I first took notice of Darfur when George Clooney wore a sexy tight t-shirt monogrammed with, “Not On My Watch”, which on further investigation turned out to be the project he founded with other hotties such as Brad Pitt and Matt Damon to, “focus global attention and resources towards putting an end to mass atrocities around the world”. Swoon. At that stage their focus was on Darfur and the “unimaginable suffering” going on there. I’m still not 100% clear on why that suffering was going on, and I sure as hell don’t know if it’s still happening today.
I do occasionally hear Darfur mentioned in the news, and Sudan all the time. The other day I noticed Darfur mentioned in that popular tome, “50 Shades of Grey” (I haven’t read it from front to back, just a few smutty bits before I got irritated by her saying, “Holy crap!” all the time and referencing her inner Goddess – I feel the need to clarify this). So why is broody Christian getting all noble over Darfur? What did happen over there and is it still happening?
When I look into it I see that the conflict is now exactly 10 years old, but first things first…
Where is Darfur?
It is a region about the size of Spain in Africa’s Western Sudan. It borders Libya (ooh that sounds like a barrel of laughs), Chad and the Central African Republic. Sudan (known as The Sudan prior to 1975) is the largest country in Africa. It lies south of Egypt on the Eastern edge of the Sahara. Being at the crossroad between Africa and the Middle East, its people are a mix of Arab and Black African (in the south). It is a mostly Muslim country with some Christianity and tribal religion. Sudan was officially a British colony under Egyptian leadership until 1956 when it was granted independence.
What’s wrong over there?
Well in short, the place is a disaster and the Sudanese leader is a complete knob…Darfur has basic infrastructure and next to no development. Its 6 million (predominantly Fur or non-Arab) inhabitants are among the poorest in Africa, existing on subsistence farming or nomadic herding. They have long claimed decades of neglect and oppression from the Sudanese government in Khartoum, as well as facing tensions with Arab herders over land and grazing rights. On top of this they have endured drought, famine and conflict. Sudan’s major resource is oil, but it appears that only the country’s military and an elite few gain benefit from oil export revenue.
The current conflict (which was supposed to end in 2005 with a peace agreement) began in 2003 when 2 rebel groups within Darfur – the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM -made up of mostly non-Arab black African Muslims from various tribes) orchestrated an uprising against the Sudanese government and its leader Omar al-Bashir. These 2 groups, fed up with their beggarly resource and land allocation in comparison to the Arab population, conducted a series of ‘hit and run’ raids using Toyota Landcruisers to speed in on and attack government targets. The initial uprising went largely unchecked, partly because the Sudanese army was mostly deployed to the south where the 2nd Sudanese civil war (another Arab Gov’t Vs non Arab Gov’t conflict) was in its final throes, but it has been alleged that al-Bashir lazily chucked a pile of weapons and a few tactical tips in the direction of some disgruntled Arab speaking nomadic tribes known as the Janjaweed, which translates to ‘devils on horseback’, and no, I’m not talking slightly foul but benign bacon wrapped prunes. The Janjaweed are a pack of unspeakably brutal arseholes.
Full Scale Humanitarian Crisis (i.e. GENOCIDE)
The Janjaweed proceeded to wipe out entire Fur villages (leaving Arab ones untouched), destroyed food and water supplies and murdered, raped and/or tortured hundreds of thousands of Darfuri. The Sudanese government long denied any alliance with the Janjaweed, promising to disarm them but never did. Darfuri claimed that the Janjaweed onslaughts were often followed by bombing raids from government aircraft.
The violence, disease and starvation has lead to as many as 480,000 Darfurian deaths (mostly reported at around 300,000 but who really knows) while 2.8 million live in internally displaced person (IDP) camps. The displaced relied solely on the UN and other humanitarian organizations for food, water, shelter and healthcare. Those civilians who remain in their villages lived in constant fear of raids, often in the form of aircraft disguised as UN aircraft – a blatant violation of international humanitarian law. Hey, if they’re going to rape and murder they’re not going to take note of a few rules written on bits of paper in some high up far away place, but somehow this takes it all to a new level of wrong – villagers could never know whether an approaching plane was coming to save them or slaughter them.
