Category Archives: Sudan

Voices from Darfur (thesis abstract)

by Anders Hastrup

Voices from Darfur. Reclaiming Sudanese History

This is a summary of my PhD thesis, “Voices from Darfur. Reclaiming Sudanese History” that I have just handed in. It has taken up most of my time and explains my long absence from this blog. However, I shall be back more frequently now with updates and different pieces. Looking forward to contribute more extensively again.

This thesis focuses on how refugees from Darfur living in camps in Eastern Chad voice their experiences and produce narratives of the conflict in the Sudanese province. The work is based primarily on fieldwork and interviews conducted in 12 UNHCR-administered camps in early 2009. By listening to the voices from Darfur, the overall analytical ambition of the thesis is to explore the refugees’ modes of explanation and production of history as emerging in the circumscribed present of the camps. However restricting, the refugee camps are considered sites of production, where perceptions of the Darfur conflict, its root causes, its key players, and its possible future resolution are discussed by the very people who are at once at the centre of the crisis and utterly disempowered. The aim of the thesis is to show that the refugees’ accounts of the Darfur conflict and their attempts to reclaim their history provide an essential element in understanding wider historical developments in Sudan and the relation between the peripheries and the state.

The work fuses anthropological and historical approaches and suggests that a particular method of deep listening can be employed to explore the refugees’ modes of explanation and production of history. Among other themes, the thesis examines how Arabs are remembered by the refugees, and how the current war in Darfur must be understood as a culmination of earlier patterns of conflict in the province. A central point is that the Arab janjaweed militias were not just armed as a counterinsurgency measure against rebellious uprising in Darfur, but that the rebellion against the Khartoum government emerged as a response to patterns of militia atrocities that were already widespread. Furthermore, the thesis explores what the refugees consider to be necessary prerequisites for a return to Darfur. A central point here is that the refugees seem to have ambivalent expectations with regard to what measures can ensure a return to the areas they fled. Bodies of the international community are curiously thought of a means of nation building and of recreating a local Darfurian system of land distribution.

By analyzing the processes by which refugees try to reclaim Sudanese history, the thesis is a contribution to the study of war in the state of Sudan, arguing that the very multiplicity of voices is crucial for understanding the predicaments of the country; a clearer picture of Sudanese national history must be grounded in polyphony itself, whereby the very notion of a national history is drawn into question.

Islamism in Sudan and the “trousers-gate” scandal

by Anders Hastrup.

This summer and autumn brought news from the Sudanese capital to the front pages of the Western press and media agencies as the journalist Lubna Hussein was arrested in a Khartoum cafe along with several other women for wearing trousers, forbidden by the country’s Islamic law. Islamic law was introduced as early as 1983 in Sudan, and has been enforced vigorously in the early 1990s since the coming to power of the present Islamist military dictatorship. Although Islamism has cooled down immensely since the 1990s and the terrorists have gone elsewhere, the case is a reminder of the inherent contradictions of a imposing a stern Islamist rule in a country with one of the strongest, independent and well- educated female elites on the African continent.

Muslim dress, again

I initially ignored commenting on the Lubna Hussein case of this summer/autumn, as I was annoyed by the fact that it is only when stories of women and Muslim vs. Western dress emerge that the Western press bring news of Sudan, home of two of Africa’s most devastating and longest running civil wars. The war in the South is erupting again. It looks as if the CPA, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that ended the North South war is failing. The past 6 months have seen acts of war and violence in the South that by far exceeds events in Darfur in their sheer brutality and number of people killed. The culture of impunity and violence still engulfs the entire region of Darfur where as many as 2.5 million people are internally displaced relying on food aid from the international agencies in the most expensive continuing relief effort in the world.

Where is the analysis of the interconnectedness of Sudan’s real tragedies? Why is Western media obsessed with a discussion of pants vs. dresses? There are more interesting and important stories that come out of the biggest country in Africa, I thought, and decided not to devote any further attention to the matter. However, the story continued to grow as Lubna Hussein, a strong and powerful journalist from North Sudan refused to the accept the punishment of flogging and took the case to court. And to the Western media. Lubna Hussein’s position as a UN employee gave her an international backing and a direct link to the world of international media. The case blew up in Western media much to the embarrassment of the ruling elite in Khartoum.

Relations with the West

The Khartoum government’s relation with the Western countries is ambivalent and ambiguous. On the one hand, the ICC indictment of President Bashir over war crimes in Darfur have worsened relations and cooled down a lot of recent improvement in diplomatic ties between Khartoum, the US and the ever amorphous “International Community”. While promising genocide lobbyists in their own country to take a tougher stand on Darfur, the Obama administration has signaled a new beginning and a fresh look at Sudan-US relations much to the dismay of the protagonists of the Save Darfur movement, the biggest civil movement on overseas matters in the US since the anti- Vietnam movements of the 60s and 70s.

Khartoum doesn’t really need the US that much right now. They are perfectly all right with leaving the mayhem of Darfur to the international aid agencies and ill equipped and understaffed AU and UN forces. Money is pouring in, Khartoum is a booming city thanks to the increasing oil revenues and the industrious Chinese who are completely remaking the Northern Sudanese infrastructure and constructing the Meroe dam on the Nile. The Chinese don’t ask questions. Khartoum is doing more than ok at the moment, thank you very much.

The Lubna Hussein “trousers-gate” scandal is embarassing because it gives the Sudan exactly the coverage it doesn’t like in the West as (yet another) of the backward-looking Islamist regimes, which it certainly is not. In this way the “trousers-gate” scandal echoes the scandal over the British schoolteacher who named a teddy bear “Mohammed” in 2007 and was imprisoned and expelled from Sudan. The case blew up in Western media and the teacher ended up receiving a Presidential pardon.

The elite in Sudan are tired of this portrayal. The Sudan Northern elite are among the oldest educated elites on the African continent, a real cosmopolitan bunch who have very successful diasporas and are doing very well where ever they may roam. This is true of both women and men. They are as far from the Taliban as you can get. The “trousers-gate” scandal is a threat to the Sudanese Northern elite, not because of negative publicity in the West, but because of this publicity’s negative internal effect on the elite themselves.

The Turabi fatwa and the role of women in Sudan

Sudan is a country characterized by many things among them strong, willful, articulate and independent women. They are the real glue that holds the country, especially the Northern elites, together. Sudanese politics are fragmented but held together to a large extend by intermarriages of the families of the ruling elite. Secular, Sectarian, Communist, Islamist, all of these fractions are intermarried and a large network of wives can to a large degree be thanked for the coherence of North Sudan.

Losing the women of Sudan would be a far more devastating blow for the survival of the Sudanese elite than any economic sanctions, ICC indictment, UN missions or anything else imposed on Sudan from the outside. This is well known in Sudan and caused Hassan al Turabi to issue a most controversial fatwa in 2006 allowing Muslim women to marry a Christian or Jewish man.

Although an Islamist, and indeed the chief architect and ‘Ayatollah’ of the Islamic revolution in Sudan of 1989, he is also a pragmatic figure navigating through the (ever) changing political landscapes of Sudan. The fatwa is a pragmatic tool to hinder the brain drain of Sudan’s women, who see their opportunities dwindling in the “unnatural” limitations imposed on them by Islamism. The “trousers-gate” scandal of Lubna Hussein is precisely an internal scandal for the Sudanese elite, who, hopefully, feel increasingly alienated from the police forces cracking down on immodest behavior in the public space. Sudan cannot survive without a highly educated, articulate, strong and independent women like Lubna Hussein in the long run.

Hopefully the realization of this will teach the Sudanese forces to treat their women with greater respect, not clamping down on their freedom of movement, expression, dress and their possibility to put on trousers if they so desire.

Thank you, Qaddafi, for the Janjaweed!

An African view of the 40th anniversary of the Libyan “revolution”

by Anders Hastrup.

This past month have seen a lot of commentaries and analyses of the 40th anniversary of the Qaddafi regime in Libya, in the wake of the extravagant celebrations in Tripoli on September 1st. Various newspapers, magazines and online journals have focused on the changing role of Libya in world politics seen from the West and the Middle East. Focus has been directed at the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing and the change of Libya’s role in sponsoring terrorism along with speculations about the end of sanctions, oil concessions and the country’s tourist potential.

Middle East commentators, such as Fred Halliday have focused on how the Qaddafi regime was seen from the Arab World and emerged inspired by Nasserism to meddle in the many different conflicts throughout the Arab world. Fred Halliday’s article is an impressive firsthand account of the direct and indirect destructive influences of the Libyan “kleptocracy” throughout the Middle East in the past 40 years and is highly recommended.

