Not on Our Watch
Don Cheadle and John Prendergast
book reviews:
· general fiction
· chick lit/romance
· sci-fi/fantasy
· graphic novels
· nonfiction
· audio books

Click here for the RSS Feed

· author interviews
· children's books @
· DVD reviews @

win books
buy online


for authors
& publishers

for reviewers

click here to learn more

Buy *Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond* by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast online

Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond
Don Cheadle and John Prendergast
272 pages
May 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

buy this book now or browse millions of other great products at
previous reviewnext review

Upon reading Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond by Don Cheadle and John Prendergast, you’ll feel goaded to action. In fiercely, simplistically motivational language, this book tells you that if people continue to die needlessly in Darfur, it’s your fault: “The decisions we need to make to protect those who are suffering are clear, and the sooner we decide, the more lives will be saved.” John Prendergast, formerly an official in the Clinton White House, is a senior adviser to the International Crisis Group. He is accompanied in his campaigning by Don Cheadle, the Academy-award nominated actor famous for films such as Hotel Rwanda, Crash and Ocean’s Eleven. Each writer’s story is told in terms of a personal mission, almost as if they were describing their conversion to a particular walk of faith.

From the word go, Prendergast and Cheadle make no bones about calling the events in Darfur ‘genocide’. This is not without controversy. International humanitarianism is a notoriously foggy area. The concept of ‘genocide’ as a ‘crime against humanity’ was at some level introduced to slash through that fog. The idea is that, once an event was officially termed ‘genocide’, a bona fide ‘crime against humanity’, governments would have an obligation to act. For this reason governments have often avoided using the g-word at all costs – they’ll stick to “widespread atrocities” or “mass killings.” It was a surprise when the U.S. government termed the Darfur crisis a genocide, and it is alone among states in doing so. Even its own special envoy for Sudan pointedly refrains from referring to it as such. The UN commission charged with investigating whether any international crimes had been committed in Darfur unanimously concluded that Omar al-Bashir’s regime, while probably guilty of crimes against humanity, “has not pursued a policy of genocide.” Several other reputable research and advocacy organisations – including the International Crisis Group, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International – pointedly do not use the label.

The 1984 Genocide Convention states that two criminal elements – physical and mental - must be established for a genocide to have occurred. There must be actions aimed at or resulting in the deaths of members of a national, religious or ethnic group, and the perpetrators of these acts must intend to destroy, in whole or in part, the targeted group. Some have argued that the vicious campaign of the Sudanese armed forces and the Janjaweed militia does not satisfy these criteria. More practically, the term ‘genocide’, by conjuring up images of the one-sided slaughter of innocents, may belie the complexity of the Darfur conflict.

Prendergast and Cheadle show themselves well aware of these subtleties, but relegate them – significantly – to a footnote. After all, it is irrelevant to the charge of genocide whether the victims are “innocents” or not. Successive Khartoum regimes have played an undeniable role in miring Darfur, the isolated western dependency of Sudan’s more fertile heartland, in deep poverty. Yet more nefarious was the tendency that emerged in the Eighties. Khartoum regimes began to encourage Arab militias with the possibility of seizing official positions and land from non-Arab Darfuris. Alex de Waal, in his recent tome War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, explains this progression from neglect of the region to out-and-out violence as the consequence of the total dominance of Khartoum and its faction-ridden elite, for whom Darfur’s remote people and land are little more than playing chips for endless power struggles. It was the policy of the government that turned multiple and relatively minor local conflicts into a general state of violent displacement and war, as the Fur, Zaghawa, and other non-Arabs armed themselves in self-defense. Governmental complicity in later years has produced new armed groups, worsened conflicts over land, and further entangled Darfur’s politics with those of adjacent Chad. Meanwhile, the government has suppressed information by jailing and killing witnesses, tampering with evidence, and obstructing and arresting journalists.

If you are looking for in-depth analysis of the Darfurian situation, however, it is de Waal’s book you should turn to first. Prendergast and Cheadle do sweep through the history but return rapidly to the language of the self-help book – the language of action and positive change. Repeatedly, to hammer home the point, the tactics for action are spelled out. Visit this website. Write a letter. Join an organization. Educate yourself.

“The decisions we need to make to protect those who are suffering are clear.” Seductive as Cheadle and Prendergast are, the one thing that is clear about Darfur is that nothing is “clear”. Not what’s really happening, not how many people are dying, certainly not “the decisions we need to make to protect those who are suffering.” In a piece on deWaal’s book for the London Review of Books, Justin Willis suggested that the worst aspect of Khartoum’s culpability is that “the situation is now such that even if the current regime tried (a sizeable if, given its complex internal politics), it could not by itself bring peace to Darfur. This is a government that can break things, but cannot fix them.” Horribly, de Waal even states that it may be ‘many years’ before the time is right to negotiate another peace agreement. There was glee when Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy announced, last year, that Britain and France would push for an immediate ceasefire in Darfur and a UN resolution to dispatch African Union and United Nations peacekeepers to the region. But it is a struggle to see what good the UN force can do in the current environment. Justin Willis ends his review bleakly: “What is to be done? Nothing, except to wait for better times, for Darfur and Sudan are trapped beneath the rubble of political failure; pinned down by the weight of ruthless, egotistical and incompetent leaders, who apparently cannot be shifted.”

Darfur is a mess – a more tangled one than Cheadle and Prendergast might like to make out - but that does not absolve us. Writing about the title of their book, Cheadle and Prendergast declare that “…we know that there are thousands, maybe millions, like us who desire to tell their children and grandchildren that at a time when there was a terrible thing called genocide, to which those in power turned a deaf ear and blind eye, people like us spoke so loudly, in numbers so great, that we could not be ignored. We take our “watch” as seriously as any officer on board [a ship.]” In October 2006 – more than a year ago now – 120 survivors of the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide and the Cambodian genocide, backed by six aid agencies, submitted an open letter to the European Union, calling them to do more to end the atrocities in Darfur. We owe it to them, and to the people of Darfur, not to wait for more propitious times – to keep up the search for an answer now, however hopeless that search might seem from here. For that task, the sheer energy of Not on Our Watch is a crude but valuable tool.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Ailbhe Darcy, 2008

buy *Not on Our Watch: The Mission to End Genocide in Darfur and Beyond* online
click here for more info
Click here to learn more about this month's sponsor!

fiction · sf/f · comic books · nonfiction · audio
newsletter · free book contest · buy books online
review index · links · · authors & publishers

site by ELBO Computing Resources, Inc.