Africa and Aboriginal Tuesdays: "Asking The Right Questions About Darfur, Sudan" Part II, Exclusive Q & A With Joe Madison, President, Sudan Campaign
It is virtually undisputed that opinion leader and activist Joe Madison is the individual most directly responsible for placing a spotlight on what is taking place in Sudan, for Black Americans. Through Mr. Madison’s use of the airwaves on 1450 WOL-AM in Washington D.C. and on XM Channel 169, The Power; his travels to Sudan; his leading of protests and arrests in front of the Sudanese Embassy in the United States, and most recently and dramatically, his hunger strike, Joe Madison has used every part of himself to advance his argument that slavery and genocide have found a home within the borders of the nation of Sudan.
Today, as the second part of our continuing series, "Asking The Right Questions About Darfur, Sudan", Joe Madison, President of The Sudan Campaign, affectionately known to his listeners and supporters as “The Black Eagle”, speaks with BlackElectorate.com publisher Cedric Muhammad about the crisis and situation in Darfur and Sudan, and what it means for Africa, Black Americans and the world.
Cedric Muhammad: Joe, first of all, (you are well into your hunger strike), how are you feeling?
Joe Madison: I’m feeling O.K. There are no major problems. The weight is coming off about a pound a day now. But a guy named Tony Lewis who is with a fitness center – Designer Fitness – has been working with me to make sure that I exercise and get the supplements that I need. Symptoms are just that my joints ache and me not having the kind of energy that I used to have so I have to be really careful, and take it easy and not move as fast and as often as I used to and go as many places during the course of the day.
Cedric Muhammad: And you have got to cut down on your arguing…(laughter)
Joe Madison: (laughter) well, you know it is kind of hard to do that when you are on the radio. But you don’t worry about that.
Cedric Muhammad: You have a long time record as an activist, you are on the airwaves and you use your pen, your voice, you have been arrested for causes. And so for you to go to the level of a hunger strike is significant. I just wanted to know what went on in your mind to make you go to that next level (of struggle), as it relates to this issue?
Joe Madison: Well, the same things that went on that led to me being arrested on the 29th of June. And that was (a desire) to draw attention to what the UN has now called 'the worst humanitarian crisis in the world'. So somewhere, a child who sits down at dinner might ask their parents, ‘why isn’t Joe Madison eating?’ and that parent now, is obligated to tell that child about children in Darfur who aren’t eating. The people are now obligated when they have picnics and meals to ask the question and answer it. And the same thing with the arrests. When you are handcuffed and put in a paddy wagon taken to a jail cell, fingerprinted and booked, and have to pay bail to get out, or spend the night, people will ask the question, why did Charlie Rangel get arrested, why did Bobby Rush get arrested? Why did Rev. Walter Fauntroy or Joe Madison get arrested? And, as was recently the case – why did five grandmothers and great grandmothers get arrested? And why did Ben and Jerry, the founders of the ice cream company get arrested? It draws attention to the issue so that people can now prod the United Nations, Congress and the President to do the right thing.
Cedric Muhammad: Now I am looking at your June 29th statement and I wanted to go over a couple of points there and the dynamics of what is going on and then finish up on some of the solutions that you are advocating or would be open to discussing. You say here, that, “what is happening in Darfur is nothing short of criminal, the acts of violence and destruction are not random or a result of war. Simply put they are byproducts of ethnic cleansing and a scorched earth policy.” So, as you know, you are familiar with the history of that region, there are ecological factors, ethnic factors, political factors and now you have the factor of international pressure in response to a lot of that. If you could, would you dissect what it is that makes you differentiate ethnic cleansing, or take it out of the context, so to speak, of some of those other broader dynamics and factors?