In this piece I want to move away from the Arab Middle East and shed light on the destructive influence that Qaddafi has had on the African continent, especially in the Chad-Sudan border region, the region of Darfur, where the Libyan President holds significant responsibility for creating the janjaweed militias, responsible for the mayhem and destruction of Darfur.

An analysis of Qaddafi’s role in Africa is even more pertinent since Libya gained presidency of the African Union this year. Qaddafi has always been ambitious on behalf of his country and its role in the world. After trying out a series of political experiments and half baked alliances with radical groups of almost all dispositions in the Arab World, Qaddafi has looked to some of his African neighbours as a laboratory for his dangerous ideas. Nowhere have the effects of his megalomania been more destructive than in Sudan’s Darfur region.

In order to fully comprehend Libya’s role in Darfur, one must analyse the special triangular relationship between Libya, Chad and Sudan and the way the region of Darfur has been the stage where the regional ambitions of all the three countries have been played out, often in a very violent manner.

Qaddafi and the Chadian Arabs

The Chadian Arabs have for a long time formed the core of the opposition to successive Chadian presidents. Put simply, there is a dichotomy between the North and South in Chad that in some ways resembles the historical North-South divide of Sudan. In Chad, however, the roles are reversed: A poor marginalised Arab North revolt against the Christian South who has monopolized political power in the hands of a narrow elite.

As early as 1966, the Chadian opposition group National Liberation Front for Chad, FROLINAT, was formed in Nyala, capital of South Darfur State in Sudan, starting a long tradition of the use of Darfur as base for disgruntled Chadian Muslims and Arabs. The political mobilisation of the Arab tribes of Chad in the initial FROLINAT and subsequent Chadian rebel movements can to a large degree help explain the origin of the janjaweed militia, whose gang raping, horse-riding murderers hold the responsibility for the displacement of more than 3 million people and the disintegration of an area the size of France into impunity and chaos.

The role played by Libya is crucial in understanding the origin of the janjaweed phenomenon in the region. In 1969, Muammar Qaddafi took power in the country and promoted a series of grand schemes, not only for Libya, but for the entire continent. Initially inspired by the Arab socialism of Egyptian President Gamal Abd al Nasser, Qaddafi became a radical Arab nationalist and sought to export his radical ideas on the African continent. This meant creating a new sense of Arab/Muslim identity among many Bedouins of the Sahel region who received both ideological and military training for the creation of an Arab homeland, the “Arab Belt” across the region. The Christian government of Chad quickly became the focus for Qaddafi’s struggle for “Arab supremacy”. This struggle was one of Qaddafi’s many experiments, where ideologies are utilized as ad hoc creations for colonising and obtaining the raw political control over given areas. He armed the nomadic Arab tribes with weapons and a dangerous ideology of Arab supremacy in this ethnically diverse region. His short-sighted goal was the instability of the Chadian regime. Qaddafi wanted Chad. The long- term effect was a continuing culture of impunity for the region’s Arabs, now armed with modern weapons against the villages of the African populations of Darfur and Eastern Chad.

A look to the margins

In many ways, the origins of the janjaweed can be traced to the meeting of the Arab Chadian opposition, armed by Qaddafi, with the North Darfur Abbala Arabs: The Arab Chadian opposition had arms and moved across the border to their camel herding neighbours, themselves poor landless Arabs of Darfur who were desperately seeking recognition and triggered by a new found ideology where they were the master race.

Roughly speaking, the same dangerous alliance of weapons and an ideology of racial supremacy merged in Sudan’s Darfur region. The area of Darfur and Eastern Chad has historically been the same, the same tribes, Arab and African, live on both sides of the border. Like Qaddafi used the marginalised Arabs of Chad to create a loyal “Arab Belt”, the Khartoum government used the landless Arabs of North Darfur to crack down on the emergent violent opposition. The results of this meeting between these groups can be found in the fierce and ruthless militias unleashing an unprecedented mayhem in Darfur in the first years of the new Millennium.

The most important reason for the janjaweed phenomenon is sheer poverty, marginalisation and the lack of fixed land and land rights. In Darfur, the camel herding Abbala Arabs did not have their own dar, meaning abode or homeland. They shared this lack of spatial recognition with many of the tribes of the Arab tribes of Eastern Chad.

