Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 3 August 2010

Darfur Suffers While the World Looks Away


By Anne Bartlett*

The situation in Darfur has reached crisis pitch. In the camps of the region people face food shortages, malnutrition, disease, violence and abuse. Undeterred by threats from local security people, a colleague of mine who was recently refused entry through the main entrance of Kalma, entered the camp through an alternative route. Walking through the camp from the southern end, she found babies with distended bellies, chronic malnutrition across much of the population, people with ringworm resulting in fungal infection and the loss of their hair, and the presence of life-threatening diseases such as dysentery.

The situation is not much better elsewhere either. In the towns of the region such as Nyala and El-Fasher, locals face hyperinflation in the markets and a security environment that can only be likened to the Wild West. Residents trying to get on with their daily lives face kidnap, looting, car-jacking and summary execution by marauding militias. In the rural areas, in places like Leibei, Jebel Marra, men are killed and women are raped if they try to collect water for their families from the local waterhole. If they go to the market areas they face a similar fate. In western Darfur around the village of Mornei, locals who were encouraged to go back to their land are confronted by camel-riding militias with plough machines who destroy new crops and savagely beat those who have returned to teach them a lesson.

Abuse such as this is commonplace, and yet it now receives scant attention in the press. Instead we are given to believe that all is quiet on the Western Front of Sudan and that the problems of Darfur have now subsided. The truth however is that with the complicity of western governments, the Arab World, the African Union and the US Envoy, Scott Gration, the people of Darfur are slowly being annihilated. Today, Darfuris are used and abused for geopolitical interests, the business making interests of those who would profit from genocide and for a wide variety of other cynical reasons.

If we look at geopolitical use and abuse of Darfuris first, we can see the negative impact of venues like Doha and the way it has served to divert people away from the real issues. Despite the support of the international community, Doha has acted as a giant arena for the incompetent or unworthy – a place where corrupt individuals or groups vie to see who can put some money in their pocket and cozy up to the Sudanese Government. We see individuals like Tigani Seisi parading around as a spokesman for the people of Darfur when he has zero legitimacy on the ground. We see the Doha process being used to create more splits within the people of Darfur while the organizers talk about unity.

Take for example the recent case of IDP representation at the Doha talks. Invited to attend by the mediation team, a select few IDPs were incorporated into the process, fed the party line and asked to return home to the camps in Darfur to pass on the message. Far from solving the problems of the IDP population however, people felt that the representatives and those at Doha had no interest in the problems they were facing. The net result was that IDP leaders issued a communiqué saying that the Doha representatives should not be trusted. This situation caused unrest and provoked arrests by the Sudanese Government in Kalma and Hisahisa camp. Consequently, it seems clear that far from using venues like Doha to solicit the truth and create peace, the mediators are using these venues to incite conflict and to further split the Darfur IDP population. This of course has a useful outcome for the Government of Sudan. If the government manages to split the IDP population in this way, it will be able to break the final bastion of resistance and hasten the demise of the people of Darfur.

While international actors continue to play with the people of Darfur through the Doha process, so do national parties like the Umma Party. Not content with being one of the parties that has been instrumental in the impoverishment and abuse of Darfur for decades, the Umma Party is now using a new weapon in their arsenal: “The Heidelberg Darfur Outcome Document”. This document, which they are touting to other parties as a solution to the crisis, underscores their elite mentality and their lack of understanding of the region. Created by outsiders with no significant understanding of Darfur, the document is full of empty rhetoric and reads like a wish list for western democratic change. Nice read though it is, it fails to understand the land use system in Darfur, it fails to understand the way the Federal government has manipulated local politics for years, it fails to understand that implementation is 90% of the problem in Sudan and it singularly fails to take on the issue of compensation in a serious manner (one of the most important issues to Darfuris). Telling us that compensation will be decided by the Federal Government of Sudan (with assistance from Darfuris), the document speaks volumes about the power structure and attitudes at play. Finally as if this wasn’t bad enough, Darfuris are asked to turn the Ajaweed system (which was an effective process prior to the conflict) into Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, without, it seems, any reference to the limits of these systems as they exist in South Africa or Rwanda.

