Posts by: Alex DeWaal

The presentation by Veena Das, “Techniques of Power and the Rise of the Grotesque” made me reflect on how this topic intersected with the role of celebrities in the public sphere, particularly as the face of humanitarian causes. Are the figures of the grotesque and the “designer activist” in public life two variants of […]

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The philosopher Eric Heller wrote, ‘Be careful how you interpret the world; it is like that.’[29] One of the challenges facing the social scientist is that a deep knowledge of a particular issue, or a particular place, allows the scholar to write about it with an authoritative subjectivity. In my own writings on Sudan, I have approached the same topic (e.g. political violence) from different perspectives, each time with some explanatory purchase. These different frameworks of explanation may be incompatible with one another, but that has not hindered me from using them.

My concluding point in this paper is therefore, that (dis)order may be in the eye of the beholder, or the pen of the writer, as much as in the world that is being observed or described. However, rather than lapsing into an irretrievable subjectivity and a resigned agnosticism, I prefer to be cautious about what can and cannot be explained, and to insist on always bearing in mind the limitations of any particular point of view.

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Most adult Africans have, at one point in their lifetime, woken up to martial music on the radio, an unfamiliar face in a military uniform on the television, and the numbing discovery that their country has been snatched away from them overnight. Africans have also become accustomed to the tedium of sclerotic authoritarian regimes, sometimes […]

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Last week’s declaration of famine in South Sudan was the first such declaration by the United Nations and associated agencies for six years. It’s an important step, for several reasons. Crying ‘famine!’ is a political act, intended to impel action. This will be a test case for whether it works.

Until 2010, when the Integrated […]

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Below are excerpts from Alex de Waal’s “Garrison America and the Threat of Global War,” published by The Boston Review on December 5, 2016. The text version is available on their website.

Donald Trump was elected as the mouthpiece for a populist insurgency that humbled the biggest political machine in the United States. But […]

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Under the Obama Administration, we have seen the humanitarian imperative compromised by counter-terror laws and the politics of alliances. In Somalia and Syria, aid agencies were hampered by the PATRIOT Act from operating in areas in which they might be deemed to be providing assistance, material or symbolic, to groups labeled as terrorists. Preventable humanitarian disasters followed. In Yemen, the U.S. has been party to economic warfare conducted by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, causing famine conditions. In each of these cases, U.S. counter-humanitarianism cost lives, to no political benefit.

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