Darfur suffers while the world looks away

Tuesday 3 August 2010

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


One response to “Darfur suffers while the world looks away

  1. It is very sad. So many people dying from starvation and sickness. Few countries in this world are showing concern.

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