Mamdani Responds to His Critics

In the LRB, Mahmood Mamdani responds to rejoinders to his piece on Darfur and intervention.

Jannie Armstrong (Letters, 5 April) suggests that the US ‘should be accused of inattention, not interference’ with regard to Rwanda and Central Africa because, in 1994, ‘US attention in Africa was firmly focused on the ongoing debacle in Somalia.’ But the debacle in Somalia was not a distraction: it was the experience that convinced the US to desist from direct intervention and return to the strategy of acting through proxies. Its proxy-based interventions in Africa had begun two decades before, in the aftermath of defeat in Vietnam: examples include the sustained nurturing of Renamo in Mozambique and Unità in Angola by South Africa. This went on for more than a decade and would not have been possible without the diplomatic and political cover provided by the Reagan-era policy of ‘constructive engagement’ with apartheid South Africa.

From a post-Vietnam perspective, Somalia was an aberration and Rwanda a return to business as usual. Armstrong is right to suggest that the Rwandan Patriotic Front ‘was more a product of regional than international politics’. The US did not manufacture the RPF, nor did it create the National Resistance Army in Uganda. But it built close relations with the latter during the late 1980s and, through it, with the RPF in the 1990s, providing crucial diplomatic and political cover even before the RPF assumed power in 1994.

Fourth is Nato’s intervention in the former Yugoslavia. Leaving to one side the merits and demerits of the interventions of 1995 and 1999, it is appropriate to consider whether the example can easily be shifted to Darfur.