04-24-2006, 12:09 PM
A topic section for articles and thoughts on Darfur. I'll begin it with this piece that sheds light on a few misconceptions:
5 Truths About Darfur
By Emily Wax
Sunday, April 23, 2006; B03
KOU KOU ANGARANA, Chad
Heard all you need to know about Darfur? Think again. Three years after a government-backed militia began fighting rebels and residents in this region of western Sudan, much of the conventional wisdom surrounding the conflict -- including the religious, ethnic and economic factors that drive it -- fails to match the realities on the ground. Tens of thousands have died and some 2.5 million have been displaced, with no end to the conflict in sight. Here are five truths to challenge the most common misconceptions about Darfur:
1 Nearly everyone is Muslim
Early in the conflict, I was traveling through the desert expanses of rebel-held Darfur when, amid decapitated huts and dead livestock, our SUV roared up to an abandoned green and white mosque, riddled with bullets, its windows shattered.
In my travels, I've seen destroyed mosques all over Darfur. The few men left in the villages shared the same story: As government Antonov jets dropped bombs, Janjaweed militia members rode in on horseback and attacked the town's mosque -- usually the largest structure in town. The strange thing, they said, was that the attackers were Muslim, too. Darfur is home to some of Sudan's most devout Muslims, in a country where 65 percent of the population practices Islam, the official state religion.
A long-running but recently pacified war between Sudan's north and south did have religious undertones, with the Islamic Arab-dominated government fighting southern Christian and animist African rebels over political power, oil and, in part, religion.
"But it's totally different in Darfur," said Mathina Mydin, a Malaysian nurse who worked in a clinic on the outskirts of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. "As a Muslim myself, I wanted to bring the sides together under Islam. But I quickly realized this war had nothing to do with religion."
2 Everyone is black
Although the conflict has also been framed as a battle between Arabs and black Africans, everyone in Darfur appears dark-skinned, at least by the usual American standards. The true division in Darfur is between ethnic groups, split between herders and farmers. Each tribe gives itself the label of "African" or "Arab" based on what language its members speak and whether they work the soil or herd livestock. Also, if they attain a certain level of wealth, they call themselves Arab.
Sudan melds African and Arab identities. As Arabs began to dominate the government in the past century and gave jobs to members of Arab tribes, being Arab became a political advantage; some tribes adopted that label regardless of their ethnic affiliation. More recently, rebels have described themselves as Africans fighting an Arab government. Ethnic slurs used by both sides in recent atrocities have riven communities that once lived together and intermarried.
"Black Americans who come to Darfur always say, 'So where are the Arabs? Why do all these people look black?' " said Mahjoub Mohamed Saleh, editor of Sudan's independent Al-Ayam newspaper. "The bottom line is that tribes have intermarried forever in Darfur. Men even have one so-called Arab wife and one so-called African. Tribes started labeling themselves this way several decades ago for political reasons. Who knows what the real bloodlines are in Darfur?"
3 It's all about politics
Although analysts have emphasized the racial and ethnic aspects of the conflict in Darfur, a long-running political battle between Sudanese President Omar Hassan Bashir and radical Islamic cleric Hassan al-Turabi may be more relevant.
A charismatic college professor and former speaker of parliament, Turabi has long been one of Bashir's main political rivals and an influential figure in Sudan. He has been fingered as an extremist; before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks Turabi often referred to Osama bin Laden as a hero. More recently, the United Nations and human rights experts have accused Turabi of backing one of Darfur's key rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement, in which some of his top former students are leaders.
Because of his clashes with Bashir, Turabi is usually under house arrest and holds forth in his spacious Khartoum villa for small crowds of followers and journalists. But diplomats say he still mentors rebels seeking to overthrow the government.
"Darfur is simply the battlefield for a power struggle over Khartoum," said Ghazi Suleiman, a Sudanese human rights lawyer. "That's why the government hit back so hard. They saw Turabi's hand, and they want to stay in control of Sudan at any cost."
4 This conflict is international
China and Chad have played key roles in the Darfur conflict.
In 1990, Chad's Idriss Deby came to power by launching a military blitzkrieg from Darfur and overthrowing President Hissan Habre. Deby hails from the elite Zaghawa tribe, which makes up one of the Darfur rebel groups trying to topple the government. So when the conflict broke out, Deby had to decide whether to support Sudan or his tribe. He eventually chose his tribe.