Both Khartoum and Tripoli under the rule of Colonel Qaddafi have skilfully looked to the marginalised Arabs of the triangular region of Libya, Sudan and Chad for the creation of an often short lived loyal belt for the control of the region. The present conflict in Darfur must be seen through these regional dynamics and the inverted roles of the marginalised and the marginalising. The North Darfur and Chadian Arabs, have thus gone from servants to masters through a skilful manipulation by Colonel Qaddafi and Omar al Bashir.

The 40th anniversary of Qaddafi’s “revolution” is the anniversary of one of the most controversial, extravagant and eccentric regimes of the past generations. The flamboyant character of Muammar Qaddafi has taken Arab political kitsch to a new level. The Green Book and subsequent ideological mutations of the Tripoli regime have been the laughing stock of many analysts who have mocked the weirdness and melodramatic character of the increasingly clown-like figure of the Libyan President.

However, Muammar Qaddafi might laugh last. Not many people have made any point of commenting on his current Presidency of the African Union and the fact that he, through this, remains incredibly influential on the African continent and not just a lone, howling mad wolf. He has, undoubtedly helped many Africans who have worked in the booming oil businesses of Libya, and many of my Darfurian friends still travel to Libya there and sustain large families in Sudan by their Libyan salaries. However, the indirect economic assistance to numerous Darfurians must be viewed against Colonel Qaddafi’s  most dubious legacy in the region: he played a major role in sowing the seeds for the murderous janjaweed militias in Darfur. His Presidency of the African Union, its peacekeeping forces form the core of the international deployment in Darfur, is a scandal.

The “genocide” in Darfur. Are former colonial powers really to blame?

A review of Mahmoud Mamdani’s “Saviors and Survivors. Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror ”. Part 1

by Anders Hastrup.

A new book by Mahmoud Mamdani has sparked great controversy among scholars and activists working on Darfur. The title is “Saviors and Survivors. Darfur, Politics and the War on Terror”. This is the first in a series of reviews of the book, where I discuss the main points of the work.

Many reviewers of the book have reacted strongly to the claims of Mamdani’s work, which is understandable since the book aggressively criticizes central figures in the Save Darfur Movement and the journalists whose reporting from the war zone helped kick start the campaign. The attack on the Save Darfur “lobby” and the role of Darfur in the “War on Terror” have caught the attention of many reviewers who eagerly debate these claims. The high pitched, near hysterical, tone of Mamdani’s attacks have provoked equally high pitched replies. This is a shame because two thirds of the book deals. This is a shame since the book is more than just a critique of the Save Darfur Movement. Two-thirds of the book deal with the history of Darfur itself, from the colonial legacy to the role of the region in the Cold War and the Islamist/securalist divide of the rebel movements

The openly provocative statements are at times refreshing and at other times historically inaccurate and illogical. The overall attack on the Save Darfur Movement, and indeed on most of the activist movements and engaged journalists is really controversial and not entirely fair. I shall return to these debates in later reviews. In the historical chapters we find an interesting analysis of the way in which the colonial power of Great Britain rewrote the history of Sudan, and particularly Sudanese Arabs, in a “native” and “settler” paradigm. This particular division has persisted and, claims Mamdani, is the root cause of the perception of the present war in an “Arab” – “African” dichotomy:

“The Save Darfur lobby in the United States has turned the tragedy of the people of Darfur into a knife with which to slice Africa by demonizing one group of Africans, African Arabs. For undergirding the claim that a genocide has occurred in Darfur is another, born of a colonial historiography, that Arabs in Sudan- and elsewhere on the African continent- are settlers who came in from the outside and whose rights must be subordinate to those of indigenous natives.” (p. 300)

This is interesting but not entirely true. Claims like these are typical of the “blame the colonial powers and their artificial division of peoples and places for all the evil that the post-colonial African continent has witnessed” paradigm that shines through much of his book.

Throughout the historical part of the work, Mamdani uses a great deal of sources from well known authorities on the history of Sudan and Darfur, and couples this with a wider historical understanding of both colonial and Cold War legacies. There are factual mistakes throughout the work (the rebel leader Abdul Wahid al Nur is referred to as “Abd el Nur”, for instance, which is annoying). It is, however, spite the flaws, an interesting account, and as a researcher on Darfur I welcome new angles to debate the origins of one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes in the new Millenium.

