“You shouldn’t send in killers to stop the killing”
DENNIS BRUTUS is a veteran of the South African liberation struggle, a leading figure in the global justice movement and a world-renowned poet. Imprisoned along with Nelson Mandela, Brutus led the movement to isolate racist South Africa from international sports--and since the fall of apartheid, he’s been a prominent opponent of the African National Congress (ANC) government’s neoliberal, pro-market policies.
Brutus spoke with LEE SUSTAR (Socialist Worker USA) about the political situation in Africa today--focusing especially on the crisis in Darfur, where African Union (AU) troops are already deployed, and which has prompted calls for U.S. or United Nations (UN) intervention.
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IS THERE A CASE for humanitarian intervention in Darfur?
WELL, there are people dying, and at a very great rate. Some of it is starvation, some of it is a lack of water, but some of it is killing by gangsters on both sides. The question is trying to identify the elements in the struggle, and right now, I don’t think there are any good guys. But the presence of the African Union troops, plus the possibility of the UN troops, is not going to solve the problem. My position is that you don’t send in the military. You don’t send in killers to stop the killing, when they themselves are, in some ways, implicated in the process.
I keep saying--and I am glad to see it finally beginning to appear as part of the debate--that one of the central issues in the Sudan is that: a) the Chinese are in there; and b) the Chinese have got more franchise rights for oil exploration in the Sudan than any of the Western powers. So, of course, to the West, the government in Khartoum are the bad guys.
Certainly, it appears that the Khartoum military have allowed the development of paramilitary forces, so they can do things and still claim not to be guilty. This is where the Janjaweed militia comes in.
This is the usual trick of the West. You create a monster, whether you call it Vietcong or Mau-Mau, or something else. Once you’ve chosen your side, you start demonizing the other side, particularly if you intend intervention.
I wish I could say there is a just solution in Sudan at this stage. But I think there are very suspect figures on both sides. The problem is very complicated, because it is very old and involves all kinds of tribal loyalties that we don’t even understand.
There are also very ancient conflicts that derive mainly from that fact that some people are pastoral, but other people are nomadic. In the past, these people worked out arrangements among themselves, which were largely territorial, but also seasonal--that is, when you could move your cattle or whatever.
But the modern conflict is about resources, and who is going to be in power to give out the franchises to exploit the oil.
It seems to me that, dominant on the whole agenda, are three elements. One is the notion of the New American Century, in which the U.S. is supposed to dominate the globe and control access to the resources. Point two: Everybody recognizes that China is the next superpower on the horizon. The third, and perhaps most significant point, is that China knows it will have the biggest, most gluttonous appetite for oil the world has ever seen.
Afghanistan is a neighbor of China, and, of course, the U.S. is there. One of the big fights is access to the energy in the Caspian Sea basin.
Also, the U.S. is nervous that it can’t predict how Saudi Arabia will behave in the future. And there are now reports that oil deposits in the Sudan are even greater than in Saudi Arabia. So clearly there is already competition for resources in the area, however large or small they may be.
Tellingly, one of the strongest voices for intervention, for sending increased UN troops and increased U.S. involvement, has been the pro-Israel lobby.
We have to go back to the Project for a New American Century document, which says that it’s not sufficient for Israel to be sitting on a portion of the land in the Middle East. They see the U.S. dominating a region that includes Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
As messy and bloody and murderous as the situation is, I don’t believe we should endorse an increased military presence in Sudan if it will have the effect of giving the U.S. an even stronger position there. Already, the United States is now setting up a military operation for Africa on the scale of what it calls its “Mediterranean operation.”
WHAT ARE the African states doing in regard to Darfur?
AFRICAN UNION troops are functioning as the peacekeepers in Sudan, but they also operate as peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the whole of the African Great Lakes region.
President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa is often seen as the principal negotiator for whatever peace settlement is arranged. So clearly, there is evidence of South Africa having a sub-imperial role.
This may also explain why South Africa has spent billions on arms, when it doesn’t have money for food, housing, water or roads. The priorities are military, but they are not justified by any military threat to South Africa itself. It is as if South Africa is being armed to be the principal military actor on behalf of the U.S. in Africa.
South Africa has a presence in Sudan and the DRC, through the AU, and Mbeki recently had a public intervention in peace negotiations in Côte d’Ivoire. Côte d’Ivoire was the crown jewel of the French empire in Africa. Suddenly, the French are out, trying to get back in, and the old imperial structure is clearly crumbling in that area.
My feeling is that you will have so-called rebel groups challenging legitimate governments. The real question becomes who is empowered to become the one who distributes the franchises which enable Western corporations to come in--whether for cocoa, oil or, in the case of the DRC, uranium.
In all these cases, there are armed groups fighting it out, often armed by Western powers. Britain, Germany and France are involved. Ultimately, these struggles are for Africa’s resources, and who is going to control the disposition of those resources.
In that, Thabo Mbeki and South Africa, via the AU, become a major player in deciding who’s going to win.
HOW DOES THE World Social Forum (WSF) in Nairobi in January fit into this picture?
THE WSF could be an event that will challenge globally the corporate agenda and insert, in a very significant way, a grassroots global agenda.
We don’t have money, and we don’t have resources. But I think we can have 100,000 in Nairobi and 100 countries represented there. And there is quite serious thinking about the WSF going on in Francophone Africa--in Mali, Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.
My own feeling is that we have an enormous possibility to effect global political thinking the way the Seattle protests of the World Trade Organization and the way Zapatistas contributed to the way we see the world and how we see struggle. Our major problem right now is to make more people globally aware of the WSF.
WHAT ABOUT the left’s political positions at the WSF?
THERE IS a tendency in Europe, South America and, of course, in Africa that instead of being left, you begin to shift toward the center. For me, the most troubling example is not South Africa. I am even more disappointed by [President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva] in Brazil.
Meanwhile, Mbeki is more and more a leader in Africa. Even countries that could be taking an independent position, like Algeria, are happy to let South Africa spell out positions for them.
Most governments in Africa, via South Africa’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), have agreed to take their orders from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. So when grassroots groups are annunciating their positions in Nairobi, they are not only taking on the international financial institutions, they are also taking on their own governments.
NEPAD is supposed to be the backbone of the AU. Unfortunately, my own sense of African organizations--even though they are saying they are against NEPAD--is that they are still rather vague about how to perceive the AU.
At the WSF in Brazil in 2005, there was a program put forward by the Group of 19, called the Porto Alegre Manifesto. At this year’s polycentric WSF in Bamako, Mali, there was the Bamako Appeal. At a recent conference in Durban, South Africa, the main presentation was given by [Egyptian author and activist] Samir Amin, the main spokesperson for the Bamako group.
There is a tendency in the Bamako group to say that you can’t go only with spontaneity, insisting on more centralized organization. My own view is that the success of the WSF has been precisely because it’s a forum, open to many conflicting points of view, rather than having a particular view adopted or imposed.
This doesn’t exclude decision-making. Remember the marvelous action before the war in Iraq, when an estimated 13 million marched around the world? Part of that came out of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre.