Note: This is a two part series about the tragedy happening in Darfur, Sudan. In part two, we will tell you how you can help Christian refugees being persecuted there.
(From: A World Without Genocide) You have probably heard of the nations of North and South Sudan, and most likely the tragedies happening in the region of Darfur. But do you know how it began?
In 2003, some African rebel groups attacked a government post in Darfur in a desperate effort to urge the government to provide roads, hospitals, and schools. The government responded with a genocidal campaign not only against the rebels, but against all non-Arabs in the Darfur region.
The result has been Rwanda in slow motion. Since 2003, at least 300,000 innocent civilians have been killed in Darfur and more than 2.5 million people have been displaced from their homes and their villages.
Sudan is the third-largest country in Africa, behind Algeria and Congo. For decades Sudan’s people have experienced civil war, genocide, drought, theft of the country’s natural resources, and autocratic governments.
There are several political regions in Sudan. North Sudan essentially controls the rest of the country. Darfur is a three-state area in western Sudan. In 2011, the south part of the country became independent as the new country of South Sudan.
Ethnic diversity has fueled some of the violence in the country. The government is controlled by the northern Arab minority, while the rest of the population is African. This division, Arab or African, is based on self-identification: on language, culture, belonging to specific tribal or family groups, and on livelihood patterns, yet nearly all Arabs and Africans in the North are Muslim in faith.
Since the end of British colonial rule in the 1950s, Sudan’s rulers have been members of the minority Arab population. Like most minority governments, these autocratic leaders have controlled through repression and violence.
Beginning in 1983, the northern government fought a brutal twenty-year civil war with the south. Over two million people were killed and four million more were displaced.
This conflict was largely portrayed in racial and religious terms: the Arab Muslim north against the black African south, which was largely Christian and animist. However, the conflict was essentially over control of the south’s resources – fertile land and oil.
The northern region is largely desert, broken only by the Nile River corridor. The south has grassland, swamps, and tropical forests – and oil. Fully 85% of Sudan’s oil is in the south. Sudan also has vast gold fields.
Fighting in the south broke out almost immediately after independence. The conflict was between South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir and his ethnic Dinka supporters and Vice-President Reik Machar and Nuer people. Although this is portrayed as an ethnic clash, like the face-off in the previous North-South civil war, it was a fight over power and resource control.
The violence in South Sudan has escalated tragically, with 800,000 internally-displaced people, 75,000 refugees, thousands of people dead, and 3.2 million people in need of life-saving assistance.
Darfur is a three-state regional area in western Sudan about the size of Spain. This is the site of a third Sudanese crisis. This area has been hit especially hard by increasing desertification.
As desert areas expand, it is increasingly difficult for herders to find places to graze their animals. The herders encroach on farmers’ lands, and the result is often a violent battle over the land.
In Darfur, the nomadic herders are Arabs. The settled farmers are Africans. At the local level, the conflict is about basic resources – both the Arab grazers and the African herders need land and water. The Arab government wants the land from the Africans.
At the regional level, the conflict is portrayed as a tribal or ethnic conflict, with the government inciting the Arabs against the Africans.
Sudanese government planes bomb villages using Russian Antonov bombers. An Arab militia known as the Janjaweed, meaning ‘devils on horseback,’ enters a village to kill, torture, poison the wells, and burn the villages.
The government recruits Arabs who are motivated by racial hatred, small amounts of money, and the government’s promise that they can take whatever they can find in the villages – including the women and girls.
The Fulani is just one of the many African tribal groups in Sudan: