The present genocide in Sudan, the largest country in Africa, can be partly traced back to the decisions made by colonial powers. The present borders of Sudan were "drawn after the Turko-Egyptian colonial occupation in the 19th century." (Hassan, 5) These borders created a separation of regions that were not present before. Even after the country gained independence in 1956, the borders drawn up by the colonial powers played a major factor in the way the government controls its people. When people rebel against the government, the government takes action against the less powerful regions of the country to keep the `inferior' people in `their place,' out of control of the nation's resources and oil wealth. To this day many conflicts in Sudan, including but not limited to the Darfur genocide, arise from "the policy of unequal development between the center (mainly the areas of Northern and Central Sudan) and the peripheries (more specifically in the Southern, Eastern and Western Sudan) created by the colonial policies and perpetuated by the dominant postcolonial ruling classes of Sudan." (Hassan, 3) The government was centralized in the North, meaning that the people living in the southern regions of the country would not benefit as greatly from independence unless they took a stand to preserve their own livelihoods. Sudanese people need representation, not only from foreign entities, but from movements within their own communities. This is the only way that they will preserve their history and create a much-anticipated democracy.
But the power still rests in the hands of a ruling Party, the National Congress Party, who use colonial borders to discriminate against certain groups of people. John Prendergast points out that, "Khartoum's divide and destroy strategy will continue to splinter Darfur along ethnic lines, use proxies like the Janjaweed and dissident rebels to sow intercommunal conflict, and buy off politicians to keep Darfur from developing as a region. This is the same tactic the ruling party is pursuing in post-conflict southern Sudan: maintain a strong center that controls security and most of the oil revenue and leave peripheral areas weak, divided and underdeveloped, unable to mount an effective challenge, whether armed or electoral." (Prendergast) This division is causing the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, as well as other conflicts within the borders of Sudan. Theorist and revolutionary Franz Fanon was against the idea of a national capitol because it took the power away from the people, placing control the hands of, in the case of Sudan, an oppressive government.
Conflicts that were once worked out diplomatically between tribal leaders suddenly became the business of the Sudanese government. Post-colonial regimes, in order to hold on to their power, have discriminated against the people of Southern Sudan, not providing them with equal resources and not giving them an equal share of power. Just as the colonists of the past created a class dynamic, the present government holds people from different regions at a lower status, even when there are calls from democracy advocates for a unified Sudan.
As was made clear in the documentary All About Darfur, the "government's support of one group upset the balance, and as a consequence, caused lots of deaths." In order to preserve its power, the government has taken strict action against rebellious groups from Southern, Western and Eastern Sudan that have attempted to overthrow the current government and install democratic rule. They must remember that "the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it." (Zinn, 67) The democratic movements that have toppled dictators not only around the world but in Sudan itself have leaders and citizens that have struggled for freedom and have a will that is stronger than the force used by any oppressive regime.
There is massive resentment towards the current government in the Southern region of Sudan, where the people are dissatisfied with their lack of representation and the government's unfair distribution of resources. Instead of abiding by the principle of mutual exchange between people from different regions, which would, "benefit the different regions more than exchange between each region and neighboring countries," (Hassan, 5) and serve to unify the people of Sudan, the government has for the most part kept the wealth from increasingly suffering regions of the country, creating conflict between the peoples. For example, the most fertile land is in the South, and the North exploits the people from the South to meet its economic and oppressive ends.
The stereotypes perpetuated by the colonial powers furthered such exploitation. In the early 1900's, the colonizers of the Third World saw the people of Sudan as backwards people who could benefit only from western influence. In a 1922 report appearing in The Geographical Journal, E.G. Sarsfield-Hall paid more respect to the beauty of Sudan than he did the culture, mentioning that the country had, "excellent crops," but a "nature's bounty has had a demoralizing effect on the inhabitants, who are indolent, and intemperate, and suffer from the effects of never having to work hard for a living." (Sarsfield-Hall, 368) The stereotypes of the "negro" played heavily in the reasons for colonial venture. Though the author does mention earlier in the article that the land is not fertile and can only grow grass in many cases, he seems to blame the `uncivilized' and `lazy' people of the land for not reaping the benefits of their own land, and recommends opening up the Eastern region of Darfur to Western markets. This would be profitable for business but hurt pre-existing trading practices within the borders of Sudan. But prevalent stereotypes presented to a Western audience perpetuated the notion that Africa was a backwards continent that could not save itself, and instead needed to rely on the western world to advance, a world that would always consider them to be inferior savages.