Joe Madison: Before I do that, let me add the most important part – there is also economic considerations. That is what is really driving this. The Chinese, for example, are one of the largest oil explorators in the entire country. The French were in the Darfur region in the 1980s. It is a region of the country that has the potential of being the breadbasket of the country, as well as the South. The Russians are trying to sell $20 Million worth of Mig jet fighters to the Khartoum regime. So you have an economic factor which is driving the ethnic cleansing. You have Black Africans, who are Muslims, who now are on land and a region of the country that is very valuable. So these Janjaweeds are being used by the government to mop up the work that the government has begun. And that is to ethnically cleanse the area of these Black Africans so that the economic resources of the country can be exploited. That is really what is going on. And this happens throughout the continent of Africa. Wherever you find Black people are living in regions of that continent that have natural resources - gold, oil, other minerals, water – you have attempts at ethnic cleansing to move those people off of that land and for that land or region to be exploited. Nothing is new in Sudan. And that is why we are not going to allow this to happen.
Cedric Muhammad: Now if I could jump in on the ethnic factor, part of the focus on our series is to really get a thorough understanding of those dynamics. Now, we have talked to many people who feel comfortable characterizing this in terms of an Arab or an Arab-ethnic origin group versus a Black African group. And there are others that we have spoken to who say that the people in Darfur are all Black, certainly all Muslim, and they feel that it is harmful to paint that (Arab vs. Black African) dichotomy. Where do you fall on that Joe?
Joe Madison: Well I fall where the people who are there being victimized and marginalized fall. It is there testimony. It is there words that have me believing that this has a great deal to do with ethnicity. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. It is Black African women who are testifying before Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and reporters and members of Congress that ‘we are being raped and told that we are being marginalized and victimized because we are Black’. These aren’t comments that are just simply made up or snatched out of the air. These are comments that are coming from those who are in fact victims of rape, killings and starvation. So, that is number one. Number two, it really doesn’t make any difference what the ethnicity of the individuals are. The bottom line is that they are all God’s children. The bottom line is that they are human beings. The bottom line is that they are citizens of Sudan and do not and should not be treated like this. You know, when people don’t want to do something, like stopping the raping, the genocide, the starvation, which are all byproducts of war there, then, they will come up with any excuse.
Cedric Muhammad: Well, now, to challenge you slightly on that point, there are for instance, we just did an interview with Professor Sean O’Fahey who has been in that region and is seen as an expert on Islamic Studies and East Africa, he believes that there is a “politicization of ethnicity” in (regards to Darfur), meaning that he sees what is taking place as a conflict with primarily an ecological and economic base, where people are fighting over water and grazing rights and the effects of the desertification that took place in the ‘80s; this intensified the ethnic problems that are there, and then (on top of that) there are ideological and racist “agents” that have brought in that (ethnic-centered) argument on both sides to strengthen their cause (s). So I wanted to know are you essentially saying that ethnicity is the dominant factor now or has it been inverted into the conflict as another one of many factors as part of an effort on both sides, to obtain their interests?
Joe Madison: Oh, it is like anything, it is a combination of all of the above. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. But again, what I was responding to was your direct question of how is it that I have come to understand the ethnicity, and race aspect of this. And I have come to understand it by those who have testified, and have been victims and said why. You know, it is interesting, it is the same argument that was used during the Jim Crow era here in the United States – ‘These people aren’t being segregated or lynched because they are Black, they are being lynched because we don’t like them. They are being lynched because of (factor) A, or B, or C.’ You know, that is why I say you can always find sub-reasons for this. It is no one thing. It is economics. It is regional. Yes it is about water rights. Yes. But the bottom line is that it should not be about any of it. In this country, it was about the Manifest Destiny of the United States to move westward, which justified doing what? Killing the buffalo, killing the Native Americans, putting them on reservations and then taking their land. So, the one excuse was Manifest Destiny, the other excuse was religion. (People said of the native Americans) ‘They are savages’. And then of course there was the issue of race, but here is the bottom line. If this were happening in Western France, or Western Germany, the world would be up in arms. So in part, the Professor (O'Fahey) is right, it is all of the above. But we are not talking about agents who have propagandized the issue of race. The issue of race is very real to the victims being killed in part because they are marginalized.
Cedric Muhammad: My use of the word ‘agent’ was not in the negative sense that you and I have grown to become familiar with
Joe Madison: Oh, Ok then…
Cedric Muhammad: What I meant by that, is when you look at the history of Darfur, as I know you have, you see that in the 60s,70s, and 80s, political groups formed out of these tribal and ethnic groups, so naturally there is an overlap and so, political identity emphasized race and ideology a little bit more than had previously been the case when you just had different nomads and sedentary farmers primarily dealing with one another on the basis of economics. And so when that political dynamic (became more pronounced) and the government of Khartoum got involved, and then of course there have been rumors of overtures (to the Darfur tribal and ethnic groups from the Sudanese government and the SPLA), and it all gets very complicated. But the reason why I am emphasizing the analysis – is that out of all of the factors involved in Darfur – political, humanitarian, racial, economic, ecological and historic, as you said, many of the people who are moving on this issue, are doing so primarily on the basis of race and identity. And I wanted to know is that part of a strategy to bring in the other factors?
Joe Madison: No, it is not a strategy to bring in the other factors, it is the factor that people identify with the most. Rev. Fauntroy made it clear and we have always said that it is about resources, it is about economics, we now see where color trumps religion, because these (victims) are Muslims, these are their own people. Black people, in particular, and the world in general have to stand up and say, ‘Look, you are gonna’ stop messing with Black people in this world! You are going to stop messing with Haitians, and having this duplicity on policy – one policy for Haitians to be turned back if they come to the United States to be free, and Cubans have a different policy. You are going to stop messing with Black folk in Rwanda, and sitting quietly by, paralyzed, not knowing what to do, and apathetic when genocide is taking place, and now here we are in the Sudan and the same thing is happening.’ And so, for those of us who understand that we may not have been born in Africa, but Africa is born in us, we are not going to allow this to happen.
Cedric Muhammad: One of the things that I have noticed and even in your case. To me, you have spoken on about eight or nine different factors, even in the press releases but you only get quoted on one or two…
Joe Madison: When the press talks?
Cedric Muhammad: Yes.
Joe Madison: Yeah right.
Cedric Muhammad: You and I have talked about this for three years, off and on. I have seen very sophisticated positions that you have put forward on the humanitarian aspect of this. And I even saw, where you are not for superficially in favor of sanctions etc...and I even heard the chant of the protesters the other day at the Sudanese Embassy, it was, ‘feed the people’. That was the bottom line. So, as it relates to the humanitarian process, what would you like to see happen, and in what ways is the Sudanese government obstructing?
Joe Madison: The first thing I would like to see happening is the Sudanese government, the Khartoum government in charge, to immediately allow and assist, and go in and feed people. Now they (the Sudanese government) will tell you that they will allow people to return to their territories and their land. But what are they returning to? Their homes have been bombed, the wells have been poisoned from bodies of cattle and human beings thrown down there. They have no where to go. So that in and of itself is a trick. They can’t go to their homes, they don’t have water. They aren’t able to plant the crops, so they basically are in a situation where they will starve on their own land. So the first thing I want is for (Sudanese President) Bashir to stop the Janjaweed, arrest those responsible for human rights violations, and to provide the resources that the country has from its oil production to in fact feed these people. Get them fed, make sure their medicine gets in to curtail the disease that is being spawned now because of the rainy season. The second thing that should be done, is that President Bush, who professes to be this God-fearing Christian, should right now call it what it is, ‘genocide’, which would then obligate this country and the international community to provide logistical support, to even the country of Sudan, and other countries to help feed the people who are being victimized and impacted by what is going on. He could do that tomorrow. He already has approval and encouragement from the United States Congress. For the first time in the history of the United States Congress they unanimously voted to refer to what was happening as genocide. In the past they have done it, but it has always been after the fact. It was after the fact with the Armenians in Turkey. It was after the fact in Kosovo. It was certainly after the fact in Rwanda. This is the first time that it has been done while the seeds of genocide have been sown. And so the President has no excuse. He now has the United Nations on record, with the exception of a few countries that have opposed the wording of sanctions, on record. The president of the United States now has no excuse. In addition to that, thirdly, he can pick up the phone and call the leaders of the African Union who have troops in the region, that can assist the humanitarian aid workers in getting the necessary food and medicines to these one hundred and thirty-some refugee camps, which are really nothing more than quasi-concentration camps. They can get food and resources and supplies to them. He (President Bush) can do that and then say to these African leaders, ‘I will work with you, to provide you helicopters, logistical support – anything you need.’ There should also be no-fly zones established, so that the Sudanese government cannot use these Mig jets and bombers to continue bombing the villages of these people, and displacing what now amounts to 1.2 million people.