I have lived and worked in Darfur for about a year and I continue to do research into the patterns and origins of the conflict. I have been interested in looking at explanations of the root causes of the conflict that go beyond the seemingly inherent “historical” opposition between “Arabs” and “Africans” in Darfur and Sudan as a whole. I have looked at landowning issues and the marginalisation of Darfur’s Arab tribes as a result of their lack of fixed territory and I have seen, and continue to see, these issues as key to an understanding of the conflict.

However, when I was in Chad for two months this spring interviewing the refugees who have fled from the horrors of the infamous janjaweed militia in Darfur, I was forced to rethink many of my earlier approaches to the conflict. Listening to people I realised that they themselves clearly saw this as a war of “Arabs” vs. “Africans”. If this is how the war is experienced, then this is their truth, and the truth is local, something Mamdani does not take into account in his conspiracy theories of the hegemonic world order behind the Save Darfur campaign.

In countless interviews people would talk of how the Arab militias told them that the country should be “cleared of all blacks” and that “you are slaves and must leave” while burning, raping and killing their way through Darfur. Mamdani has taken very little time to hear how victims of the conflict themselves have put events into language. For the Darfurian population in the refugee camps of Eastern Chad, the perpetrators are indeed the “Arabs” set out to kill “blacks”. You cannot write off the local experience of blatant racist violence happening here and now as a continuation of a false dichotomy that has its origins in colonial historiography. It is an oversimplification and an exaggeration of the impact of colonial divisions on contemporary realities in Darfur. It is also an arrogant lack of respect for local knowledge and experience of the war on the ground by the people who have suffered through it.

In the two months I interviewed Darfurian refugees in Eastern Chad this spring I heard the same tale over and over again: “The Arabs came, killed my family, raped my wife, burned down my house and forced me to flee saying that the land should be cleared of all blacks”. If I were to follow Mamdani’s line of thought my reply would be: “No, you are not victims of the Arabs. The janjaweed are themselves victims of British colonial historiography that have falsely introduced a “native” vs. “settler” paradigm, which you can clearly find in MacMichael’s “A History of the Arabs in Sudan” from 1922”.

I don’t see the connection between the colonial historiographic legacy and the modern day engagement in the current war from the various interest groups. I don’t think that journalists reporting from the frontline were aware of this particular divide and the “origins” of it when they wrote their articles, telling the world of the extermination of villages by the militias. What I think they responded to was the sheer magnitude of the humanitarian catastrophe that unfolded in the course of a very short time, which they witnessed. I believe the reporting on the war as a war between “Arabs” and “Africans”, that has continued to inform the media coverage of the conflict, is a result of investigative journalism, where reporters took time to listen to the voices of millions of displaced who fled the janjaweed terror.

All the high pitched cliché ridden colonial critique aside, the book is still a refreshing comment and for my own part been it is  a great source of inspiration to continue to do research on the impact of colonial legacy on developments in Darfur, if nothing else then to find out where Mamdani is wrong.

March 4th 2009: The End of Sudan?

by Anders Hastrup.

It’s official: On March 4th, 2009, the International Criminal Court in The Hague, ICC, will make public their decision about whether or not they will issue an arrest warrant on Sudan’s President Omar al Bashir accused of genocide in Darfur.

This will end weeks of speculation in the media about the ICC decision. Many leading US newspapers including New York Times and Washington Post have in the past weeks reported that the ICC have already issued the warrant. To many, the ICC decision to issue an arrest warrant signals a triumph for international global justice where action is put behind words and no world leader can get away with committing countless atrocities and genocide against his own people. No matter if it takes place in one of the remotest corners of the world, justice will prevail and the guilty will be punished. No matter if the accused is the President of a sovereign nation-state, he will be brought to justice. If the arrest warrant is issued they will forever see March 4th as a day of triumph for justice and cherish the brave decision by ICC.

For others, including myself with 2 years experience as a relief-worker in Sudan, primarily in Darfur, scepticism is my immediate response and I am preparing myself for a worst-case scenario. Let me explain:
The horrors will not stop in Darfur, they will mutate and embrace the entire country, unleashing a total mayhem in Africa’s largest country. Relief agencies responsible for the provision of food aid to up to 4 million people in Darfur – the most expensive relief- operation in the world – will be kicked out, international agencies will be targets of deliberate violent attacks and all diplomatic relations between Sudan and the international community will be severed.

