Darfur freedom can be delayed, not denied! By Emmanuel Sunday de John
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Jul 8, 2009 - 12:55:58 PM
Darfur freedom can be delayed, not denied!
By Emmanuel Sunday de John
I have reflected hard and long to compose this critique. Many people from Darfur have asked me several questions to why I have been quite for a long period, without lamenting on their fate. On this matter I assure the Sudanese that the freedom's foray into the war wrecked Darfur has gone amiss. United Nation's fledgling democracy is under sustained assault as its fragile future is hanging on the balance. In Sudan, coup briefly gave power to Islamists, before they dragged their society into the brutal abyss of civil war. And as for South Sudan, its nascent democracy has already drowned in the blood of its own people. Few in the South wish to remember it now, but this was the way of Algeria too, 15 years ago. A death foretold? Perhaps so. Once, tyranny offered a stable alternative to the current mayhem and the repression of a strongman was the only bulwark against savage anarchy. Calls across the continent and within the continent for a return to the old
Darfur ways are the kind of political expediency that we like to call "realism" these days, especially if someone else suffers for our own political tranquility. In fact, this realism reflects a moral bankruptcy the Sudan cannot afford. Surely, the entire edifice of Western civilization rests on the belief fought for strenuously; with much blood spilt in the gone days, by that "human rights are universal". They demand, at a minimum, that governments treat their people humanely; leaders act responsively and transparently in the interest of their subjects, and conflicts and disagreements in society be overcome peacefully through debate and deliberation, not violence and intimidation. To assume that these principles do not apply to Khartoum for cultural or meta-historical reasons is to deny the universality of rights the free world takes for granted, and to concede that culture, somehow, can deny or defy rights we deem innate to all humankind. Worse, to
assume that a universal rule cannot be expected to apply to Khartoum is racism of low expectations. Are the NCP members not human beings? Are they not therefore bestowed with the same inalienable rights we declare self-evident for everyone else? And if that is the case, and if we believe that rights are universal, why does support for the Darfur exception get to be called "unrealism"? Our civilization demands a universal commitment and our failure to live up to it in the Sudan demands a reckoning. Is it the case that democracy cannot work here? Or is it just that the way democracy was promoted made one forgets that its very essence is freedom, not elections? Elections are not unimportant. They express the belief that governments must rule by the consent of the people. But consent can be fabricated. As people can be bullied to submission. Government by consent, to be genuine, has certain prerequisites. Historically, the starting point for democracy was
the revolutionary acceptance, in 17th century Britain, that religious tolerance would not destroy society's foundations. Tolerance of "deviant" or heterodox religious beliefs over time led to religious pluralism, and eventually to political pluralism. Only then there came elections. But if people are afraid to openly disagree with conventional views, either because the state will punish them or because social pressure will silence them, there can be no freedom. Hence, the acid test of democracy is not elections, but the ability to express one's dissent on religion and politics without fear of the consequences. If going against the mainstream makes one an outcast and life and property can be lost, no ballot will ever generate democracy, only the illusion of it. As Winston Churchill once famously quipped: "Democracy means that if the doorbell rings in the early hours, it is likely to be the milkman." Neither tyranny nor lawlessness should be bold and
powerful enough to knock on your door because of your views, no matter how out of sync you are with your neighbors and your rulers. Tyranny is secret police and arbitrary arrests; too much state power kills freedom. Voting becomes nothing more than a Sudanese Presidential referendum. Lawlessness, by contrast, is the takeover by armed gangs. Political parties with extreme views and their own Islamic principles to impose them overran the state and eventually killed democracy in Sudan in the inter-tribal-war period. Where state power is nowhere to be seen, democracy cannot survive. By rushing to elections without first creating the conditions for freedom to resist intimidation, democracy in the Sudan has been dealt a near deathblow. Instead, the South should have recognized long ago that as long as the average South Sudan citizen is afraid to express his beliefs and convictions, thoughts, opinions, yearnings and aspirations, as long as Darfurians live in
fear of state repression and under social pressure to conform, they will not be free. Alas, the effort to liberate the Darfur started from the end. However, it is not too late to recognize the mistake and accept that freedom's advance, as a universal right can be delayed, but not ultimately denied.
Emmanuel Sunday de John is a journalist and a permanent columnist for Khartoum Monitor Newspaper the Sudan Leading independent daily newspaper in English language you can reach him via [email protected]
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