Now the Sudanese rebels have bases in Chad; I interviewed them in towns full of Darfurians who tried to escape the fighting. Meanwhile, Khartoum is accused of supporting Chad's anti-Deby rebels, who have a military camp in West Darfur. (Sudan's government denies the allegations.) Last week, bands of Chadian rebels nearly took over the capital, N'Djamena. When captured, some of the rebels were carrying Sudanese identification.
Meanwhile, Sudan is China's fourth-biggest supplier of imported oil, and that relationship carries benefits. China, which holds veto power in the U.N. Security Council, has said it will stand by Sudan against U.S. efforts to slap sanctions on the country and in the battle to force Sudan to replace the African Union peacekeepers with a larger U.N. presence. China has built highways and factories in Khartoum, even erecting the Friendship Conference Hall, the city's largest public meeting place.
5 The "genocide" label made it worse
Many of the world's governments have drawn the line at labeling Darfur as genocide. Some call the conflict a case of ethnic cleansing, and others have described it as a government going too far in trying to put down a rebellion.
But in September 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell referred to the conflict as a "genocide." Rather than spurring greater international action, that label only seems to have strengthened Sudan's rebels; they believe they don't need to negotiate with the government and think they will have U.S. support when they commit attacks. Peace talks have broken down seven times, partly because the rebel groups have walked out of negotiations. And Sudan's government has used the genocide label to market itself in the Middle East as another victim of America's anti-Arab and anti-Islamic policies.
Perhaps most counterproductive, the United States has failed to follow up with meaningful action. "The word 'genocide' was not an action word; it was a responsibility word," Charles R. Snyder, the State Department's senior representative on Sudan, told me in late 2004. "There was an ethical and moral obligation, and saying it underscored how seriously we took this." The Bush administration's recent idea of sending several hundred NATO advisers to support African Union peacekeepers falls short of what many advocates had hoped for.
"We called it a genocide and then we wine and dine the architects of the conflict by working with them on counterterrorism and on peace in the south," said Ted Dagne, an Africa expert for the Congressional Research Service. "I wish I knew a way to improve the situation there. But it's only getting worse."
Emily Wax is The Washington Post's East Africa bureau chief.
04-24-2006, 12:11 PM
rebels reject osama
Darfur rebel group rejects Bin Laden call for jihad
Monday 24 April 2006 00:30.
April 23, 2006 (DUBAI) — One of Darfur’s two main rebel groups rejected Al-Qaeda supremo Osama bin Laden’s call on Muslims to fight the "crusaders" in the western Sudanese region, warning it could encourage Khartoum to step up its repression.
"We categorically reject these declarations," Justice and Equality Movement official Ahmed Hussein said, reacting to remarks made in an audiotape attributed to bin Laden and aired by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news channel.
Bin Laden purportely called "upon the mujahedeen (holy warriors) and their supporters in Sudan and its surroundings — including the Arabian Peninsula — to prepare to lead a prolonged war against the crusader robbers in western Sudan."
Sudan’s Darfur has been torn by more than three years of war and famine since a rebellion by movements demanding a bigger share of their region’s resources launched an uprising which was brutally repressed by Khartoum.
Some estimates put at 300,000 the number of people who have been killed in what Washington has termed a genocide.
"His words are completely disconnected from the reality in Darfur. Bin Laden is still preaching the theory of an American-Zionist conspiracy when the real problem comes from Khartoum, which is a Muslim government killing other Muslims," Hussein said.
He warned that such comments risked "encouraging the Khartoum regime to perpetuate injustice and its strategy against Darfur."
The Islamist regime of Omar al-Beshir, which sheltered Bin Laden between 1991 and 1996, has vehemently opposed plans by the United Nations to take over security from a contingent of African Union peacekeepers who have failed to quell the Darfur bloodshed.
09-09-2006, 12:40 PM
Thursday, September 7th, 2006
Darfur Violence Intensifies as Deadline for Withdrawal of AU Peacekeepers Looms
The Sudanese government is increasing its attacks in Darfur as the African Union confirms it will withdraw peacekeeping troops by the end of the month. We speak with Alex de Waal, an advisor to the African Union and author of "Darfur: A Short History of a Long War." [includes rush transcript] A leading human rights group is accusing the Sudanese government of indiscriminately bombing villages in rebel-held regions of Darfur without regard for civilian lives.
