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Crisis Darfur

August 2, 2008

(Part 3) A conversation between actor/activist Mia Farrow and French intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy on current state of the Darfur genocide, what needs to be done, and how to start doing it. Moderated by Dinaw Mengestu.

The following Guernica program took place at PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, on April 29, 2008, at Flourence Gould Hall in New York City. This is the third of three parts. To listen to the program in its entirety, please go to here. Runs about 90 minutes.

Dinaw Mengestu: Obviously both of you concluded your presentations with statements on China, which is clearly sort of an important player in this conflict. But I’d also like to ask you both, given that we recognize that the Sudanese government has proven its ability to commit genocide, both prior to Darfur and in the North-South agreement, or between the Northern and Southern Sudan, and that did not require any use of or any need for China. And it was still able to promulgate a genocide for about twenty years, causing the death of about two million people. Why, exactly, do you think now, that simply removing China from the equation would be enough to keep the Sudanese government from clearly defying the international will in continuing its slaughter of the Darfurian people?


Mia Farrow: It’s a question of leverage, that a lot of money has come into Sudan through China. My first visit to Khartoum, it was a city of power outages, rubbled streets, the hotel was in shambles with rats. And then when I returned in 2006, that same Hilton hotel in Khartoum was chandeliers, and wrapped soap, and swanky people milling around in the lobby. It looked like Dubai, big buildings lit pink and blue. What I’m trying to say is not that I begrudge anybody wealth coming in, but it’s not being distributed, it’s being kept in Khartoum and enjoyed by very, very few. They would listen to China, in ways that they would not and have not listened to the rest of us, if China weighed in, in a closed room. And I’m not expecting China would ever do this publicly, but—come on in this backroom for a minute if you want to continue our relationship, we’re looking bad—you know. China could find the words to say, “Stop the bombing, let the peacekeepers in.” That’s low-hanging fruit for China to do, and I believe that for sure, China has the leverage to do that. You’re saying, the financial part, could they not continue to have a strong air force?

Dinaw Mengestu: Or that they’ve continued to have it, before, regardless, even in the absence of wealth from oil that’s being supported by China, the Sudanese government has demonstrated this ability before in the past, and what’s necessarily going to change the will right now? Obviously, China does have leverage. But given the government has done this before, they’ve done this without China, so what does China…


Mia Farrow: Imagine the threat of China suspending oil deals. China wouldn’t do it, but it could threaten to. All of the purchases of the airplanes are purchased with Chinese money, but are also coming from China, and from Russia, but primarily China, ninety percent from China. So China has all the leverage. China can say what the next two years look like. There’s no question about it. China is the only one that has any leverage over Khartoum. It (Khartoum) is a rabid regime, its humanity withered by, as you pointed out, years of genocidal killing; yes, the same people who killed in the South, but now China has considerable influence. [To Mr. Lévy] What do you say to that?


Bernard-Henri Lévy: Yes, I would reverse the terms of your question, my dear Dinaw; why did the war against the South last twenty years? Why has the population of the Nuba Mountains nearly been exterminated without any notice, without nearly any information? I was in the Nuba Mountains seven years ago and I saw some people who did not see any foreign witness in decades. So why did it last so long? Because there was no leverage. Because there was no window of opportunity, because there was no way to act and no way to twist the arm of the Sudanese regime. The Sudanese regime is what it is. They are a regime of butchers, of tyrants, they came out after a coup d’etat. They are not angels, of course. We shall not, we cannot, exchange reasonable arguments with them. We have to be stronger than them and more cynical, if I dare say, than them. We have today, in the Darfur case, leverage. This is a historical chance, if I dare to say, for the survivors of Darfur. There are the (Olympic) games. The games are an opportunity to act. If we had had these opportunities during the twenty years of the war of extermination against the Nuba and against the South, it would not have lasted twenty years. And now if we let the games pass, if the games happen normally this summer, then the Darfur war can last twenty years.

