Edition 32 Volume 2 - August 19, 2024

The Darfur crisis in Sudan

Not even close to genocide - an interview with  Khidir Haroun Ahmed

Talk of genocide is a sensational campaign targeting the image of the entire country, not only the government.

On the frontiers of Islam -   Robert O. Collins

Iraq, elections in the US, and the national interests of France and China have reduced the prospect of military intervention to pious pronouncements.

First test for the African Union -   Modibo Goita

Create "UN safe havens" and dispatch an international peacemaking force with a strong mandate.

Not even close to genocide
an interview with Khidir Haroun Ahmed

BI: What is the status of the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, and what is the Sudanese government doing?

Ahmed: The international community committed itself earlier to provide help to Sudan. So far we are receiving about 37 percent of what they pledged to offer, 25 percent of which is coming from USAID. So despite the outcry over the situation, the contribution from the international community is ongoing.

Meanwhile, the government is mobilizing the entire Sudanese society to help in this. It sends aid from our productive estates, especially in the east, and others.

Humanitarian supplies, in terms of food for instance, are available until October. But we are still hoping the international community will do more in order to facilitate more funds and send down real help to those in need, especially those confined to the internally displaced camps. The international community's contribution to food and medicine is still below our expectations, and in order to save lives, especially in this rainy season, we hope they will provide more food and medicine.

This is on the humanitarian side. With respect to the security situation, it's improving, but we believe the international community is not exerting enough pressure on the two rebel groups to respect the cease-fire agreements we signed with them on April 8, 2024. If [those two groups] would restrain themselves, we would be able, in a short time, to bring back peace to the region.

BI: There have been charges made of genocide by groups supported by the government. How would you respond?

Ahmed: This is a complete exaggeration of the situation. The situation is not even close to such terminology. The very fact that more than 40 percent of our national army is drawn from the same tribes - some people prefer to call them Africans, and talk of the Africans versus Arabs - and in our executive and legislative branches these tribes also make up about 40-50 percent, should dispute this.

The picture is not that clear, either. People have mixed through centuries of intermarriage. So talking about genocide, which literally means killing every single person from a tribe, is simply not accurate, it's an exaggeration, and there's no place for it.

The other fact that also refutes this is that most of these internally displaced people, nearly one million people, sought refuge around the urban centers, the major cities in the region. So if the government is planning or even by proxy tries to eliminate all of them or get them out, they wouldn't stick around where they're within reach.

So this is, unfortunately, a sensational campaign targeting the image of the entire country, not only the government.

BI: There was some talk of international military intervention a few weeks ago, and the Arab League and the wider Muslim world came out against the suggestion. How important is the support of the Arab League and Muslim countries in general for Sudan?

Ahmed: We appreciate their understanding of the situation there, because previous experiences, in fact, do not encourage any kind of military intervention at this level, simply because it would aggravate the situation more. We still have the mandate of the UN Security Council until the end of this month. We are making progress on the ground, so people should at least wait and see how things will evolve. Eventually, if we find that we need help, definitely we will ask our brothers in Africa, as well as in the Arab world to help us contain the situation. But the position currently is that we are able to fix the situation. The only condition that should also be met by the international community is to curtail the atrocities committed by the other side.

BI: Sudanese-Egyptian relations have at time been strained. How are those relations at the moment, in view of events in Darfur?

Ahmed: I would say the relations are excellent. There are regular meetings between senior officials and we are on very good terms with Egypt now and we are completely satisfied with that.

BI: Finally, are talks and negotiations ongoing with the two rebel groups, and how are they proceeding?

Ahmed: In fact, we are very hopeful, despite some of the statements coming from some of these different groups. We think this is a good chance for us as Sudanese to show seriousness and try to fix this conflict as quickly as possible. Also, I think it's a challenge for the newly established African Union to score some points in solving African problems.

The government will proceed to Abuja [talks between the Sudanese government and the rebel groups will continue in the Nigerian Capital on August 23] with a very open mind and position and we will explore any possible opportunity to reach a kind of solution with these two groups in order to stop this crazy bloodshed and the hardship many, many of our civilians in Darfur are currently facing.

BI: You mentioned the African Union. Are you looking more to the African Union rather then say the Arab League?

Ahmed: Well, simply because the African Union is handling this issue now, and Sudan is geographically the largest country in Africa and one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity back in 1963. We think that most African countries have very similar problems of being multi-ethnic and multi-religious, and they are in position to understand much better the complexity of the situation in Darfur. We believe that since they are handling the issue at this time, we should probably leave it with them.