The true victors will not be the international community and their bodies of justice and the collective sense of rights and wrongs in the world that UN member-states share imbedded in the declarations the member states have signed The victors are anarchy, terrorism, Islamic extremism and general violence. The victims are the civilians, not only in Darfur, but also in the entire country. In more detail:

A pragmatic revival of Islamic extremism
Sudan emerged as a place of particular Western concern with regards to international terrorism after the Islamist revolution in 1989, where military officers took power in a bloodless coup d’état. In the first half of the 1990s Sudan housed a range of international terrorist networks from across the Middle East. Most famous of these was Al Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden spent years in Khartoum investing in various infrastructure projects and expanding his network. The Sudanese government’s decision to provide such a safe haven for extremists resulted in international isolation and sanctions.

The revolution was masterminded by Hassan al-Turabi, the “Ayatollah of Sudan”, who left the presidency in the hands of the un-intellectual war- veteran Omar al Bashir. However, “Mind” and “Muscle”) had a fight, allegedly over divisions of power. President Bashir placed the revolution’s chief-architect Turabi under house arrest. The Islamic revolution had lost its momentum and while the Bashir government took a more pragmatic stance, the extremists went elsewhere.

In the first half of this decade, Sudan realised the benefits of having better diplomatic relations with the outside world. It paid off to have friends – especially as oil was discovered and the country was desperate for infrastructural investments. The rhetoric was cooled down a bit, the hijabs applied more loosely around women’s heads and “special tea”, Heineken in tea mugs, was served at the Chinese restaurants in Khartoum. Sudan had eased up.

However with the ICC threatening the President, who also vehemently opposes the deployment of UN troops in Darfur, the Islamist momentum is consciously re-invoked. By warning that Darfur will turn into a “new Iraq” if international troops are deployed, Bashir has successfully gained sympathy throughout the Arab world and has pitted the Arab League and AU against the UN, US and ICC. As head of the Sudanese National Security Council? Salah Gosh said in a recent interview about the consequences of an ICC arrest warrant:

“We [the government] were Islamic extremists then became moderate and civilized believing in peace and life for everyone. (…) However we will revert back to how we were if necessary. There is nothing any easier than that”.

This statement underlines with utmost clarity the opportunist approach that the Sudanese government has toward Islamism. Osama bin Laden rightly criticized the Sudanese government for being tujjar fi al diin, “merchants in religion”, ready to trade their beliefs for political power and selling out for the purpose of buying in elsewhere.

If the ICC issues an arrest warrant, the Sudanese government will put up a stall in the global terrorist suq, attracting ruthless criminals from around the world with the promise of a hot ticket to the latest frontier in the war against the Zionist, Christian crusaders and their colonization of dar al Islam. It takes one suicide-bomber in an international relief agency compound in Darfur or Khartoum and all international agencies will withdraw leaving as many as 4 million civilian Darfurians without the humanitarian assistance they so desperately need to survive.

The CPA and National Elections
The threat is not only to the civilian Darfurians and the international agencies. An arrest warrant will make the Sudanese government less willing to implement their part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between North and South Sudan that ended the 23-year civil war in 2005. Though this peace agreement is full of holes and fighting has since erupted again in the South, it did bring about a sense of stability for the Southerners as the climate of constant war was replaced by a new reality. The Southerners were given an interim period of 6 years after which they will decide to remain part of a unified Sudan or become an independent nation-state.

Mid-term elections throughout the country are scheduled for later this year. But how will Bashir react? Will he care about the elections that are to be closely monitored by a variety of international bodies? When the CPA was signed in Naivasha, Kenya in 2005, it was the beginning of a new spirit of cooperation between Washington and Khartoum. The US was very much in need of Sudanese intelligence in the War on Terror, and Sudan realised the benefits of stopping a very costly and endless war against the South. Through skilful diplomacy and a great deal of patience the CPA was signed. It is far from perfect, but it has provided a room for manoeuvre. The door to that room is being shot firmly by the arrest warrant that will not only affect future solutions to the Darfur crisis, but will seriously endanger the CPA.