Dinaw Mengestu: Maybe then to continue that same line of conversation, if the leverage is used by China to act humanely, to act accordingly against the Sudanese regime, after the Olympics, then where is Sudan and Darfur left? As you’ve just noted, the Sudanese government is what it is, post-conflict situations are oftentimes as deadly as conflict situations…

Bernard-Henri Lévy: That was one point today, and this will be the content of our joint statement at the end of the evening. The United Nations took a resolution, decided to deploy, to settle twenty-six thousand blue helmets on the ground, to stop the bloodbath so the problem now is to use the few weeks which remain before the games, to obtain the real deployment of the twenty-six thousand people. I don’t say that the Sudanese regime will become a good one after the games. I say that after the games, there will be some battalions of peacekeepers, an intervention army which will be on the ground. This is the only question. It is not a difficult question; it is not even a political question. It is a technical question. How to do, to obtain the implementation of the UN resolution, which is the twenty-six thousand people. We have a little idea about which we will express at the end of the evening, but the Chinese role can be capital in that. The Chinese can be capital. They are the ones who in the Security Council made obstacles by the resistance or abstention to any hard position of the international political community.

Dinaw Mengestu: Yes, but to add a sort of post-conflict question to what you’ve mentioned, bringing in twenty-six thousand U.N. troops into the Darfur region, that’s a military force, but that’s not necessarily a political solution after you pull China out of Darfur, assuming you can leverage the Olympic Games against them.

Mia Farrow: Well, China isn’t in Darfur.

Dinaw Mengestu: Well, the Chinese support of the Sudanese government, how does that translate?

Mia Farrow: Are you putting the hypothetical that if China weighed in, as we would wish, and persuaded Khartoum to cease the assaults on civilians, then what?

Dinaw Mengestu: Exactly. Then what?

Mia Farrow: Ah, then begins the long and agonizing process that we’ve seen in Rwanda. People trying to heal. It will take a generation or more, people going back to their homelands…

Dinaw Mengestu: I’m also asking exactly how does the Sudanese government, since [refugees] can’t go back on their own, they’re going to need government, and an institution that allows them to return to their communities, that allows them to return to their lives. What leverage do you have against the Sudanese government?

Mia Farrow: There has to be a peace process and this has to be, the international community has to weigh in as it did in the North-South. There were many midwives in the North-South agreement, as you know. This has to happen. For too long, we had a part time envoy here, the U.S.: Natsios. Now we have a better one, and I believe he’s far more devoted, committed. But if every nation supports a peace process… Now, I was in the South last month and Salva Kiir said there are now only two rebel groups. Six months ago, there were like twenty-two. Two are being recognized. Unfortunately, one of them is being headed by Abdel Wahid, who remains in Paris, but if we could get them to the table and everyone in the neighborhood—that means Libya, and Chad and Eritrea, and everybody who is in that neighborhood—to come in on that peace process and make sure that, unlike the last one, the DPA, the Darfur Peace Agreement of June of 2006, which only one rebel group signed… And I use the name Zoellic as a verb. Our guy [then Deputy Secretary of State Robert] Zoellic shoved that through; to “Zoellic it through” means to shove through without regard to consequences. And I was in Darfur two weeks later, and it was even apparent to me, and I’m an actress, that it was a disaster, that the non-signateurs had split and were armed and angry and the one signateur had joined the Janjaweed and the government in committing the same kinds of atrocities. So to prevent that from happening, you must have everyone weighing in and ensuring that an agreement, an agreement that is just by Darfur’s people, is implemented. It has to happen. And then, in the meantime, the peacekeepers must stay there to ensure that the people do return home. That’s the good case scenario.