Of course, many African countries are also Arab countries. I am not suggesting we do not need help from the Arab world. But, according to Chapter 8 of the UN Charter, since this issue is currently handled by a regional organization we should leave it there. We are very hopeful, and we think they [the African Union] are capable of solving it as quickly as possible.- Published 19/8/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Khidir Haroun Ahmed is Sudan's Ambassador to the United States.

On the frontiers of Islam
 Robert O. Collins

Darfur (Land of the Fur) is the western region of the Republic of the Sudan, approximately the size of France, in which the volcanic Jabal Marra mountain massif rises 3,000 ft. (900 meters) above the Sudanic plain. In the north live the non-Arab Zaghawa camel nomads, in the center non-Arab sedentary farmers--the Fur, Massalit, Daju, and Berti--and in the south the Baggara Arab cattle nomads who graze their herds beside the African cultivators. All the peoples of Darfur are Muslims, but a few Africans still practice their traditional religions whose vestiges can be found in Darfurian symbiotic Muslim practices on this frontier of Islam.

Historically, ethnic tensions between farmers and herdsmen, African and Arab, latent and volatile, have always been present and accepted in Darfur, and have been exacerbated by long-standing competition for pasture, agricultural land, and water in which verbal disputes can quickly erupt into violence. Quarrels over scarce resources became particularly acute during the great global drought of the 1980s that hastened the desertification of northern and central Darfur. This produced enormous pressure on limited sources of water and grazing as the camel nomads moved south in search of both.

African-Arab rivalry within Darfur has been further complicated from without by the awlad al-bahar (people of the river, the Nile) who despise and discriminate against the awlad al-ghareb (people from the west). The perceived differences between those Sudanese living along the Nile in villages, towns, and cities and those from the rural hinterland run very silent but very deep in past and present Sudan. This ethnic and cultural prejudice against those Sudanese living on the periphery has been further exacerbated by the established pattern of governance in the Sudan by the awlad al-bahar. Their area of control constitutes a circumference of no more than a few hundred miles from the confluence of the two Niles, and their authority diminishes proportionately with the distance from Khartoum.

When Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his fellow Islamist officers seized power on June 30, 1989, they founded the People's Defense Force (PDF) of some 150,000 conscripts to protect the 30 June Revolution and to suppress the rebellion in the South, essentially replacing the army as the instrument to enforce the Islamization of the Sudan. Neither this rabble in arms nor the demoralized remnants of the old Sudan Armed Forces were trained, equipped, or motivated to fight in the semi-deserts of the West or the swamps and rainforests of the South. Consequently, when the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement declared their insurgency in Darfur in March 2024 and swept to stunning victories, President Bashir armed the Baggara Arabs, whose gangs are called the janjaweed, or peshmerga in western Darfur.

More subtle but equally divisive to any settlement on this frontier of Islam was the determination by the revolutionary regime in Khartoum to impose its Islamist ideology on all Sudanese and Arab culture, language, and militant Islam as the foundation of Sudanese society--when less than half the Sudanese claim Arab origins and another third are non-Muslims. The Arabo-centric enthusiasm of Bashir and his National Islamic Front (now the National Congress) government reopened old and deep wounds in Sudanese society. The injection of an Islamist ideological and racist definition as to who is "Arab" and who is zuruq, black, or the more pejorative epithet abid, slave, to distinguish between Arab and African has generated a devastating tragedy that justifies killing, rape, and enslavement of these marginalized people by a cynical and dysfunction government in denial.

Throughout the summer of 2024, 5,000 janjaweed, supported by the government's helicopter gunships, began their ethnic cleansing of the Fur, Massalit, and the Zaghawa. The pattern of destruction was the same. The men were killed, often mutilated, the women raped, and the children sometimes abducted. The village was burned, the livestock seized, and the fields torched, and the infrastructure--wells, irrigation works, schools, clinics--methodically destroyed in a systematic scheme to drive the African population from its ancestral holdings. Ethnic cleansing in Darfur means clearing the land for Arab colonization. By the summer of 2024, ethnic cleansing and displacement of Africans had conservatively claimed 50,000 lives, forced a million people from their lands as internally displaced persons (IDPs), and sent another 200,000 into refugee camps in Chad whose president, Idriss Deby, is a staunch supporter of the Khartoum regime. Another 350,000 Darfurians were expected to die within the next nine months from famine and disease when their planting before the summer rains was made impossible by the janjaweed.