Cedric Muhammad: Now, let’s isolate that now, because there are two issues here, as we have talked to Salih Booker of Africa Action, and Bill Fletcher of TransAfrica (their exclusive in-depth interviews with BlackElectorate.com will be published in subsequent weeks). They generally agree. But there is one area (where their goal is the same but the tactics to obtain it are different). Salih wants the 2,000 United States troops in Djibouti to be part of an effort…
Joe Madison: And Bill doesn’t…
Cedric Muhammad: Right, Bill is more in favor of the African Union troops at the center. So I wanted to know where do you come down on the issue of military intervention and …
Joe Madison: Well I tend to more take the position on Bill Fletcher. This is an African problem. And I think that we can accomplish both – what Salih wants and what Bill Fletcher wants. It really is an African problem and that is why I said that all President Bush has to do is call the leaders of the African Union, and provide them with the logistical support and this would be done in the spirit of cooperation. And it would also help establish a precedent for other problems like this that may arise on the continent. The United States would be in a position to do the same thing, without having to send American troops into Africa. The African Union has the troops there. I think African problems should in large part be solved by those who are in a position to know the region, to develop relationships, with the United States playing a supporting role. So, in a way we are all talking the same thing, it is just a question of whether or not you want American troops on the ground potentially fighting what amounts to men on horseback, or do you want them being in a supporting role for the African Union troops. So I tend to side closer with Bill Fletcher.
Cedric Muhammad: As it relates to sanctions, I think you have a very, very interesting position on that. Where are you as it relates to those who are advocating sanctions on Sudan?
Joe Madison: Sanctions are meaningless. They are absolutely meaningless to this country. Number one, the French aren’t going to support it because they have got their eye on oil interests. The Russians aren’t support it because they are trying to sell military hardware i.e. 12 Mig jets for a total of twenty million dollars, and the company needs the money. And they (sanctions) just won’t work. Because the economic interest outweighs the interest of Black people in that country, in that region. And that is the sad thing about it. It outweighs the interest of Black people on behalf of the government and it outweighs the interests of the rest of the world. And that's what is really sad. And what’s new? Economic interests has always outweighed the humanitarian interests of people of color on this planet. So that is why I just don’t think it will work.
Cedric Muhammad: Ok, just a couple of more questions and I will let you go…
Joe Madison: Oh no, take your time, you are one of the best interviews I have had since I started this.
Cedric Muhammad: I really appreciate your answers. Now, I want to return to the external economic factors which are really spelled O-i-l. But as it relates to the indigenous and domestic economic factors, what steps would you like to see as it relates to the development of the region? Because at the end of the day, say we are able to stop the humanitarian horrors there, we still have the issue of the desertification, and the different types of farming (in an agrarian economy)in Darfur. Have you thought at all about economic development initiatives? Or is that something still being discussed between you and your partners?