All of these problems underscore the way in which Darfur is seen either as an epiphenomenon of the larger problem of Sudan and the South, or as a potential money/power making enterprise for corrupt individuals and governments. There is, it seems, little interest in resolving the problems of Darfur for the sake of the people and region itself. Instead what we see is an attempt to marginalize the people further and to make light of their legitimate problems, with the idea that the crisis it will eventually go away. However, those involved should be careful what they wish for. Darfur might just go away; it has that history after all. For people who are abused, beaten and not taken seriously, what incentive is there to stay within Sudan? For all the talk about stability and the focus on the referendum, eyes may then also look to the West. One might ask what this will do to the best laid plans of the international community. Lead them astray, one might suppose …

Dr. Anne Bartlett is a Professor of Sociology at the University of San Francisco. She may be reached at albartlett@usfca.edu

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  • 3 August 2010 08:52, by DASODIKO

    Look at the Human loving people. a voice coming from thousands of miles away calling for the presrvations of human lives in Africa; although African leaders who are supposed to be the first to talk about huamn dignity at home; are barking to protect the criminal flee with his crimes. Whats wrong is this world???????

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    • 3 August 2010 12:25, by Paul Ongee

      I have said repeatedly in the past that Darfur peace talks would fail simply because the host country, AU-UN and UNAMID Chiefs are not impartial but siding with Khartoum who got money to bribe their way out to impose peace on the people of Darfur. Secondly, AU and AL have no any record of effective conflict resolution since their creation. They are not yet willing to digest what works and what doesn’t. Why spend all the resources traveling to PR show in Doha without any conceivable results?

      UNAMID needs to be transparent and courageous enough to say NO to Khartoum about its egomania and continued systematic displacement of Darfur people from their ancestral lands. How would the continued intimidation of IDPs and their camp leaders translate into peace talks in Doha? Gambari, Bassole, Ping and international community need to learn how to pull up their socks. Khartoum must be put on notice that Doha will not be the occasion for any negotiated immunity from war crimes committed in Darfur.

      The PR talks show in Doha is finally coming to the dead end. Will all the above mentioned people including regional and international actors blame themselves or Khartoum? Why is Khartoun given the chance of sitting behind the wheel of mediation effort? Conflict of interest would not work here if we really need peace to prevail in Darfur. If Khartoum demonstrates political will to bring peace in Darfur, I believe the leaders of Darfur rebel groups, regardless of their individual backing countries, will certainly unify their delegation to negotiate peace. Cease fire must first be strictly enforced and observed by the warring parties to allow access to humanitarian relief operations before real peace talks begin in whatever host country is chosen.

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      • 3 August 2010 12:45, by DASODIKO

        Brother Paul

        The snake with a rat in mouth never bite. So do not expect UNAMID harm genocide regime as long as their monthly salaries are paid!!!!!!!Its we the people of the margin to think what we should do for our brothers in Darfur and South Sudan.

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        • 3 August 2010 14:26, by Aparana


          Don’t beleive any body shouting Darfur.. Darfur. Many people are trading with the Darfur case and make a good business transaction earning a big money.. let them cry Iraq ..Iraq or Afghanistan.. Afghanistan instead, because those who are sufering in Afghanistan are worst than those in Darfur. Darfur case is coming to an end and for ever.


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  • 4 August 2010 04:50, by Subsahara Centre

    Dear Dr. Anne

    Good article and full of soul. The Peoples of Darfur are not going away anywhere. It is probably the first time in history that Peoples are brutalized so much and they remain within their homeland. Not Sudan, but within Darfur.And persistently in spite of continued suffering.

    I remind you of the example of the Eritrean struggle when Col Mengistu cornered the Eritrean Resistance in Nagfa in the North Eastern Corner of Eritrea and declared them "finished". Peoples with a cause and people with rights abused shall always win. Eritrea (for whatever it is now) is a free country

    May be one day I shall tell you the story of the single man who started the open opposition to Vietnam war in front of the White House! One man with a burning soul! Darfur has burning souls and that can not be defeated.

    Stay well

    Tag Elkhazin

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