The Darfur Crisis: the problem, the actors and the exit


In recent months or years the issue of Darfur has suddenly taken a prominent place on the world stage. What is going on? Is it really a problem or is it made up? Do we deserve to have such problems all the time coming from all corners of the Muslim world or can we do something about it?

Is wisdom absent from our minds because the more we look at our affairs the more sad we become. Is Iraq destined to be fragmented? The prospects of partition are looming? If the Iraqis are left alone do they want to be separate from each other or is it the wish and will of others who want to see Iraq fragmented  –  not only Iraq but Muslim countries.  What about Pakistan? Are we seeing more problems in Pakistan.

So the list of troubles we have in the Muslim world is worrying. We want to know more about Darfur because it was presented to us as being a clash of identities, a clash of ethnicities. Arabs versus Africans. But they are all Muslims. It seems that everybody believes that  But all the factions are Muslims. So here we are not talking of a religious war but of an ethnic war, a nationalist war along the lines of origins. It is not a war of colour, they are all dark. It is a war of ethnicity.

So why do we end up having such colossal problems and who pays the price? The number Victims are growing. Today I read that 48,000 Algerian police were killed.  Isn’t it sad to have 48,000 police killed by their own people? And in Darfur who are the victims? So it is So what is going on?  We are going to listen to a man who knows the area, is from the area, grew up there and is in touch with the events there.

Gebreil Fediel:  I will start with some background on Darfur. Darfur is one of the oldest Islamic kingdoms. It dates back to the 2nd century. The Muslims of Darfur as we well as being concerned about Qur’an  are the best at reciting the Qur’an by heart. So they call us the people of Qur’an most of the time.

The role of Darfur was to take are of the buildings of the kabaa and they used to  and they used to send every year their sheikhs to feed the pilgrims and to cover the kabaa as well.

Darfur was an  an autonomous entity up to 1774. Then it came in one way or another as part of Sudan. Then it went back to the autonomous  situation.  In 1868 it went back to Sudan and a part of it in 1922.

Darfur  is about one fifth of the area of Sudan and its geography ranges from the Sahara to savannah. Its soil is very fertile and rich with all sorts of minerals. North Darfur is sitting on a very big lake and a lot of oil and other minerals.

The population of Darfur is one fifth of the population of Sudan. They are all Muslims. They come from different ethnic backgrounds: some are Arabs and others are Africans. It is very difficult to differentiate between who is an Arab and who is an African. They intermarried for a long time and they were mixed so it is difficult to differentiate.

Historically some may say they belong to this or to that tribe. We have close to 200 ethnic groups in Darfur and over 100 local tribal languages in the area. The communication language for all of them in Arabic. The region is rich in livestock. There  are 18m heads of different types of cattle in Darfur – even more.

The history of the conflict is not new. What is going on in Darfur since 2003 did not come out from the blue. It has been boiling there for quite some time. The Darfurians revolted against the injustices done to them by the colonial government before and we had a movement called the Suhaili movement. That was before the departure of colonial rule.

The colonial rule was not happy with Darfur because it resisted the colonial forces. The rest of Sudan was occupied since 1898 but they could only come to Darfur in 1916. In that space of time there was resistance against colonial rule. So they were not happy and when they left they left the power with those who had co-operated with them from the beginning.

The Darfurians started their first movement in 1964.  They called it the Darfur Development Front. Our demands presented in those days are almost the same as our demands today.

The front continued in different shapes and in different movements till we reached this one in 2003. The situation of discontentment and dissatisfaction with the centre is not new to Darfur.

The people of the south of Sudan revolted in 1955 and they continued to fight until 1972 and there was a truce for ten years. Then they went back to the jungle. This continued until 1983 and they could only sign a peace agreement in 2005. So there was a civil war in the south.

The people in the east have the same aims and they started their movement in 1958. They called it the Bejia Congress and their demands are almost the same. The people of the Nuba mountains started at the same time with similar demands. Then the Blue Nile caught up in 1983 and they joined the SPLA in the south in the fight.

So discontent with the way in which the country is ruled is common in all parts of Sudan, not only in Darfur. But Darfurians tried their best to present their case peacefully through development and through peaceful negotiations with the government they produced a book called the Black Book.

They tried their best to let the central government correct the situation in Darfur but they did not listen. Some of the leaders and even the  president of Sudan, told the people that they would only talk to those who take arms. They would not talk at all to those who are not taking arms. So they decided that in the end if there is no choice they would do what they were compelled to do.

The war was enforced on us, it has never been our choice and we dream of the day we will get out of it. If we go to the causes of the conflict, there are some geographical and demographic factors. Since early 1070 desertification crept very fast in the northern part of Darfur, Chad and Niger. In the whole region. So people, especially herders were compelled to move south. That led to competition in resources as well as the sources of water and grazing areas as well as frictions between the different tribes.