Is there much foreign aid going on, other than Brad, Matt and George etc?
Well for a while the safety of the 1 million Darfuri who hadn’t fled was in the hands of 7,400 African Union troops who were charged with the job of reporting ceasefire violations, but not preventing them. Brill, thank you so much, says no Darfuri ever.
There was a peace agreement imposed by the US government and signed by Sudan and the SLA. But JEM and other rebel groups refused to sign and the situation worsened.
In 2006 there was a UN security resolution to send a 22,500 strong peacekeeping force to relieve the AU. But Sudan leaders shat on that idea by refusing the UN entry and only allowing the deployment of 200 UN advisors. In 2007 the peace talks were supposed to begin, but most of the major players didn’t bother to show up.
Meantime, the US officially named the whole catastrophe a genocide and imposed sanctions on the Sudanese regime. Still there was no co-operation from Khartoum, only the scoffing claims that it was just a big beat up by Darfur and the humanitarian movement and actually not many people had died after all. The Sudanese government evidently became experts at playing games with envoys and peace instigators, thereby delaying action. They also worked hard at limiting world awareness by restricting access into Darfur by diplomats, humanitarian workers and journalists. Well that’s all over buds because Megoracle is so onto you. Maybe I can’t get over there to bust your arses just yet, but we’re talking huge exposure, HUGE.
In 2007, Oxfam, the British aid agency helping over half a million people in Darfur and Chad announced their permanent withdrawal after one of their workers was raped, another beaten and others subjected to mock executions (jeez, how terrifying). None of the perpetrators were held to account.
Why don’t they just sack the dickhead president?
Well in March 2009 the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a formal arrest warrant for al-Bashir for 5 counts of crimes against humanity and 2 counts of war crimes in Darfur – the first time ever that a sitting head of state has been charged. Genocide was never mentioned and HE IS STILL IN POWER. In April 2010 he was declared the winner of the presidential elections with 68% of the vote. A few months later a second warrant was issued by the ICC against al-Bashir, listing 10 counts against him.
But, the wanker continues to travel about on invitation from places like Egypt, Qatar and Libya, in between signing death warrants for Darfurie rebels and giving the general bird to the UN. The only spot of hope it that it has been reported by a party official that he will not be seeking re-election when Sudan next goes to the polls in 2015.
And in Darfur today?
Well the war is now a decade old. There are reports just today of the conflict intensifying as Sudan deploys warplanes and rockets, attacking villages in Darfur. The government denies this, saying the aircraft are to protect troop convoys and that the reports are simply spin on the part of activists.
The displaced Darfuri live in camps under huts of hay and plastic. They have limited schooling for their children, food, clean water and healthcare but no sense of home, future or security. Tribal skirmishes (because they just don’t want to be chucked in all together) amongst the Darfuri add to the violence.
I’ve just read that Darfuri children are being born without eyes – possibly due to the bombs and other children are dying due to drinking water polluted by the shelling.
This week, a group of pollies from the UK, the US and Australia have written to foreign secretaries to work harder toward an end to the violence in Sudan. Read their letter here. China has just sent the third installment of a humanitarian donation of irrigation equipment and farming machinery, which will help provide a means of living so that the displaced can return to their villages.
But also this week, on Sunday a Darfuri woman in a camp was critically injured when (allegedly) government officials beat and stabbed her before attempting rape. Eight homes in her village were burnt that day.
That same day, a displaced Darfuri man in a West Darfur camp took his own stand against the violence by setting himself on fire. Before he died, he told his family that ”the earth would be more merciful to him than to watch his brothers and sisters suffer every day from the abuse by pro-government militants; plundering, raping, killing…” According to the relative he added: “everybody is watching and nobody is doing anything.”
So do something dudes. I know there’s a lot of shit stuff going on and it’s hard to help every cause. But just share this post, talk about it, join a group, write about it, like the Facebook page, wear a Save Darfur T-shirt, give al-Bashir a big old al-bashir on the head, whatever, anything to get it into and keep it in the collective consciousness. PLEASE.