Joe Madison: Not so much. It is being discussed but more at the academic level, with academicians. It is being discussed with intellectuals. But I can tell you this as a background, I have visited Sudan twice, and the vastness and richness of the land, not only in terms of oil, but in terms of water. Actually water is more valuable in some regions than oil. Then if you consider that it is the source of the Nile River, and you consider power-generated industry that would modernize that country. And let me give you another example. Just the presence of mahogony trees! Man, you can’t believe what it is like to look at a forest of mahogany trees, and the potential that it has. Now having said all of that, when you consider oil, gold, water, natural resources, food, Sudan has the potential of being the breadbasket of sub-Sahara. There is no question about that. Now, having said that, the indigenous African people, have been so marginalized, educationally, and economically, that there is the risk of them being abused and them being placed as nothing more than labor. The resources under their feet on their land ought to be the source of their wealth, where they can build a society and infrastructure that could be one of the riches on the continent of Africa. And so what do you find? A lack of schools and healthcare hospitals. A lack of educational opportunities. The people in Southern Sudan have been so marginalized, by everybody, the British, the Egyptians, the Sudanese, that they now live in conditions similar to how their ancestors lived three, four hundred years ago. And I have seen it with my own eyes. So here are people who have under their feet, potential wealth that unless an education infrastructure is put in place, they will be exploited…
Cedric Muhammad:...by everybody
Joe Madison:…by everybody! Couldn’t have said it better. And that was very clear man sitting in a campfire in one of the countries in Southern Sudan looking over this vast, vast land with water, natural resources, oil, and mahogany trees. And you know what is sad – you have missionary types that go in, in the name of religion and they come out with a missionary mentality that, ‘these are nice people’. I just had an argument with a guy who was on the picket line who did not like the slogan of the sign that someone was holding up that read, “Slavery + Genocide = Sudan” and insisted that we take it down. And then when I said, “what are you talking about?”, he said, ‘Look I lived in Sudan for a long time, and Sudan is much more than slavery and genocide'. And I said that we are not talking about all of the people of Sudan. Hell, America in the 1800s and 1700s was much more than slavery but for those people who are enslaved and those people who are victimized, that’s what their country represents to them until it stopped. But his attitude was based on this missionary mentality that these are ‘nice people.’ That they are ‘pleasant people’. Of course they are. And they are also a people that have seen 2 million of their fellow countrymen killed. And they also are a people that have seen millions displaced in a Diaspora all over this world. And they also are a people who have defended themselves against a regime for twenty years. And so we can’t go in there with a missionary mentality. We have got to go in there with an understanding that these individuals after the genocide, after the peace process, will need the resources of the world to help establish an infrastructure that will help them be independent and wealthy...
Cedric Muhammad:...and help them get over hundreds of years of fighting on that issue (economic)...
Joe Madison: That is absolutely right. There is a tremendous opportunity to build a country from the ground up. And to provide wealth, educational opportunity for a people who have been exploited for hundreds of years.
Cedric Muhammad: Now back to the domestic front of the overall campaign and something that I have noticed over the last few months - and you did not see this in the controversy over the slavery issue- is the open presence of many different members of the Jewish community. I think from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), to Rabbi Saperstein, and numerous Jewish leaders who are now working with you and are now trying to raise this issue (of Darfur). Now this is just something that we have focused on at BlackElectorate.com. I just find it peculiar that the Black struggle in America which is related to most of the problems going on in the continent of Africa, is not somehow factored in when it comes to the issue of reparations by many members of the Jewish community. And so, this is somewhat tangential, but I just wanted to know, do you see a connection between what is going on in Africa and the overall issue of racism and reparations as it is being advocated for by many Blacks in America?
Joe Madison: The single word answer is absolutely. Absolutely! Because as Minister Farrakhan has aptly said in many of his comments and speeches, look at the root word of ‘reparations’ and it applies to not only the economic and humanitarian exploitation of the continent of Africa, but that economic and humanitarian exploitation was extended to the United States to South America, to the Caribbean and people were denied, not only basic liberty that others enjoyed but they were denied even a sense of themselves. The impact has been felt worldwide and continues to this day. Let me go back to what I just mentioned of what the guy said of the sign that read, “Slavery + Genocide = Sudan.” He said that Sudan was much more than slavery and genocide. Well, you know what, so was Germany prior to and during World War II. But to Jewish individuals, it didn’t make any difference that Germany was an industrial giant. And that Germany had tremendous natural resources, and beautiful alps that bordered their country. It did not make any difference to them. Because to them that was not the most important thing. And so I think what has happened is that African-American leadership in this country has taken the lead on what the world describes as the worst humanitarian crises on earth. All credit has to be given to Donald Payne who had the presence to walk across the aisle in the House of Representatives and across the street and go to the United States Senate and insist that the United States Congress address the issue of genocide in Africa and Sudan, before they went on a six-week recess. It wasn’t the other side that came to the Congressional Black Caucus. All credit has to go to Charlie Rangel who said ‘I will be arrested, and I’m arrested, because like the world, I am morally outraged’. And 'I will take the leadership on this.' So what you are finding is a very active, vocal, Black community that has taken the leadership and has challenged everyone to join them. That’s what is really going on.
Cedric Muhammad So, in light of the Holocaust Museum’s historic and unprecedented official characterization of what is happening in the Sudan as “genocide”, if there can be a contemporary definition of genocide and then responsibility that is consequential to that, shouldn’t there be a retroactive responsibility as well?
Joe Madison And that is why holocaust victims received reparations. That’s why native Indians in Canada receive reparations. You know, you are absolutely right! Reparations appears to be good for everybody else except for us. (laughter) Except for Black folk in America. And I think that even in this Sudan situation, it is not enough just to stop the genocide and stop the starvation, but how do you make these people whole again, and get back what you took from them? And that same question applies to Black America. How do you make people whole? And how do you give get back what you took from them? And it is not a complicated process, and the argument that ‘well it happened, years, and decades and two centuries ago’ doesn’t apply, because the impact of what you have done is still being implemented or felt in one degree or another today.
Cedric Muhammad: I will leave it on this point, and people can read the implication and draw the inference, but it would seem to me that, and I will never forget how disappointed I was in the Clinton administration, when Stuart Eizenstat, who worked in the Treasury Department, became the envoy for America on the issue of reparations to the holocaust survivors, and they made the argument of what you just said – that this (reparations) should only apply to living direct descendants and those who survived the holocaust. And so I just wanted to know, do you see that if we can get past this Darfur and Sudan issue in a positive way that the Jewish political establishment would lock arms with you on that issue of reparations of Black America, or do you think that is something still far away?
Joe Madison: Well, my honest answer to that question is, I don’t know. But I think that whatever position they take is inconsequential to what we need to do. You see, people always ask the question of ‘where is this person or that person, how come they are not being arrested, how come they are not demonstrating?’ and I am not concerned about who is not here. I am concerned about who is here – these grandmothers and Hip-Hoppers. The Sapersteins, and Ben and Jerrys, and Charlie Rangels of the world who are here. Because that is what it is going to take to get people to see. We have to make the argument and let me bring it really contemporary. I have tremendous respect for Al Sharpton for one, being the only speaker (at the Democratic Convention) to bring up the Darfur situation and my hunger strike, not for me, but really for the people of Darfur, because now folks ask, ‘what are you talking about’, and ‘why are you doing this’? He was the only speaker out of all of those speeches that were given, including by the nominee, to mention reparations. And what is going to be required is not what the Jewish community does, or not what White America does in general, what is going to be required is that our leaders, people who call themselves leaders, and spokespersons in the Black community - from Al Shapton down to the new ‘Prince of Acceptability', Barack Obama – are going to have to have the same courage that Al Sharpton had. We are going to have to demand it from every pulpit, podium and in writings and columns. When that is done, then I think we will see, one, African-Americans seeing the importance of at least passing John Conyers’ bill, HR 40, and to just study the problem. And then once it is it is studied I think anybody will see the same thing that they saw in Germany with Jews, that they saw with native Indians in Canada, that they saw with native, indigenous people in Australia, this is not new to the world. It really is not up to them, it is up to us.
Cedric Muhammad: Joe, I know this is a big question, but if you are able, can you tie Darfur and your effort there, with the overall peace process and even, the issue of slavery in the Sudan from three years ago?
Joe Madison: Oh, first of all, the issue of slavery is a byproduct of war, and now there has been a cease-fire. There is now an attempt to negotiate peace accords that involve power-sharing and the sharing of economic resources. If the government of Sudan wants legitimacy in the world, from the international community, it is just a simple manner of treating all of its people with respect. That is really what it is, that simple. Just put it where the goats can get it, it is just that simple, because you cannot be at the peace table negotiating power-sharing and resource sharing with one region of the country while exploiting, victimizing and marginalizing people in another region. So it is tied together. And that is just what is simply mind-boggling. That the leadership of Sudan, that professes to be an Islamic nation, based on Islamic principles, simply won’t just say, ‘Stop it. We are going to feed you, we are going to take care of you, and we are going to make you part of our national community and we will no longer allow you to be exploited by anyone, in the country or the world.' And to me it is that simple. And to put life above oil.
Cedric Muhammad: Alright, well Joe thank you, very, very much Brother.
Joe Madison: Well, thank you, man.
Part I: Exclusive Q & A With Professor Sean O'Fahey
Tuesday, August 10, 2004