That was just a small cause  but it was there and no one can say it did not have an effect. There were also frictions within the area – the war with Chad and Sudan, the war between  the Chadians themselves, the war between Chad and Central Africa, the civil war in the Sudan all contributed to the presence of firearms in big quantities. It became very easy to get a firearm in any place.

The main factor that led to the conflict was the historical marginalization and deprivation of the people of Darfur in both their economic and political lives. There  were never properly represented at the centre where all the decision are taken and they have never had their right share of the  wealth of  the country. That was the source of conflict and the source of the agony. It led to the confrontation later on.

If you look at the human development indicators in the country you will find that those indicators are one of the lowest in Darfur, whether it is in terms of enrolment in schools.  All these indicators show that these  people are underprivileged.

Then  the war started. When the government said it would not listen to those who do not carry arms and the people decided to let the government listen to them. If you don’t listen to the mike you may listen to the bullet. But the reaction was so inappropriate and not at all proportionate.

The government resorted to bombing the villages and  the civilians. They did that with the aim of debasing the movements. The movements get their support, their supply their information, everything from their own people. So if these people are there they are going to support the movement. So they said the best thing is not to let them have any support from the population so they bombed all the villages. They drew the people to the  IDP camps or to the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries.

They resorted to another tool which is really bad. They tried to stir  inter-ethnic conflicts They tried to use some tribes against others. This is not   the first experience of the government in Darfur. They had the same experience in the south.  They used the cattle herders in the south, in Darfur and in Kurdofan .  They were promised that whatever they get  was theirs.

They did the same thing in Darfur. It is true that none of the major tribes in Darfur joined as tribe to fight on the side of the government but some of the different tribes, known as janjaweed. Most of the  atrocities, in addition to the aerial bombardment, were committed by the janjaweed.

Those janjaweed are not all Sudanese. They are mostly from neighbouring countries: Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria. As a result of that millions of people over 2,500,00 were displaced from their homes. Some across the borders and some in Darfur. Some were in the IDP camps and some were unaccounted for.

Nobody has an accurate figure of the death toll. It ranges from the government figure of 9,000 persons to the international organizations figure of 400,000. I don’t claim to have an exact figure. Even if it is as low as the government says 9,000 persons is not a joke. A human life is a human life.

That situation led to international interference. First to relief and to help feed and provide shelter for those who are displaced and there is a wide presence of international NGO’s in Darfur. There are more than 13,500 workers in Darfur right now.

This also led by to the invitation, not by the government of Sudan by the international community of  the African Union forces to come first to keep the peace and then to  protect the civilians. They were not in a position to protect the civilians and they themselves needed protection.

The situation of insecurity prevailed and all sorts of war crimes were committed. You read in the media and watch tv and those stories are there. All sorts of crimes are committed. These stories are not fiction – they are real stories.

The international community, especially the West, found it difficult to understand why the Muslims are killing the Muslims. In the south they made it easy. They said the Muslims are fighting the Christians. When they came to Darfur the matter of religion is not there so they found the ethnic issue the best label to express what is  going on so they said this should be an ethnic conflict.

That idea is liked by the government. They thought is we say this is an ethnic conflict and people would stand alongside the government and fight for the government. They also thought that the Arab community and the Arab world was going to support the government.  They  liked that idea and the media was preaching the same story.

They started talking about an ethnic conflict but they realized they are going wrong of late. Then came international pressure which led to the peace talks in N’djemena in 2004 and a ceasefire was reached. People went for a series of talks in ND’jemena then in Addis  and  Abjua but whatever was concluded in Abuja on 6th May 2006 was not + satisfactory to most of the people in Darfur.

One faction of the movement decided to join the government and the rest kept fighting. And the international community is working hard now to resume the talks to the satisfaction of the people of Darfur.

The conflict started to spill over to the neighbouring countries. Chad was affected. The government of Sudan thought Chad was supporting the rebellion so it decided to support the Chadian opposition to arm them and to send them back to Chad and the cross border war started.

The same thing happened with the Republic of Central Africa. So it is expanding. It is not limited only to Darfur but it is taking whole region to instability.  You come across the population in the IDP camps when you watch television.

Someone has said that the whole thing is a fiction made up by foreigners who are doing this with the same imperialist ideology. They are instigating the war in Darfur. We the Darfurians say this is not so. What isgoing on all over Sudan is because there is injustice in the country and dissatisfaction with the way the country is ruled.  Three is something wrong with the whole country.

Those who claim this is something done by others are building on the conspiracy theory. I do nt believe in it and I do not like it. Once you believe that you think that ll your problems are caused by somebody else and the key to the solution is also with someone else.

