The Bush Administration declared the conflict in Darfur to be a genocide in 2004; since that very day, Darfur activist have been calling on the Bush Administration to follow through those words with concrete action. In fact, the anti-genocide movement has been calling for the executive branch to follow through on its promises for so long and were met with such silence that last May, a group of STAND student activists (this author included) staged an act of civil disobedience in front of the White House as part of STAND’s Executive Legacy campaign to highlight those failures.
This failure to act has resulted in widespread criticism by many, including New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, who wrote an op-ed December 28th outlining the multitude of steps left on the policy table for Sudan that the Bush Administration has been ignoring. In fact, it has been the incoming Obama Administration which has voiced the strongest intention for concrete action.
In an interesting move, the Bush Administration, with just 15 days left in office, ordered a US military airlift of vital equipment from Rwanda to the over-extended UN Peacekeeping force in Darfur, UNAMID. Specifically, AFRICOM and the State Department will coordinate 75 tons of heavy equipment being transported from Rwanda to Darfur and to contract out the transportation of 240 other supplies containers currently stranded at Port Sudan. It will be the first large-scale operation of the newly-formed AFRICOM.
The measure was also introduced in an interesting manner: the Bush Administration waived a requirement that he notify Congress 15 days before undertaking such a mission, because waiting would “pose a substantial risk to human health and welfare,” said the White House national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley.
The reactions have been varied but positive: the measure has been welcomed emphatically by the United Nations and even cautiously accepted by the Government of Sudan. The reaction among the activist community has been of course welcoming of the measure, but contains a great amount of questions like “why now?” and “why did this take so long?” and “why haven’t they done this before?”
In addition, cautions Eric Reeves, the US needs to understand that it will take a much more sustained and diverse set of military actions to truly protect the people of Darfur. And one set of military support initiatives does not necessarily automatically lead to a full-fledged American military commitment.
The step is significant and has many potential ramifications for the road ahead, and also prompts questions about the road that led President Bush to make this shifts in direction. Jerry Fowler, executive director of Save Darfur, an advocacy group, adding that the airlift “might be a little bit of last-minute legacy shopping by the administration.”
Interestingly, this is exactly what STAND student activists were calling for last May: for the Bush Administration to make its legacy one of doing everything it could do end a genocide. While that debate will be left to history, what is left to us as activists is to look ahead to ensure that the Obama Administration makes ending the genocide in Darfur and mass atrocities across the world its legacy from Day One.