Human Rights Watch said firsthand sources report flight crews rolling bombs out the back ramps of Sudanese military aircraft flying over civilian areas.
The Sudanese government recently launched a major offensive in Darfur believed to involve tens of thousands of troops backed by bomber aircraft and helicopter gunships.
The attacks come as the African Union confirmed its decision to withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Sudan when their mandate expires at the end of September. The AU has said repeatedly that it wants to hand over its mission to the United Nations. The Security Council recently voted to authorize more than 20,000 troops and police officers for Darfur but the UN force was strongly rejected by the Sudanese government.
The AU brokered a peace accord in May, but it was signed by the government and only one of the three main rebel groups in Darfur. Since then, the violence has intensified.
Humanitarian groups say civilian casualties, rapes and looting have all grown more widespread. Meanwhile, aid workers have been forced to curtail efforts to distribute food and health care to the region amid increasing attacks.
Since 2003, as many as 400,000 people have died in the Darfur region and as many as three million people have been left homeless.
* Alex De Waal, a fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University and an advisor to the African Union. He is author of the book, "Darfur: A Short History of a Long War."
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AMY GOODMAN: We're joined now by Alex de Waal. He’s in Boston, fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University, advisor to the African Union, author of the book Darfur: A Short History of a Long War. We welcome you to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the latest situation in Darfur?
ALEX DE WAAL: The situation at the moment is really rather bleak. What's happened is that in the months after the peace agreement was partially signed, which was four months ago in May, the -- various efforts were made to try and get on the side the two rebel groups that were not signatories. Now, these efforts were really rather half-hearted. I was closely involved in one of them, and we really had very little backup, very little diplomatic clout and very little to offer those groups that were really still quite interested in signing up to the agreement.
And the failure to bring onboard those parties left Darfur in a very, very precarious situation. All the institutions that had been set up -- the ceasefire commission, the peacekeeping forces -- were all set up to monitor an agreement on the assumption that all parties had bought into it. And the situation then was untenable. There was an attempt to implement an agreement with only one of the three rebel groups, with one of the others still trying to get onboard and the other one mounting military action to try and undermine it. And the government, I think, did sign the peace agreement with some genuine attempt to try and settle the situation there.
But then what happened was, without any progress on that, it decided on the military option. It put forward a plan for disarming the Janjaweed militia and then took that off the table. It hasn't done any disarmament of the Janjaweed. It was supposed not to reinforce its military forces in Darfur. It was actually supposed to withdraw them to garrisons several months ago. That didn't happen.
And to the contrary, what's happened is, it’s reinforced, it’s brought in more troops, and it has made essentially a military alliance with the one group, the Sudan Liberation Army of Minni Minawi, the one man who did sign up. And they have been launching joint attacks, supported by the air force, against the holdout rebel groups. And that has led to massive destruction, burning of villages, aerial bombardment and many, many more killings. And there seems no way actually at the moment of stopping this. The offensive is due to continue. I don't believe there is a military solution. It will not defeat the holdout rebel groups. What it will do is, it will kill more people, create more hunger, create more displacement and make the situation even more intractable.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in retrospect, what might have been done differently when the negotiations were going on to incorporate the two groups that rejected the agreement and continue to fight?
ALEX DE WAAL: I think the key thing to bear in mind is that the solution to Darfur is a political solution. No solution can be imposed by any amount of arm twisting, any amount of bluster, any amount of military force. Even if we sent 100,000 NATO troops, we would not be able to impose a solution. The solution has to come through political negotiation. And that, unfortunately, is a very slow process.
The sides do not trust each other. There are a great deal of enmity and mistrust, and with good reason. They have been fighting each other, they’ve been killing each other. And while the government is responsible for the majority of the killings, the rebels are not angels either. They also have their own very, very serious problems of human rights abuse, and they have been fighting each other, too.
What was needed, I think, was more time, more time to enable the text that came out of the agreements to be truly owned by the parties, rather than a rather well-crafted agreement, but an agreement that was essentially imposed upon the parties. And had we had another few months, I think we would have certainly got a more inclusive deal. We could certainly have got one of the other two rebel factions. The Sudan Liberation Army, headed by Abdul Wahid Nur, which has the largest popular support in Darfur, that I believe would have signed up. And then we would be on a rather different track.