The country of Sudan, however, was already under colonial rule, and the resources had already being exploited by the Turks until the 1880's. This did not matter, for to the west, "its original inhabitants were a Negro race, who lived a primitive existence in the more mountainous parts of the country, and were ruled by a line of pagan Dagu sultans." (Sarsfield-Hall, 359) The history of the country that was painted by the west made the Sudanese situation seem like a lost cause: that is unless the white man came in to civilize them. The people of Darfur were painted as inferior pagans who needed to embrace western religions, work ethic, and culture. The land, not the people upon it, was what was important to colonial powers.
In actuality, the history of Sudanese democracy movements of the later part of the twentieth century demonstrates that its people have dignity and are fighting to preserve it. Though the concept of a unified Sudan may seem to be unachievable to the western eye, those inside the country of Sudan know that the country has a "long history of `people's power' which managed to topple two military governments, in October 1964 and March-April 1985, through nonviolent means including popular uprisings, civil disobedience and general strikes." (Hassan, 1)
Though these positive landmarks and actions were unsuccessful in the long run, many people of Sudan are still determined to ensure that democracy prevails, and are determined to overthrow the government that has re-claimed the barriers of colonialism causing the civil war between the North and the South, the genocide in Darfur, and many other conflicts in the nation's history. The people must not only be determined to fight for democracy, but also to document their own history, one that an oppressive government will attempt to cover up, so that their past is, "not branded with shame, but dignity, glory, and sobriety." (Fanon, 148) In this spirit, the people of Darfur must document their own histories, through not only democratic movements, but through their own eyes.
Action must be taken by the people of Sudan to document the genocide and the democratic movements in their country because their history is currently being erased by the Western media. One only needs to focus on mainstream news to see the problem. Instead of being a witness to genocide, the media, for the most, is ignoring the devastation and government corruption that plagues Sudan. The media paints a picture for a Western audience, focusing not on important issues but instead entertaining its audience. The suffering people of Darfur are not given a voice. It is as if a genocide is not occuring in Darfur: It is as if the news media is re-writing history to appeal to the Western desire to be entertained. A report released by the Genocide Intervention Fund and the American progress interaction fund found that, "major network and cable television stations devoted 50 times more coverage to the child molestation trial against Michael Jackson last month (June, 2005) than to events in Sudan." (Lobe) This story was of interest to the West and is encoded in people's minds. The genocide, however, will likely be forgotten by many because of its lack of coverage. History does not need to be re-written if it is not documented in the first place.
The images that do come out of Darfur show the faces of refugees, either saddened after just arriving to refugee camps from the war-torn region, or smiling, feeling a sense of optimism. These powerful images can shape emotions and impact change, but the images fail to call for a democratic movement. Only the voices of the people can do that. Yet the images from Darfur fail to empower the people, and instead of giving them a voice makes them victims of representation.
However, "on television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery, which is to say that television gives us a conversation in images, not words."(Postman, 7) It is not beneficial to the people of Darfur to have their culture represented through images of them created by and for a Western audience than through their own voices and histories. A perfect example of this is in the South African documentary Compelling Freedom, where individual workers are not represented as speaking subjects, but are rather spoken about in representative terms by union officials." (Maingard, 4) When a people are not given a voice, they lose their past, their future and their power.
However, as far as the media is concerned, there is no past and no future. All that matters is what is happening in the present. In order to re-shape history, the media relies on celebrities to create a history that the West can be comfortable and familiar with. For example, some consider President Bill Clinton a political celebrity. During the time he served as President of the United States from 1992-2000, the Rwandan genocide took place, leaving an estimated two hundred thousands people dead over a three month period. The Guardian newspaper uncovered in 2004 that, "President Bill Clinton's administration knew Rwanda was being engulfed by genocide in April 1994 but buried the information to justify its inaction, according to classified documents made available for the first time." (Carroll) Even when President Clinton had a chance to redeem himself and focus attention on Darfur, he did not speak out. Yes, he did take personal responsibility for ignoring the genocide in Rwanda, claiming that doing nothing to stop the genocide as the worst mistake of this presidency.