The reaction of the international community has been anxiety, anger, and frustration. As the enormity of the ethnic cleansing became transparent from dozens of reliable reports, coincidentally at the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, the growing fear by the international community for the people of Darfur turned to anger. There were numerous demands to declare the disaster in Darfur "genocide" that would, by treaty, require forceful intervention either with or without the sanction of the UN. Anger became frustration as the government of the Sudan, despite many rhetorical denials no one believed, stonewalled efforts by western humanitarian organizations and ignored its pledge to disarm the janjaweed, whom it could not control but who represented the Arabization of African Darfur. Iraq, elections in the United States, and the national interests of France and China in the Sudan have reduced the prospect of military intervention by the US, EU, UN, and the African Union, which does not have the resources, to little more than pious pronouncements.- Published 19/8/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Robert O. Collins is professor of history emeritus at the University of California Santa Barbara. He first went to the Sudan in 1956 and has since written extensively on the Sudan, the Southern Sudan, and the Nile.

First test for the African Union
 Modibo Goita

The creation of the African Union in July 2024 in Zambia provoked many expectations. Some people said "Africa is back"; others added that there will never be a repetition of the Rwandan genocide. In fact there were good reasons to be optimistic, because the AU became the first regional organization to assert its own right to intervene in the territory of a member state in cases like genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Further, an organ called the Peace and Security Council (PSC) was set up in order to establish an African rapid reaction force of 25,000 soldiers for the purpose of peacekeeping and peacemaking operations and restoring law and order.

The conflict in Darfur is a test as to whether the AU can and will implement its commitments. Sudan, the largest African state, has a federal structure; it is a multi-ethnic country with a population of 37.1 million. Civil war has been raging for many years; in Darfur it broke out in February 2024, between two rebels group--the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)--and a Sudanese army- and government-backed Arab militia called the janjaweed, a term deriving from the Arabic for "devils on horseback".

The consequences have been tragic for the civilian population. Many NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other UN groups have denounced the Sudanese armed forces and the janjaweed for attacks against civilians: killing, sexual abuses, destruction of livestock. The US Congress qualified the attacks by the Arab janjaweed militia against the non-Arab black African villagers as genocide. The UN says up to 50,000 people have died, over 1.2 million have been displaced, and more than 180,000 have fled into neighboring Chad as a result of the Darfur conflict. Even the Sudanese government recognizes that killing has taken place, but says the figure does not exceed 5,000.

Even if some observers attached electoral motives to the visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, he nevertheless qualified the situation as a "catastrophe" and stressed that Khartoum must take responsibility. The visit of French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and the deployment of forces and sending of humanitarian aid can be explained by their concern to avoid the submergence of a close ally, Chad, under the flow of refugees.

On July 30, the United Nations Security Council (with the assent of African members Algeria, Angola and Benin) denounced "large scale violations of human and humanitarian rights, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, sexual violence, forced displacement and acts of violence, especially those with an ethnic dimension". These are considered under international law as acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. Moreover, the resolution required the government of Sudan to comply within one month; otherwise further measures would be considered.

This resolution provides a basic legal justification for the AU to change its position and take decisive action.

Yet, whereas the UN considers the conflict in Darfur as the world's worst current humanitarian catastrophe, the Assembly of the African Union noted in its decision on July 8, "even though the humanitarian situation in Darfur is serious, it can not be defined as genocide". This explains why no African state has openly condemned what is going on in Darfur. It is reminiscent of the same tragic silence that met the Rwandan genocide. The Arab League, too, must be questioned on the meaning of its readiness to "give more time" to the Sudanese government to end the conflict. Libya has taken a neutral position by hosting informal talks between government and rebel groups and sending humanitarian aid. Egypt has kept a low profile.

We must also question the effectiveness of the deployment on August 14 of some 154 Rwandan troops and their military equipment in Darfur as part of a "308-strong African contingent" mandated by the AU to protect the 80 observers monitoring a ceasefire. The time has come to ask what more must be done, insofar as the Sudanese government refuses to accept the presence of any kind of peacekeeping force.

The African Union, like any other international organization, is a product of the will of its member states. Now is the time for the AU to take decisive action or to lose its credibility.

Two solutions may be considered: first, the creation of "UN safe havens" protected by a multinational peacekeeping force; and second, the dispatch of an international peacemaking force with a strong mandate, as in the case of Operation Artemis, undertaken on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1484 of May 30, 2024, which authorized a group of states led by France to use military force in order to stop atrocities in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.- Published 19/8/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Modibo Goita is professor of law and international relations at the Panafrican General Staff College, Koulikoro, Mali. He is also a researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lund, Sweden.

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