It is not right to say all our problems are caused by others. We are the first cause- then the others will find a chance to some in, not the other way round. Those who claim, especially the regime, who say the problem is caused by foreigners fail to produce any evidence.  The cannot produce any sort of proof in terms of finance, ammunition.

The regime in Khartoum is the one which resorted to ask  for foreign assistance. First they went to Chad and asked the government of Chad to come and fight with them. They  brought the president of Chad to the capital city of Darfur and declared that  that there were robbers and we would fight together. And he did send his forces 240km inside Sudan.  So it was the regime and no one else who resorted to foreign forces, no one else. The same government who brought in mercenaries from other countries who make up the janjaweed and they committed all the atrocities.

The foreigners in Darfur are providing relief and trying to protect the civilians..The rest are NGOs trying to support the IDP’s. We do not know their intentions and we cannot talk about them. We can talk about what we see in front of eyes. Whether they come and collect information we do not know. We do not know if they are there for the sake of our eyes or for humanity or whether they have another job to do there.

The conflict in Darfur some are saying is a tribal conflict. I have to emphasise that this not so for more than one reason. You cannot differentiate between different ethnic groups. They are all intermingled, intermarried and mixed so much that you can’t tell who is who. The major Arab tribes in northern Darfur refused to joint the war on the side of the government and some of the people joined the rebellion and are fighting  with the  rebellion.

No one can say a single Arab town or village was attacked by the rebellion since it started in 2003. So the story of the Arabs fighting against the Africans is just a fiction. In fact the Arabs are the most marginalized in Darfur. They have very little chance for education or public services. So if there is talk of marginalization it starts with the Arab tribes and goes down to the rest.

There are intra-Arab conflicts going on in Darfur among the Arabs. During the war and even a few days ago. It is not true that the Arabs are fighting against the others.

Some may say that the movements are separatist and want the constitution of a new state. There is nothing like this in our minds. If the injustice continues  the current generation may think differently but for the moment this is not in our minds. We do not think Darfur can be better off as a closed off landlocked area.

There are more Darfurians living in other parts of Sudan than in Darfur. We never mentioned in our demands anything relating to a sucesion. It is not part of anything we are thinking of. We do believe that if there is a real democratic situation in situation they Dafurians are going to rule the whole of Sudan. So if we are going to rule the whole of Sudan why should we want a part of it. If we can have the whole cake we are not going to have half of it. We are not for separation.

When we come to our Muslim brothers and sisters all over the world we do believe they could have played a more significant role in the conflict in helping to solve the problem and in supporting the IDPs and the refugees. Unfortunately compared to the rest of the world the role played by our Muslim brothers and sisters was very small and weak.

We do not think enough effort was made to  understand what is happening in Darfur. Most  people were satisfied with the story of the moment. They listened  to that and the conspiracies theories were well received.  They accepted the story of the government and made no effort to understand the views of the other party.

Some  saw the conflict as between Arabs and non Arabs. And if someone is an Arab he should be a Muslim. They took the side of the Arabs. The government is the side that represents the Arabs. So they blindly took the side of the government without trying to understand what is going on.

The whole onus does not fall on the Arabs alone. On our part we failed to present our case properly to the different communities. I remember in 2002 the different parties were invited to Mecca to listen to them. But some refused to go and they could not present their case. So the whole thing is not the fault of others. We have our own faults.

So what is the way out. We cannot conquer the government militarily. So we do not think there is a military solution to the conflict. That being the case the only solution is negotiated peaceful settlement. We are prepared to go anywhere anytime with no preconditions to start negotiations with the government.

We have very simple demands.  We are looking for a united region, regional government with legislative and executive powers and Darfur being autonomous. For centuries Darfurians identified themselves with one unit so dividing it is not satisfactory..

We want our  share in government. If we represent 20 percent of the people in the country then we want 20 percent of the share in the power in the country. We are asking for appropriate funds for the reconstruction of the region and setting it on the path to development. These figures are always negotiable.

The civilian victims who were not part of the war, who were driven out of their homes and had all sorts of war crimes committed against them, we want them to be compensated properly. We want compensation for the civilians not those who are fighting.

And we want the restrictive laws, the laws which restrict civil liberties in the country to be abrogated. The security forces can take you away from your home and keep you for months or years without taking you court. You can’t do politics in such a country.

The National Security Court gives absolute powers to the security forces and they are not accountable to any court. They can do whatever they want to and they are not accountable. Such laws cannot help a democratic society. So we are asking for those laws to be abrogated.

Finally we want to have a proper conditions for the IDPs to go back to their original  homes. Their schools  are not there, their dispensaries are not there and neither are their sources of water. Some effort has to be made to ensure that these people can resume their livelihood. But the problem is that their towns are occupied by others brought in by the government from neighbouring countries. So these people have to leave and the original owners have to be brought back.

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