In our Arab world, preoccupied with endless conflicts and wars, many people will not know much more about the war in Darfur than its name, perhaps along with some basic information about its roots and causes. If we were to ask someone about this war they may remember only the notorious Janjaweed, whose name momentarily jumped to the forefront of Arab attention several years ago. For a while, the media was fascinated by the strangeness of the name and analyzed the group’s origins, especially when the UN and human rights organizations accused it of genocide, and the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants against some of its leaders on war crimes charges.
Sadly, what one discovers about this war from studies and articles by Western research centers and media outlets greatly outstrips the information present in the Arab and Islamic world.
In a similar vein, the African Union’s interest in this tragic war is far greater than that of the Arab League, which has long been reluctant to take an active stance on the crisis, considering it to be an internal issue and arguing that the league does not interfere in the domestic affairs of its member states. It is suffice to note here that the international forces that have been present in Darfur for several years are African troops with international support, whereas Arab participation has been late, limited, and symbolic. It is true that the Arab League occasionally sent missions to Darfur, especially during Amr Mousa’s term as secretary-general, and likewise Arab summits also adopted several resolutions on the situation there. However, no moves have ever been sufficient to match the crisis level. The Arabs have never gone beyond expressions of support for the path of peace, unity, and development, contributions towards the financing of African-international forces, and support for peace talks that have taken place in recent years under Qatari auspices. It is worth noting that Doha was a supporter of Sudan’s Islamist regime even before Qatar recently emerged as the sponsor and supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliate branches, whether in the countries of the Arab Spring or elsewhere.
Last week marked the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of the war in Darfur (26 February 2003). According to UN estimates, this conflict has so far claimed the lives of 300,000 (although the Sudanese government contends the death toll is 9,000), has led to the displacement of more than 2 million people, and has destroyed about 44 percent of villages in the region. This week marks the four year anniversary (4 March 2009) of the ICC issuing an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, accusing him of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur, hence making him the first head of state to be issued with an international arrest warrant while still in power. These two anniversaries are nothing but a cause for further sadness and depression, at a time when the war is escalating and becoming more complex, and is continuing to claim more lives and ravage a war-weary country. Many fear that the secession of the south, after decades of conflict, will not be Sudan’s only separation if the regime continues the approach of war and policies of exclusion and marginalization.
Regardless of what the Khartoum government might say, the Bashir regime is responsible for the secession of the south after escalating war there and calling for jihad against its own citizens, and then failing to make unity attractive during the interim period that followed the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. Furthermore, the regime failed miserably and irrevocably to achieve the peace it was preaching at the time, and the north ended up becoming the scene of three wars stretching from Darfur to South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. Meanwhile, the regime’s relationship with South Sudan cannot even be described as a cold peace, because it fluctuates between proxy wars and direct armed confrontations between the two sides. The Bashir regime, in its impatience to get rid of the problem of the south, which some deemed to be an obstacle hindering the formation of an Islamic republic, left several heated issues unresolved when putting pen to paper on the CPA, including the issue of border demarcation. Moreover, it only offered a loose formula under the title of “popular consultation” to resolve the problems of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile, and so now the regime finds itself embroiled in wars and tensions. Its only success has been to push armed opposition movements to unite against it in the form of a “revolutionary front”, coordinating with other opposition parties in a pledge to overthrow the regime peacefully or otherwise.
Wars now cover close to one-third of Sudan, and Darfur alone covers a quarter of Sudan’s remaining territory following the secession of the south, spanning an area more than twice the size of Britain and bordering four countries (Libya, Chad, Central African Republic, and South Sudan). But unlike South Sudan, which raised the slogan of secession from the very beginning of its insurgency, Darfur’s groups are not calling to cut ties with Khartoum. They are demanding a democratic system and balanced development, and justice and equality in the division of power and wealth—by virtue of decentralization—so as to achieve the demands of the marginalized areas and support a principle of unity based on diversity and pluralism. These demands will resonate with most of the people of Sudan, and they do not seem difficult to achieve if there is good will and the country rids itself of military or religious dictatorships. The political elite must work earnestly to achieve a balance between the capital and the other regions so that the policies of political, economic, and cultural marginalization become a thing of the past in a country that was originally characterized by its diversity, and its people’s tendency towards coexistence and tolerance.
The war in Darfur alone, aside from its exorbitant humanitarian price, has cost Sudan about USD 11 billion according to some studies, in addition to another USD 14 billion representing the value of losses as a result of the destruction, displacement, and disruptions in facilities and production. This cost will only grow as the conflict continues and expands from Darfur to South Kordofan and the Blue Nile. More seriously, the war will lead to the weakening of coexistence, the erosion of unity, and increasing feelings of injustice, along with all that implies for the rest of Sudan. Let us consider here what has already happened in the south.