Bernard-Henri Lévy: I have often observed, or sometimes observed, that we can do much more than we think in such situations. I remember the four horrible years of the Bosnia War. Four years of continuous bloodbath, mass murders, crimes on huge scales. And I remember Francois Mitterrand, my president, and George Bush the father, your president, saying, “We can do nothing. It is impossible to intervene. If we try something, we will have to deploy hundreds of thousands of soldiers, we will have huge amounts of losses. Are you ready, you American people, you European people, [for] these losses? Are you ready to send your children there to die for the Bosnians?” This is what was repeated again and again for four years. And I remember many of you saying, the same as Darfur, “Please, we implore you, let’s at least try.” Before saying that we cannot, before saying that it’s a huge geopolitical imbroglio, before saying that to be involved would be worse than the present situation, let’s try. We were shouting, crying, imploring that. And, when at last it was tried, thanks to President Clinton and President Chirac, it lasted one week, no losses in the Western camp. A few days to make scatter, to make the snipers go away who killed the innocent children in Sarajevo. I mean by that, that when you have the political will, when you decide to open the eyes, when you decide to use the leverage you have, then you reverse the situation very soon. And my bet is that if we obtain the twenty-six thousand [peacekeepers] really on the ground, if we really apply some economical, political, and political sanctions to those who are responsible for these huge crimes against humanity, if as we do with Zimbabwe, forbid them to travel in Europe and in America under the threat of being arrested, grabbed, put in jail; if we freeze the money from the oil, if we prevent or make pressure on our companies not to invest in the blood of these countries, you will see how fast the situation will reverse, how fast some sort of reason will come back. It is not so hard.

Mia Farrow: You know, we had a hugely effective divestment campaign, here in this country. Many, many states, universities, cities, divested in companies that were invested in PetroChina and SinoPac. Now what Sudan is doing, is switching to the Euro—

Bernard-Henri Lévy: I know.

Mia Farrow: So we’re hoping that Europe will launch such a divestment campaign.

Bernard-Henri Lévy: That’s why it is so important that any action which would be tried has to be a joint one, between America, Europe, and other countries. Of course. Any boycott… It is not true to say boycotts don’t work. Boycotts do work, when it is a joint venture, if I dare say, between the countries which are able to implement it. If the game is different, if one says, “Good luck for me, he boycotts, I come into the breach,” of course it does not work. And we are doing that, that is true. In Europe, you have the divestment campaign, and we take advantage of it to invest. This is terrible, this is the worst situation. This is a subject which our presidents, yours for a few months, ours for a few years, it’s a conversation they should have—I don’t know what they talk about when they meet. But they should, they could, speak of that—the scissor effect of divestment and investment, it should be broken.

Dinaw Mengestu: We’re running a little bit low on time, but I would like to open it up to the floor, the question is: who’s carrying out the acts? And one of the rebel leaders switched over to the government; can you please explain?

Mia Farrow: One of the rebel leaders, Mini Minnawi, by name, in the Darfur Peace Agreement of 2006, there was one signateur. That was Mini Minnawi, representing the smallest of the groups. The other two rebel groups did not (sign the Peace Agreement) and so they split. And there was one significant one, that was the Abdel Wahid group. And they remained on the outside and Mini Minnawi is now something like vice president or something, but maybe he’s returned to the field. There’s recent developments with Mini Minnawi, I’m not sure. But the word “Arab,” almost no one in Sudan is purely Arab. There is, I think, a small group of people in the Eastern part of Sudan that can claim to be purely Arab. You see the Arab influence coming down from Egypt on the map. Egypt sits right above Sudan, and the Arab culture and influence came in. People are of mixed race, and many of the Arabs are black. Arab, if you talk to people in Darfur, usually they would use the word Arab as “scamp.” because a scamp would be somebody who comes in… Arabs are nomadic and semi-nomadic in the Darfur region, and they would come through—I’m Irish and we have the Tinkers— They would swipe your stuff, or have animals who fed off your land, but because of the migration routes, it was easy for the government of Sudan, Arab government to… and because they had kept their ground forces weak because they came to power by coup, very strong air force, very weak ground force. So they enlisted the help of their Arab brethren, these nomadic and semi-nomadic tribesmen. Some of them are very dark, but they would still identify as Arabs, because they are herdsmen and it’s tribal, tribal culture. So the people of Darfur, some seventy percent, are non-Arab but there are Arabs living in Darfur, and they are Arab because their tribe defines themselves as Arab and because they will then not be agricultural, they will sustain themselves through their animals and a nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyle. But also, in Khartoum they would define themselves as Arab because it would be culturally superior to say that. So there (are) many, many different definitions of “Arab.”


