By Kennedy Jawoko
As images of starved, malnourished women and children under the scorching African sun continue to appear on television sets, Darfur has become a nightmare for its people.
The United Nations is shying away from declaring the situation genocide despite cries by some member countries. Yet the latest figures from the UN indicate that about 50,000 Darfurians are dead, an estimated 1.4 million displaced, and 200,000 more have been forced to flee into neighbouring Chad to escape the Janjaweed militias (an Arabic word, which is often translated as Armed Men on Horseback), sponsored by the Sudanese military dictatorship of president al-Bashir.
The Darfur conflict, which began last year, must be distinguished from the North-South conflict, which has been going on for more than 30 years. The North-South conflict is a war primarily between southerns and the elite northerners who have been attempting to transform Sudan into an Islamic state.
It is highly polarized along religious and cultural lines. On the other hand, the Darfur conflict, which is neither religious nor ethnic, pits the Darfurian rebel groups (called the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equity Movement) against the Janjaweed. And yet, the persuasive argument voiced in the mainstream media reduces the conflict to one of Arabs pitted against Blacks.
Distorts the Truth
The conflict’s genesis lies in socio-economic and environmental factors. The Sahara Desert is moving southwards, leading to the disruption of the traditional patterns of agriculturalists – particularly pastoralists, who feel left out of the political processes that govern the country.
|Canadians for Action on Darfur|
|Rally for Darfur
A coalition of more than 40 Canadian community and religious groups will join together on Sunday, Nov. 7 and call to the international community to step up its efforts to protect the people of Darfur.
When: 2 – 3 p.m.
Where: Queen’s Park, Toronto
In an article published on last Monday in the Sudan Tribune, a non profit website based in France, spokesman for the Islamic oriented Justice and Equity Movement said his group’s proposals concentrated “on the real issues: The political marginalization, the economic marginalization and the social marginalization” of the Darfurians. Grace Edward Galabuzi, who teaches Third World Politics at Ryerson, feels that the Black vs. Arab argument provides an easy explanation for a complex issue.
“There has been some speculations about the emergency of secessionist movements who feel left out by the central government and that the government has armed militias to protect its immediate interests,” said Galabuzi. “This is why explaining the conflict as Arabs against Blacks becomes a prison through which all these conflicts are explained and understood. So the conflict about land and resources becomes a conflict about Muslims against Christians or Arabs against Blacks.”
He says the crisis is a typically African in the sense that the international media barbarize conflicts so that it validates this moral project about pacifying Africa.
“You hear about moralizing the conflict especially among the Christian right in the United States.”
Insidious Oil Interests
Powerful countries may also be refraining from declaring the Darfur conflict a genocide because multinational oil companies have invested heavily in Sudanese oil, and are pressuring their governments to shy away from the issue. In June 2001, the U.S Congressional Research Service found that Sudan pumped 320,000 barrels of oil per day, worth over US $1 million.
But the oil industry is barely owned by the Sudan government. The key players in Sudanese oil are China National Petroleum Corporation, Malaysia’s Petronas and India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Videsh Ltd. And, until recently, Calgary-based Talisman Energy Inc. had invested 25 per cent working shares in the Sudanese oil industry.
A 2002 report released by the Global Policy Forum, an organization whose mission is to monitor policymaking at the UN, stated that Russia inked a $200-million deal on Jan. 15, 2002 to develop untapped oil fields in central Sudan.
The agreement is part of an emerging relationship between the two countries that will increase Russia’s influence in the continent. Sudan, in turn, benefits by getting arms, which the government uses to arm militias like the Janjaweed to destabilize the region.
Yet, countries like Russia and China that have these trade interests in Sudan also have the power to unilaterally stop resolutions passed by the UN, including those that would declare Darfur a genocide and resolutions which would allow sanctions on Sudanese oil.
Another complicating factor is that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a major player in global humanitarian assistance, has become increasingly politicized over the crisis in Darfur.
It is not a secret that the US wants a regime change in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, in order to have a government that is sympathetic to Washington’s interests.
Peter Beaumont, the foreign affairs editor for the Observer UK newspaper, wrote in an article published earlier this month titled: US ‘hyping’ Darfur Genocide Fears, that “concern about USAID’s role as an honest broker in Darfur has been mounting for months,” and that “American warnings that Darfur is heading for an apocalyptic humanitarian catastrophe have been widely exaggerated by administration officials…Washington’s desire for a regime change in Khartoum has biased their reports.”
There is no doubt that Darfur is in a crisis, but what is puzzling is that it has become a central focus for powerful countries to rally around while other serious problems elsewhere in Africa remain unheeded to.
In September, World Vision International, a Christian charity, released a report titled Pawns of Politics: Children, Conflict and Peace in Northern Uganda, that said that some 1.6 million people have fled their homes in Northern Uganda?-more than in Sudan’s Darfur region-which has received far less international attention.
As Beaumont adds, “many were puzzled that [Darfur] had become the focus of such hyperbolic warning when there were crises of similar magnitude in both Northern Uganda and Eastern Congo.” Is Sudan oil the reason why Darfur has got this attention? Another questionable agenda concerns Muslim leaders around the world.
As the war to topple Saddam Hussein broke out last year, many Muslim leaders condemned the US, whereas they have been quiet as the atrocities have been committed in Darfur by an Islamic government against many of its own citizens.
Solutions to the Crisis
Despite these factors, the Sudanese government must take responsibility for this disaster and it has the legal and moral obligation to protect its citizens regardless of their religious, ethnic or political backgrounds.
All Sudanese are African be they Black or Arab. Arming militias to kill, rape, loot, and dispossess people of their land, is tantamount to state-sponsored criminality and it should be condemned by all peoples that embrace peace.
In looking at solutions, countries like Russia and China that have proprietary interests in Sudan should desist from using their veto powers to stop resolutions that come before the UN.
By combining often polarized political and humanitarain interests, the credibility of USAID is in question and by not criticizing the Sudanese government, the Islamic world risks being labelled hypocritical.
African leaders too, must make some concessions to the pastoralists (president al-Bashir issued a decree this summer that ordered all militias to disarm, yet fighting continues) and the African Union should emulate Nigeria and Rwanda by sending more peacekeepers and civilian protection forces to the region (the AU has begun to deploy 3,250 troops to the region).
As the world’s powerful leaders watch the situation in Darfur from the comfort of their well-protected homes, contemplating whether or not the bloodbath is a genocide, people continue to die each day just because they are Africans.
We are witnessing a repeat of Rwanda, a case in which world leaders witnessed the slaughter of at least 800,000 people. Due to a combination of the lucrative oil interests of UN member states, the questionable agenda of USAID, and the failure of the Islamic world to condemn the Sudanese government, the world has once again let down Africa.