I think this thing was done in haste, and it was done in haste in part because there was a tremendous international impatience and impetus, which is quite understandable, to end the humanitarian suffering, to get troops on the ground, to bring an end to the abuses that occur every day.
AMY GOODMAN: Alex de Waal, we're also joined on the line from Sudan by Suleiman Jamous, the former Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator for the Sudanese Liberation Army. He opposed the Darfur peace agreement. He was captured on May 20 by members of an SLA faction that signed the accord. He was held for a month before being released. He is speaking to us from Central Sudan. What do you think needs to happen right now, Suleiman Jamous?
SULEIMAN JAMOUS: [inaudible] civilians of Darfur. The only option that we should be [inaudible] out of Sudan is to monitor the peace of the civilians, because what I feel that at the same time they are implementing the agreement achieved by [inaudible] --
AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry, the line is too bad. We're going to try to call you back. Suleiman Jamous, former Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator for the Sudanese Liberation Army. Alex de Waal, the United Nations' relationship with the African Union, what is it? And what role do you think the U.S. should be playing now?
ALEX DE WAAL: The AU-UN0 relationship is really very good. The African Union has recognized that the forces that it has on the ground are too few, too poorly equipped, and don't really have the mandate to be able to protect the civilian population. And the African Union Peace and Security Council, their equivalent for the African continent of the UN Security Council, has made a very clear resolution that because the AU force is not capable, a UN force should take over. And so, that is what they have insisted upon.
And it was on the basis of that resolution, that the UN Security Council resolution passed its Resolution 1706 about a week ago, demanding that the Sudan government allow in a force of 20,000. The Sudan government has obviously rejected that and has said to the African Union: You can stay, but only if you reverse that. So, the Sudan government is essentially saying to the African Union: Yes, you can stay, but only if you stay in your current, less-than-capable capacity.
Now, to me, this -- clearly the Sudan government is in the wrong. Clearly the Sudan government needs to back down, needs to allow a capable force. But, in a way, what we've got ourselves into is a cul-de-sac, a dead end of posturing on both sides, which is not helping a resolution of the situation. The reality is that, however many troops we bring into Darfur, they are not going to be able to protect all those civilians. They’re not going to be able to assist in the disarmament of the Janjaweed unless there is a political solution on the table that everyone has signed up to.
And so, let us begin to get the politics, the politics of crafting a peace deal that actually involves everybody, that gets everybody around the table agreed on what the future of Darfur should look like. Let's put that first, and then let's put the international force that will be there for peacekeeping as an adjunct to that.
JUAN GONZALEZ: But if the Sudanese government rejects any United Nations involvement, what recourse is left to the international community to be able to get the government to agree to some kind of ceasefire?
ALEX DE WAAL: Well, essentially what President Bashir of Sudan has done is he’s called the bluff of the UN and the US. The UN and the US have said: We want to send a force. And they’ve implied that if the Sudan government doesn't agree, they will force it on them.
But what is the reality of this? Are we really going to send an army to Darfur to invade against the wishes of the Sudan government, to face the military resistance of the Sudan government and its militias? And the answer, frankly, is no. Are we going to be able to impose sanctions that are tough enough on the Sudan government, which has after all been under sanctions of one form or another for 17 years, that will make them comply? This is a country that is an oil exporter that has good relations with all its neighbors now, has good relations with China and Russia. The answer, frankly, again is no.
So, let's recognize that posturing and wielding a bigger stick, frankly, is not going to work. The bluff of that has been called. Let's get back to a discussion. Let's get back to negotiating a political solution that starts with a ceasefire, that starts with saying: We can solve this problem, but we can solve this problem only with the consent of all. And the first step is the fighting must stop. And I personally am confident that this is the only way. It may be a long shot. Time is very short. We're really very, very close to some deadlines, and if we pass those deadlines, if we pass the end of this month and the African Union forces withdraw, then we’re in a very, very dismal situation. But we do need to rescue this politically.
AMY GOODMAN: Alex De Waal, we want to thank you very much for joining us, fellow of the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard University, advisor to the African Union. His book is Darfur: A Short History of a Long War.
We’re sorry we couldn't get Suleiman Jamous back on the line with us, former Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator for the Sudanese Liberation Army, speaking to us from Central Sudan.
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