Bernard-Henri Lévy: The problem with racism is that when you try to enter into the logic of racism, you become mad. What was the difference between the so-called Aryan and the Jew in the Germany of the thirties? No difference, of course. The Jews of Germany were often among the strongest and the most precious of the builders of the German culture. It was an invisible difference. You had to be mad as an Hitlerian ideologue to build a difference out of this question. In Rwanda, I went and spent some time in Rwanda and some time in Burundi; people are crazy with the story of Hutu versus Tutsi. They build big theories about the racial difference between the two. And theories are not only big, but they are killers. It is in the name of these theories of Tutsi being a people of masters, Hutu being a people of slaves who revolt against the master, that the genocide was committed. In reality, reasonable people in Rwanda and Burundi know that there is absolutely no difference between a Tutsi and a Hutu.

Again in Darfur, as Mia just said, this story of Arabs and blacks, the idea of two different races and so on, is completely absurd, demented, foolish construction of the people of Khartoum. I saw some so-called Arabs in this area of Darfur who were more black than the so-called blacks, and the reverse. So what we have to understand again, as always—as Sigmund Freud stated in a definitive way—is that racism is the strongest when the difference is invisible. The littler the difference, the stronger the madness. This is what we have to face again in Darfur. And we absolutely have to not enter in this racist logic and delirium. The difficult point, as I try to say, is that for us Westerners, who have been bred into the idea that in order to be a racist, you had to be rich, you had to be white, and you had to be a partisan of colonization, it is very hard to imagine that this part of the world has again themselves submitted to a fierce, terrible, mad racism. But it is a fact. We have to face a racist struggle with all the obscenity, absurdity, and madness of racism. And when we have to face that, you cannot face it with reason. You can only face it with some sort of force. Exactly like in Bosnia. I remember, I went in Belgrade, and I went in Sarajevo, and the people of Belgrade said, “The Muslims of Sarajevo represent another race.” And you know, they were exactly the same. They had the same names, they had the same past, they had a shared memory. The only way to stop this killing madness was to intervene, and that’s what we have to do in one way or another in Darfur.

And about the rebel groups. Mini Minnawi, as Mia said, is one of the most influential men. He has been bought by the Al Bashir regime. Abdul Wahid al-Nur, the man of the rebellion, the guerrilla who still did not accept the bargain, is not a warrior. He is not a man who likes war. He is ready to make peace. He always says it and his position is very often misunderstood and misrepresented, but he just says, “I will go to the table of negotiation, I will go to the peace discussion, when and only when, the bombing by the Antonovs and the attacks by the armored lorries stop. You stop the bloodbath first, then we discuss after. I won’t talk while when my people (are) under such a savage, racist attack.” And this seems to me to be a rather reasonable position.

Dinaw Mengestu: Thank you all very much for your participation. [Applaud] We’re going to conclude the evening with a joint statement by Miss Farrow and Mr. Levy, so please remain seated and it’ll be a pleasure to hear.

Mia Farrow: We wrote something out today, a sort of pledge:

Given the paralysis of the international community, in the face of mass atrocities, ongoing in the Darfur region of Sudan for more than five years;

given the egregious impunity of the Khartoum regime and its allies on the council, which have rendered toothless all resolutions to protect the people of Darfur, and to end the killing;

given the current ploy of Khartoum to place every possible obstacle in the deployment of peacekeepers, including the perverse twisting of words and intentions of last July’s U.N. resolution, which stated that the U.N. protection force should be predominantly of African origin, not exclusively, as Khartoum would have it;

finally, given the fact that the African countries providing the protection battalions lack, by their own admission, the technical and logistical capacity to ensure the success of their mission to protect the defenseless civilians of Darfur…

Bernard-Henri Lévy: So, in the face of all this, we, today, implore our governments—that is, the current French and American administrations—to act without delay and to partner with those African battalions needing assistance and to provide them with the essential training, the logistical support, the trucks, helicopters, defensive weapons, etcetera, without which, their mission will only be a terrible farce.

We call on respective governments to hear this appeal and take responsibility without once again hiding themselves behind the mysteries and bureaucratic inertia of the U.N.

This might be the last chance to put an end to the bloodshed in Darfur.

This is a concrete proposal addressed to our two governments and whoever wants to join.

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