Understanding Darfur conflict

Understanding Darfur conflict:
The name Darfur is from "dar fur" which in Arabic means "the land of the Fur". Historically, it was an Islamic sultanate located in the western Sudan. The Fur were the ruling ethnic group in the Darfur region before1916 . The Fur began to be converted to Islam in the 1300s. In1596 , the Darfur Sultanate was established and Islam declared the state religion. The Darfur sultanate remained independent through various conflicts in the Sudan, including the Anglo-Egyptian conquest of the Sudan in1898 , before finally being subjugated by the British in 1916and made part of western Sudan. Darfur's long history of independence, and its resistance to various other groups seeking control of all of Sudan, should be taken into consideration to properly understand the present situation.

Darfur is home to some 80 tribes and ethnic groups divided between nomads and sedentary communities. The rebels seem to be drawn from within mainly three communities of the Fur, Massalit and the Zaghawa tribes. The war has inevitably focused upon those areas of Darfur within which the insurgents chose to base themselves. As has been the case in countless wars, many civilians have chosen to flee and remove themselves from these war zones. Although the indigenous peoples of Darfur (the Fur, and several other ethnic groups) and the Arabs have always have relatively distinct identities, they generally got along well until resources became scarce, then ethnicity and race became a factor in the conflict.

Darfur has historically been one of the most remote regions of Sudan. Even in normal circumstances, the region is hard to reach because it is so far from the capital, Khartoum. Tribal and ethnic conflicts are neither new nor uncommon. Incidents of both small and large scale conflicts are recorded as far back as 1939 and they generally arise from disputes over access to natural resources like range lands and water points as well as livestock trespassing (grazing on farm lands), closure of herd routes and cattle raiding. Larger conflicts normally emerge from tribal disputes, banditry and disputes with transnational migrating communities. The influx of modern small arms since the war in Chad has increased the loss of life during such conflicts and caused polarization on ethnic lines. Historically, North Darfur and parts of West and South Darfur have suffered recurrent droughts. Crop yields have remained low and unpredictable due to erratic rainfall, pest infestation and the lack of agricultural inputs. Livestock has also dwindled due to pasture and water scarcity. The local labor force has continued to migrate in search of employment leaving behind children, women and the elderly. A combination of these factors over several years has systematically eroded the coping capacities of communities.

The pattern of conflict changed from low-intensity, small-scale outbreaks from the1950 s to the1970 s, to high-intensity, persistent and large-scale battles in the mid-1980s. These conflicts have included those between the Rezegat and Maaleya (1968), Salamat and Taayesha (1980), Binihelba and Meharya (1980), Zaghawa and Gamar (1989). The prolonged drought that began in 1983 drove nomadic Zaghawa and Arab groups southwards into the central Fur region of Jebel Marra. By the time of the 1989 peace conference, several thousand tribesmen had died, tens of thousands had been displaced and40 , 000homes destroyed. These conflicts have been between nomadic and sedentary communities, and amongst and within nomadic and pastoralists.

There has also been an additional source of instability in Darfur. Although the ethnically diverse people of Darfur were all Muslims and have a very strong sense of belonging to the Sudan, a sizeable minority also feel affinity with related groups in neighboring Chad.

In early 2003, two armed groups have waged war in Darfur against the Government of Sudan. These groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), began the war with attacks on towns, government facilities and civilians in Darfur. Several hundred policemen were murdered and more than eighty police stations were destroyed in attacks. This resulted in a security vacuum which further distorted civil society in Darfur with numerous communities responding in their own ways. The conflict subsequently spiraled out of control and has resulted in many deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Sudan. Many others have fled into neighboring Chad. A growing humanitarian crisis ensued.

The rebel movements appear to have recruited from within certain tribes and clans in Darfur and the war has inevitably focused upon those areas of Darfur within which the insurgents chose to base themselves. Several hundred thousand civilians have chosen to flee and remove themselves from these war zones.

The rebel movements in Darfur have claimed that they are fighting against underdevelopment and marginalisation. Every part of Sudan, north, south, east and west is underdeveloped and Darfur has been the focus of considerable government attention. These claims should be assessed against the information and figures given below.

Political participation: Since coming to power in 1989, the Sudanese government has sought to introduce a federal model of government. Darfuris are very well represented within Sudan's political structures. There are seven federal government ministers from Darfur and Darfuris also hold, amongst other positions, a cabinet-rank presidential adviser position. There are also four Darfuri state governors and Darfuris are also members of the supreme and constitutional court. Darfuri representation in the National Assembly is second only to the southern states.