But words must be backed up with action. President Clinton also said, however, that "never again must we be shy in the face of the evidence." ( Associated Press, 1) So far, this promise has fallen far short. If Bill Clinton wanted the international community to pay attention to the genocide, all he would have to do is raise his voice. Instead, another preventable genocide is still on-going. And again the world is left in the dark. The problem is that as Bill Clinton put it, "We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name: genocide." (Stackhouse, 1) And yet even today former President Clinton is not standing in the spotlight and calling for an end to violence in the region. History is being shaped by the West for the worst once again. Not giving genocide a face causes further suffering.
Even stars like Don Cheadle or heroes like Paul Rusesabagina, activists in the fight for peace in Darfur, do not get as much air time as they deserve. This is partly the fault of the media, which focuses on entertaining the viewer with an array of non-stop images. Even if there is a segment on Darfur, the issue is quickly abandoned for another story. "there is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly - for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening - that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, "Now... this." (Postman, 99) Once the short news segment is over, attention is placed on other daily occurrences. In fact, it takes actor George Clooney to get the Darfur genocide on the cover of the New York Times, and that was on April 30, 2006, the Day of Action for Darfur. Though Darfur activist and survivor of the Rwandan genocide Paul Rusesabagina spoke at the event, the main attraction was George Clooney, who had a face that an American audience was more familiar with. Also, in an ABC report about the ethnic cleansing in Darfur, Don Cheadle visited the region, and replaced the voice of the people of Darfur. It is honorable that Mr. Cheadle is using his voice to bring attention to those without a voice: the problem is that the media rarely gives the Darfurians a voice. The media, instead, is replacing the voice of the victim soley with the face of celebrity. Both activists and Darfurians deserve a voice in the media.
The fact that the media cares more about having a celebrity's face tied to the crisis than reporting on it otherwise is frightening. It is often said that voices to be given to those who do not have them: however, all it takes to make change is to listen to the voices that are not being heard. Stuart Hall argues that cinematic representation, "comes from voices, people, experiences which have been ... systematically marginalized, systematically displaced from the centre of the cultural industries that have dominated both the west and... the cultures of colonized peoples." (Maingard, 6) The mere fact that Paul Rusesabagina who has experienced hell on earth and survived is given less airtime than Michael Jackson and Angelina Jolie demonstrates where the media's priorities lie.
Even columnist Nicholas Kristoff, who should be highly praised for bringing the genocide in Darfur to the world's attention, does not focus on the history of the Sudanese people or their culture, but rather on their emotional trauma. By drawing on people's emotions, Kristoff tires to appeal to the sympathies of the international community. Not to say that the pain of Darfurians should not be included when reporting about the genocide, but it seems that that is all that Kristoff reports on. This may be because it is easier for a western audience to feel these people's emotions than it is for them to relate to their culture or history. To understand a different culture is much more difficult than understanding one's emotions toward genocide.
Kristoff does understand that images will shape people's perception of the genocide. Kristoff believes that "the State Department should be publicizing photos of atrocities to galvanize the international community against the genocide - not conspiring with Sudan to cover them up." (Kristoff) These images, however, are not being broadcast on the mainstream American media. When the genocide awareness group Be a Witness wanted to air a television commercial condemning network news for ignoring the crisis in Darfur, "affiliates of NBC, CBS and ABC all refused to run it." (Kristoff) Maybe they figure that they can exploit more people and make a bigger profit if they run ads for gold mined by peasants in Central America or Hershey's chocolate picked by child slaves in Africa. Yes, "History, of course, written by and for Westerners, may periodically enhance the image of certain episodes of the African past," (Fanon, 157) but the news more often than not focused on the now, and rarely ever goes in depth about the history of the country of Sudan. "Put simply, if television does not cover the genocide in Sudan, it does not exist in the minds of many Americans," according to the report, `Be a Witness.'"(Lobe) The people of Darfur are always spoken for, never representing themselves.
The answer to this dilemma is of course for Sudanese to pick up video cameras and represent themselves and their drive for democracy and peace on screen. Though the people of Darfur are much too poor to afford cameras, there are always revolutionary cinematographers who will document the situation. Whether they come from inside the country or not, what matters is that they record the voices of the people and not create images from a Western perspective. Now some may argue that the people of Sudan are going through too much hardship and suffering to document the current conflict for future generations, but this is not the case. It should be made clear that there must be international involvement when human rights violations are involved. But who documents the crisis, the people or outside sources, also matters. Anthropologist Alex de Wall argues that, "the ability to stop the genocide and build a peaceful future for Rwanda lies ultimately with the Rwandan people," (de Wall, 2) especially when the international community fails to respond to their plight. The same obligation rests in the hands of the Sudanese people.
Examples from other struggles illustrate the "political function of cinema." (Murphy). From 1970-73, the Chilean people were facing the outbreak of civil war. President Salvador Allende had just won the national election. The nation's fascists who controlled the media were not pleased. They used their power and influence to demonize those on the left, staging riots and making it seem like socialism would lead to chaos, which it would not have been if not for the trucker's strike that gained funding from America and the fascist elements of the country. Still, the leftists in the country did not give up. Some Chileans took to the street, and some figured that they should document their nation's history so that it would never be forgotten. But they did not just film the movement as a whole as films like Battle of Algiers did: they as members of the revolution documented the opinions of the average Chilean. The leadership does not give the nation a voice through its propaganda. Instead, the people are allowed to speak for themselves and educate the viewer. The Battle of Chile, directed by Patricio Guzman, offers its viewers the long-suppressed voices of those forces that the dictatorship tried to eliminate." (Power, 1) Their legacy would not be forgotten.
After Pinochet seized power on September 11, 1973, the film reel had to be secretly exported from the country, and once the film was finished, it was banned in Chile. After Pinochet fell, however, the film aired in Chile and exposed to average Chileans what the government had been trying to hide from them: the overthrow of a democratically elected government and the massacre and exile of tens of thousands of people based on political views. Though the film drew complex emotions out of many Chileans, in many cases driving them to tears, the film empowered them by offering another version of Chilean history. The films Battle of Chile and Obstinate Memory show that "The working class and the leftist government emerge as dynamic forces that, though fully aware of the actions of the Chilean bourgeois and the U.S. government to sabotage their socialist project, are confident that their program best meets the needs of Chileans and passionately defend it. For thirteen years, the Pinochet dictatorship used censorship and repression to eliminate this vision of the Allende government." (Power, 1) The Chilean society, needless to say, felt defeated, and yet because the film was made they had the re-surfacing of revolutionary voices to bring them optimism and hope.
Eventually when Pinochet's dictatorship fell he could not suppress the voices of opposition any longer. The Sudanese people must learn from this experience, documenting the country's democratic movement so that the future generations of Sudan do not feel pessimistic and have the courage to stand up for what they believe in. In Latin America many dictatorships that were supported by the United States have fallen because the people of those countries fought long and hard for democracy. Even after facing suppression and discrimination from their government, they must have the courage to endorse the "total rejection of all dictatorships," (Hassan, 4) for independence will only come when the people of Sudan unite to strengthen their country and their voice.
Looking closer to Darfur, there are even more examples of how social movements and documentary films helped foster democracy. An example of resistance rests in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. One of the sparks that launched the South African anti-apartheid documentary movement was the film Last Grave at Domza, a locally produced film which "represented the `genocidal' effects of the Bantustan policy." (Maingard, 1) Bantustans (or tribal "homelands") were created by white settlers from South Africa's black people. The people in these regions lacked power and representation, made to feel oppressed to a point of submission. Just as the black people of South Africa felt powerless, so do Sudanese people living the Southern, Eastern and Western regions of Sudan.
"Towards and up to the late 1970's foreign television producers such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) were engaged in producing films about South Africa for foreign audiences." (Maingard, 1) Though these foreign documentaries did expose the horrors of apartheid to the international community, they often relied on voiceovers and stereotypical images of apartheid, much like the frequently used images, but not voices, of suffering women and children in Darfur. In the film All About Darfur, for example, Taghreed Elsanhouri traveled back to her place of birth to document Sudanese feelings about the genocide. When she asks a question about internal conflicts, the seemingly insulted interviewee told her, "We have a war in the South. A war in the West. Don't you ever watch television?" It is clear that even though she was born in Sudan, as a foreigner with a video camera, she is still treated with suspicion. She admits to feeling like an outsider, but is still determined to capture the voices of the people of Sudan. She rarely provides a voice over, letting the people of the country speak their own minds. Though the filmmaker is foreign, she has respect for her interview subjects, letting them say what they please about the state of their own nation.
Just as South Africans continued to pick up video cameras and used them to document social protest in order to end apartheid in South Africa, it has come time for the people of Sudan to do the same: to document the atrocities against Darfurians and all other Sudanese people committed by their government and by the Arab militias that the government supports. Though one may be overwhelmed at the mounting task of ending a genocide, there is no better time to stand up than today. Time is not forged in stone. History is created, not inevitable, and "we must use time creatively," says Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., "and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy, a transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood." (King, 4) The democratic movement in Sudan must use creative endeavors like filmmaking to turn the tide against the current dictatorship. These documentaries and democratic movements will hopefully plant the seeds of unity and democracy in Sudan when the, "lack of democracy endangers unity." (Hassan, 5)
One glimmer of hope rests in "Sanka," a Muslim and Sudanese refugee who has set out to follow his dreams, wanting to, "build a life in Israel, learn Hebrew and become a filmmaker." (Young) The films made by "Sanka" will have an educational impact on how his homeland and the world perceives the genocide that he lived through. He is now fighting to gain asylum in Israel after arriving there illegally. The chairman of Israel's Holocaust museum is on his side is urging the Israeli government to, "'show solidarity' with the Sudanese refugees." (Young) The fact that refugees from Sudan want to pick up a camera and make films is a positive step to informing the world about what is really happening in Darfur. His filmmaking, if done appropriately, not only has the power to educate the international community about the genocide, but can give a personal account of human suffering at the hands of powerful oppressors. "Sanka" and other Sudanese, therefore, must arm themselves with cameras to give a voice to their people and document a history for the people of their country, just as Patricio Guzman did in The Battle of Chile.
But just as in Chile, the people of Sudan may have to face multiple defeats before they actually topple an oppressive regime. They have to overcome cultural disputes created by colonialism and have to overthrow a government that oppresses people based on geography, religion and skin tone. Documenting these atrocities is a good first step, but one must remember that, "more African films are seen in Europe and America than in Africa." (Diawara, 386) One must also remember that images of the genocide are rarely shown in Western media outlets. I am not discounting the contributions of many documentarians, like Mark Brecke or Taghreed Elsanhouri, who have gone to Darfur and inspired many people to take action. B. Ruby Rich hopes that, "independent filmmakers of honor and conscience can find the financial backing in these dark times to give us documentary and dramatic visions of coexistence, humanity and peace." (Rich, 2)
However, as far as history is concerned, the people of Sudan must write it, or at the least, their voices and lives, not just their images, must be documented. Though foreign documentation has the power to raise international concern, it does not build community awareness or spark local movements. International distribution should matter less than local revolutionary activism to the people of Darfur: for the films that are important to the Sudanese people do not need to gain international attention or praise. The films should cater to a Sudanese audience and foreign activists hungry for change in a war torn nation. Chicano filmmakers at UCLA in the late 1960's and early 70's screened their movies to an audience that would watch, "a Chicano film about an event experienced firsthand by many of the audience members," who after watching the film played roles in "community building," (Noriega) and activism. Though the Sudanese people have many obstacles to overcome, this should not prevent them from the pursuit of documenting their own cultural and national history, nor should it prevent them from pursuing unity and community through filmmaking and democratic advocacy. May democracy spread from Darfur.
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