Where is the partnership on Darfur?

If you watched or followed Obama’s visit to Canada and the Obama-Harper encounter – and chances are you did – you may have noticed that despite the urgings of STAND members and a number of other voices, the issue of the ongoing genocide in Darfur was not on the agenda. Obama’s visit was hailed as a success, but it did not reflect the hopes of many that Obama’s administration will be the one to push for a real breakthrough on Darfur.

Trade was on the agenda, as was NAFTA and the strengthening of economies at a time when the credit crunch is the most pressing concern for many. The environment and climate change were, of course, a top issue, and rightly so. In their discussion, Prime Minister Harper and President Obama highlighted our mutual interdependence and looked ahead to a strong partnership between Canada and the United States. Foreign policy did come to the fore, but when it did, it was in relation to the controversial mission ongoing in Afghanistan, and the future of Canadian involvement there.

For those who were expecting the two “partners” to come out with a common stance on the issue of genocide, particularly with relation to the Darfur region, Obama’s visit was a disappointment. It hit all the key issues that one would expect, but neglected the much-anticipated question of Darfur and genocide. The failure to mention the question, still pressing, of how the world should react to Darfur in particular and situations of genocide more broadly was not addressed in the discussion between Obama and Harper. Yet one might have expected at least a mention – Harper, after all, is the top official of the country that actually spearheaded the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), while the US has been an important player in diplomatic efforts to pressure the Sudanese government to take concrete steps to improve the human security situation in Darfur. Yet sadly, domestic issues and issues of national interest clearly carried the day. Despite the promises of a strong partnership between the neighbour countries going forward into the new administration, there was no suggestion of a partnership on Darfur.

The absence of any mention of Darfur belies the reality that behind the scenes, much work is still ongoing at the level of US policy. Nicholas Kristof, for instance, has reported that Obama’s administration is actually reviewing its Darfur policy, with Samantha Power, well-known and respected for her seminal work “A Problem from Hell,” part of that effort. One can only hope that this review will have real meaning and will not remain behind the scenes for long. Like the partnership proudly proclaimed by Harper and Obama in Ottawa, Darfur should be front and centre for Obama’s new administration.


Luke said...

It was no surprise that Darfur was not mentioned during the Obama visit to Canada. If it was, I would have been pleasantly shocked! Nevertheless, this does not mean this issue should not become a prominent foreign policy goal of both administrations. It is true that the U.S. is reviewing it's policy vis-a-vis Sudan/Darfur and I would argue this is a perfect time for Canada to reach out to the Americans (as they are shaping their approach), indicating they are willing to take on a more proactive role in the resolution of this conflict. We should signal to the Americans that we will stronlgy support their greater engagement, and that they can count on Canada as a vocal partner. This is an opportunity that should not be missed, although I fear, the Harper government has very little intention of creating such a patnership for peace.

Luke Kujawa

BFine said...

This means only one thing: we have more work to do as advocates. If 1000 people had called the PM before Obama landed, things may have been different.

Enough Canadians care about Darfur. Our government just hasn't heard it.