Education: There has been a continuous increase in education facilities in Darfur. For example, the number of primary schools in 1969 was241 , increasing to 353 schools in1978 . There were 637 schools in 1989 and this increased under the present government to 786 schools in2001 , in addition to 1455 mixed schools. Secondary schools have increased from2 schools in 1968 to 195 schools in2001 . The present government also established three universities in Darfur.

Health: The number of hospitals in greater Darfur has increased under this government from 3 hospitals in 1988 to 23 hospitals by2001 ; health centres have similarly increased from 20 to 24 and medical laboratories from 16 to70 .

Water Supplies: Water production levels have risen from 6 million cubic meters in 1989 to 11 million cubic meters in 2003 in addition to increased in natural water reserves from 1 ,400, 000cubic meters in1989 to12 ,300, 000cubic meters in2003 . Water pump production in greater Darfur has also increased from1 ,200, 000cubic meters in 1989 to 3,100, 000 cubic meters in 2003 . During 2000 -2003, the following water projects were implemented in greater Darfur: the installation of110 deep ground wells, the rehabilitation of 133 ground wells, the building of 43 dykes and 30 dams, the drilling of 842 hand pumps and the rehabilitation of 839 hand pump wells.

Power Supplies: The total power generation in greater Darfur has risen under this government from2 , 300kilowatts in 1989 to4 , 500kws by2000 . Southern Darfur's power generation in particular grew in the same time from 3 to 7 megawatts in Nyala.

Transport infrastructure: Greater Darfur accounts for 40 percent of airport and aerodrome infrastructure outside of the national capital. There are three international airports in Al-Fasher, Nyala, and al-Gineina with smaller airports elsewhere. All these were built under this government. Prior to 1989 there was no real road infrastructure in Darfur. The government has initiated a number of road and bridge building programs to assist with communications in greater Darfur.

The conflict in Darfur presents a very complex situation with very complex problems, and understanding of which has already been made more difficult by the propaganda, which invariably accompanies war. The region is home to some 80 tribes and ethnic groups divided between nomads and sedentary communities. The rebels appear to have been identified within two or three communities of the Fur, Massalit and the Zaghawa tribes which straddle the Sudan-Chad border.

There are many dimensions to the conflict, regional, national and international. But, environmental factors - such as encroaching desertification - have led to considerable tension between nomads and more established farming communities. The inter-tribal violence that has taken place in Darfur has, nevertheless, been portrayed by some anti-government activists and some international media and NGOs as "ethnic cleansing" and even "genocide". The activities of nomadic Arab tribesmen known as the "Janjaweed" have come into sharp focus. It is claimed that they are sponsored by the Government, which is not true. It is unclear exactly how much control anyone has over the "Janjaweed" gunmen, except their tribal leaders.

All wars lead to human rights violations. The conflict in Darfur has been no exception. And as is so often the case in war, the conflict has inevitably been caught up in the propaganda and misinformation that comes with it and that has certainly characterized previous coverage of Sudan. In its wake, efforts at conflict resolution will be hampered and the palpable presence of ethnic hostility will indeed constitute a concrete and tangible cause of future violent confrontations.

Response of the International Community:

The international community has shown considerable attention to the Darfur crisis, especially given the humanitarian and security situation. Sudan has welcomed, hosted and facilitated a wide range of missions and delegations from western countries, and international and regional organisations. These have included visits from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell and Ministers from, amongst other countries, Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland and Canada. Sudan has accepted and facilitated United Nations involvement at all levels in addressing and resolving the Darfur crisis, from the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Kofi Anan, downwards. Khartoum has also welcomed, for example, fact-finding missions from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in April2004 , the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations World Food Programme Director as well as delegations from the African Union, the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference. There have been continuing visits by the United Nations such as that in August 2004 by the UN special representative to Sudan, Jan Pronk, deputy special representative Manuel Aranda Da Silva and the UN deputy humanitarian coordinator Erick De Mul.

The Sudanese Government has also facilitated international human rights missions by non-governmental organisations, including that of Amnesty International in September 2004 , and the UN fact finding mission this month of November2004 .

The international community has actively assisted in attempts to resolve the conflict. The role of the Chadian government has been very positive. In2003 , the government accepted Chadian government offers to mediate between the government and rebels. Chad was instrumental in negotiating ceasefires in western Sudan in September 2003 and subsequently in April 2004 . Sudan has both acknowledged and welcomed the active mediation role played by the African Union in attempting to resolution of the conflict in Darfur. Khartoum has particularly welcomed AU involvement given the stipulation in the United Nations Charter that regional organisations be allowed first to resolve conflicts before these are addressed by the United Nations mechanisms. Sudan has also welcomed the role of the African Union in deploying several thousand troops from African countries for the monitoring of the cease-fire and protection of such monitors. The Sudanese armed forces, police and security organisations have been instructed to give assistance these forces.

The government engaged, with the help of the international community, on a comprehensive program for a lasting solution to the conflict, that restores the economic and social fabric of the region, renews cooperation between the different tribal groups to open new vistas for economic and social development.

On 9 April 2004 the Sudanese government and two rebel movements in Darfur agreed to a45 -day ceasefire to allow humanitarian assistance to reach several hundred thousand people affected by the fighting. The agreement included the release of prisoners of war and other detainees arrested as a result of the conflict, to stop laying mines and committing acts of sabotage and had pledged allow the free movement of people and goods.

Measures taken by the Government:

The government was duty bound to respond both to the rebellion and the subsequent break-down in law and order in parts of Darfur. The government has deployed several thousand policemen in Darfur to provide security to civilians, and especially those civilians currently living in IDP camps. There are now joint border patrols by Chadian and Sudanese security forces. These patrols are a major step towards ensuring security and protection of the population in the region. The government has brought before the courts persons involved in violations of human rights. Scores of such persons have already been arrested and tried; others are being apprehended pending trial.

From the onset of the crisis, the Government has sought a political resolution to the conflict. Early in2003 , Khartoum initiated efforts at reconciliation through inter-tribal conferences. It then welcomed outside mediation by the Chadian government - mediation which resulted in a ceasefire for parts of2003 . The President has also declared amnesties for those involved in the conflict and has repeatedly reiterated Sudan's commitment to a political solution. The Government has also set up a commission of inquiry into alleged violations of human rights in Darfur. Members of the commission include prominent human rights activists and it is headed by a former Chief Justice of Sudan.

To coordinate the government's response to the Darfur crisis, the Sudanese President appointed as his Special Representative in the Darfur States, the Interior Minister. On 6 July2004 , fifteen decrees were issued aimed at addressing and alleviating the crisis in Darfur. These addressed security issues, the easing of aid and relief access to Darfur, human rights monitoring and the presence and work of African Union observers. They were:

(1) To strengthen the security measures and protect the citizens in Darfur state.

(2) Opening of police centres in the displaced camps and to strengthen the security measures in Darfur state.

(3) To extend the necessary help to the committees and the African surveillance force.

(4) Deployment of the armed force, the participating force, and the security institutions in Darfur state to maintain security and protect the citizens and their properties in Darfur.

(5) Exemption of all the humanitarian aid imports from any restrictions, customs tariff, or any charges.

(6) Repeal of measures regarding the specifications on the humanitarian aid imports to Darfur state.

(7) To facilitate the freedom of movement for those working for humanitarian aid organizations in Darfur.

(8) To facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid to the displaced people in Darfur state.)

(9) Exemption of agricultural inputs, fodders, and seeds in Darfur state from any restrictions, customs tariff, or other charges.

(10) Exemption of humanitarian aid imports to Darfur state from any imports restrictions.

(11) To facilitate the work of the national fact finding committee concerning the allegations of human rights violations committed by armed groups in Darfur state.

Aid Access to Darfur: Humanitarian aid access to communities affected by an on-going war has always presented considerable difficulties and problems. Darfur has been no exception. The Government of Sudan has assisted whenever and wherever it can in facilitating relief efforts in Darfur by international and national non-governmental organisations. There are now some six thousand aid workers present in Darfur present in 155 locations in Darfur. The World Food Programme is present in 136 of these centres and is feeding a million displaced persons.

Media Access to Darfur: Similarly, the government has allowed and facilitated media access to Darfur by several hundred journalists.

To stop the spreading malaise of ethnic hostility, the Government of the Sudan, in fulfillment of its responsibilities and obligations toward its citizens and to ensure their well-being, is seriously involved, with the help of the international cmmunity, on a comprehensive programme for a lasting solution to the protracted conflict, that restores the economic and social fabric of the region, renews cooperation between the different tribal groups to open new vistas for economic and social development.

The priority must be to complete the Naivasha peace process. Second, whatever the level of civilian support enjoyed by militias, it would be a mistake to tarnish the communities with the sins of the particular militia they support. On the contrary, every effort should be made to neutralize the militia and stabilize communities in Darfur through local initiatives. To build confidence among all parties, but particularly among those demonized as "Janjaweed," we need to use the same standard for all. To make the point, let us first look at the Darfur as one family. Finally, to build on the Naivasha process by bringing in all those previously excluded. To do so will require creating the conditions for a reorganized civil administration in Darfur.