NYT: Obama Appoints ‘Swahili-Speaking’ Envoy to Sudan

The New York Times‘ Peter Baker reports today (3/18/09) that Obama has tapped “a Swahili-speaking retired Air Force officer who grew up in Africa as the son of missionaries” to be his special envoy to Sudan.

Does Baker or his Times editors realize that they don’t speak Swahili in Sudan? It’s like reporting that Obama appointed a French-speaking envoy to Germany, and meaning it in a flattering way. Sure, they don’t speak French in Germany, but they’re both in Europe, right?

Baker also writes:

The latest crisis began March 4, when the International Criminal Court in the Hague charged Mr. Bashir with seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity stemming from the slaughter of 300,000 people in Darfur, the first such indictment of a sitting head of state by the tribunal.

But Baker is conflating violent and non-violent deaths. The ICC prosecutor only accuses Bashir of causing 35,000 violent deaths; the rest (there’s no exact count, but most estimates put them at over 200,000) have died of war-related causes like disease and hunger. And most of the victims died in the first few years of the war; humanitarian aid succeeded in dramatically reducing death rates in Darfur to the point that they were “far below the emergency thresholds.”

Deaths are deaths, but it’s important to make that distinction between violent and non-violent deaths, particularly in the context of a piece that gives a lot of ink to Obama critics who long for the days when Clinton called for a no-fly zone over Darfur and Susan Rice pushed for urgent military planning to “stop the dying.” The piece closes with the executive director of the Enough Project asking whether Obama would “force” Bashir to let humanitarian aid groups back in or simply “accept talking about the situation and seeing if that’s enough.”

When you understand that the dying had been dramatically reduced using diplomacy and humanitarian aid, and when you understand that the attempt at “forcing” via an ICC indictment led to the explusion of much of that humanitarian aid, you might reevaluate the idea that “talking” is less desirable than “forcing.”

About Julie Hollar

Managing Editor of Extra! Magazine
Julie Hollar is the managing editor of FAIR's magazine, Extra!. Her work received an award from Project Censored in 2005, and she has been interviewed by such media outlets as the Los Angeles Times, Agence France-Presse and the San Francisco Chronicle. A graduate of Rice University, she has written for the Texas Observer and coordinated communications and activism at the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Hollar also co-directed the 2006 documentary Boy I Am and was previously active in the Paper Tiger Television collective.