Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 23 April 2004

Sudan is another Rwanda in the making


By Johann Harithe, the Independent

LONDON, April 23, 2004 — It’s a typical genocide anniversary. Ten years on from the Hutu Power holocaust in Rwanda, there is ritual chest-beating in the West and memorial services in Africa. A new DVD of Schindler’s List even allows us to munch our popcorn and mutter "never again". But, amid these empty platitudes, another genocide may, the UN warns, be about to be start.

Last week, secretary general Kofi Annan explained that "the risk of genocide is frighteningly real" in the Darfur province of Sudan, home to six million people. Human Rights Watch have warned that "crimes against humanity" are unfolding there. Yet the world is taking as much notice now as we did at the early stages of the Rwandan holocaust.

Sudan’s fundamentalist National Islamic Front government in Khartoum has murdered 30,000 human beings and ethnically cleansed 840,000 in the past year. Most of the victims are moderate Muslims. They are being slaughtered or forced to flee for their lives simply because they are "Zurga" - a slang word for black. To achieve their goal of making Darfur "Zurga-free" (ring any bells?), the Sudanese tyranny has armed and supported Arab militias known as the Janjaweed.

The Janjaweed are committing pogroms on a massive scale. They are burning entire villages and systematically trashing the civilian infrastructure of schools, hospitals and irrigation systems. The UN report leaked yesterday confirms reports of mass rape, and warned that so many crops and animals are being destroyed that "a man-made famine" is now probable.

Mercedes Tatay, a Darfur-based physician with the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, gives a glimpse into the state of a country where journalists are being denied access. "You can drive for 100 miles and see nobody, no civilians," she says. "You pass through large villages, completely burned or still burning, and you see nobody."

On 8 April, the Sudanese government signed a 45-day ceasefire, but there doesn’t seem to have been much improvement. There are still raids and massacres, and aid agencies have not been allowed in yet.

Kofi Annan warned four days after the supposed ceasefire, "The international community must be prepared to take swift and appropriate action. By action in such situations, I mean a continuum of steps, which may include military action." Tony Blair’s pledge that "If Rwanda happened again, we would have a duty to act," may be about to be tested.

No doubt, there will be a chorus of neo-isolationists - of both left and right - who say that Sudan has nothing to do with us and we can only make things worse. They ignore the fact that a small international troop presence almost certainly averted a genocide in the Ituri province of Congo last summer. Worse still, they ignore the fact that the West is already involved.

There are three main clusters of Western responsibility for the genocide that may be about to ravage Sudan. It was a British colony until 1956. Our government created an unfeasible state that bound together warring tribes. They made this worse when they withdrew by handing the whole country to northern ethnic groups. The Brits knew they were leaving behind them a ticking ethnic time-bomb. It has been hissing and fizzing ever since - two million have died in the civil war in the south - and it may be about to blow in Darfur.

That is not the only way in which we contributed to this disaster. The current war is, according to the Brussels-based monitoring organisation the International Crisis Group, triggered by "massive ecological damage" to Sudan. The genocidal break-down in fragile tribal relations in Darfur has been a reaction to the deterioration of the country’s already scarce resources. Until a few years ago, Darfur’s scarce resources were shared (awkwardly, to be sure) among the different tribes. Now they are so rare - and rapidly diminishing - they are fought over.

Western countries, of course, have caused this environmental damage, primarily through oil extraction. Even now, the ethnic cleansing is partly motivated by a desire to clear the Zurga from land wanted by Khartoum (and Western oil companies) for oil exploration.

It gets worse. The United States even destroyed Sudan’s medical supplies only five years ago. In 1998, following a string of bombings against US embassies in East Africa, Bill Clinton gave an order to destroy one of the only pharmaceuticals factories in Sudan with a massive cruise missile. The supposed al-Qa’ida link proved to be totally bogus. Human rights groups have documented that tens of thousands of people - mostly children and the elderly - died as a direct result of being deprived of the al-Shifa medicines.

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