost billions to try and stabilize. It's worth the smaller investment to avoid that.

But more importantly, our values must come into play. We as individuals have human values at stake. There are a variety of ways to take some steps toward making your voice heard. Real leadership must come from individuals.

He closes with a inspiring story of one Darfur woman's effort to fight back. She used her name in relaying her experiences to Kristoff knowing it was dangerous. We can speak and lose nothing, or, though he didn't say it, perhaps much more if we remain silent.