“Contradictory” is a euphemism if one is to analyse the overall Sudan policy and the steps taken by the various international actors involved in bringing peace to Darfur and Sudan as a whole. The problem in my view is that Darfur is perceived as an isolated incident in the history of Sudan, an unprecedented genocide erupting out of nowhere. It is not. The campaigns in Darfur, where Arab militias are armed to do the dirty work for the Sudanese government is a structural repetition of the way the war was fought against the Southerners. Living in South Sudan, my friends would often tell me that they were puzzled by the attention Darfur was getting. “Why is everyone only talking about Darfur? We have lived through the same things for more than 20 years!”

Grave human rights violations have been committed in the war against the South, no doubt, and horrific crimes are being committed in Darfur. The international community should look back at the mechanisms that brought about the CPA and apply the same patient tactful diplomacy in its negotiations with the President Bashir to end the nightmare in Darfur. This is the only way a window of opportunity can be opened and the civilians of Darfur can see a new horizon – and a chance for peace and a better future.

Obama, Clinton and the need for a new look on the Darfur ‘genocide’

by Anders Hastrup.

The crisis in Darfur has captured public imagination in the US and thus the rest of the Western world in a manner unprecedented for a conflict on the African continent. Not since the anti-apartheid campaigns in the 1980s have students on US campuses been so passionately concerned about the plight of civilian Africans. Never before have the US public and various lobby groups from all sides of the political spectrum and different religious organizations been speaking with such a united voice about ending what former Secretary of State Colin Powell called a “genocide” in 2004. In their respective presidential campaigns both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have openly criticised the Bush administration for not putting any action behind the declaration and ending the genocide in Darfur. Before the new US administration takes over and we can expect a tougher line on the Sudanese government responsible for atrocities in Darfur, should Obama put force behind his words, it is of great importance that everyone engaged with the Darfur in the US read this piece and try to revise the root causes of the current tragedy and use these reflections to create a more balanced response. In this piece I wish to highlight some of the problems in labelling Darfur a “genocide” and separating the history of this tragedy from the history of the rest of Sudan.

Before moving on with some of the shortcomings of seeing Darfur as an unprecedented catastrophe in both the history of Sudan and Africa, let me say that I thoroughly appreciate the efforts of individuals, students, journalists, celebrities, community organisations, religious and political figures in the US who have put an incredible amount of energy in speaking out for the plight of the suffering civilians of Darfur. I myself have lived in Sudan for more than 2 years and have spent more than 1 one year working with the many internally displaced persons in the huge camps in Darfur. I have witnessed a humanitarian situation that has only deteriorated, families fleeing their homes for the second and third time all telling their stories of husbands slain in front of their wives, sexual violence and burnt down villages. I have met women gang-raped so violently they were unable to walk months after it took place, I have seen infants on the brink of starvation who I know can no longer possibly be alive as humanitarian access has been hindered by the deliberate attacks on NGO and UN vehicles all through Darfur.

I do not wish to downplay the need for action and upgraded international engagement, yet in my view a continued uncritical use of the term “genocide” where “Arabs” kill “Africans” to describe the horrors in Darfur is not only historically wrong, it may potentially be counterproductive and reproduce the current patterns of conflict, where civilians pay the highest price. Here is why:

•    The Sudanese government armed loyal Arab militias, the janjaweed, to carry out a scorched earth campaign as a counter insurgency strategy crushing an armed rebellion against the Khartoum government in 2003-2004. This led to the displacement of more than 2 million people, mostly non- Arab Africans throughout Darfur. However, many senior janjaweed commanders did not feel they where adequately rewarded by the Sudanese government wherefore they turned against Khartoum. In some cases these Arab rebels formed new alliances with the rebels they had set out to crush. Across ethnic boundaries they came together in unified resistance to Khartoum.
•    Since the failed Darfur Peace Agreement in 2006, where only one of the rebel-fractions signed a deal with Khartoum a new front has opened between the two major African tribes in Darfur, the SLA/M, who signed the deal, and SLA/AW who didn’t. The SLA/M has carried out campaigns against civilians allegedly supporting SLA/AW in a very brutal manner. So brutal, in fact, that the SLA/M soldiers have been nicknamed “janjaweed 2”, their use of scorched earth campaigns and sexual violence a repetition of the horrors initially imposed on themselves and their fellow Africans by the horse-mounted Arab militiamen.
•    The reasons for joining the janjaweed militias were, and are primarily economic. It is not the first time the Sudanese government arms Arab militias and make them do the dirty job. In the eighties they were known as murahaliin and were instrumental in securing the border South of Darfur against the rebel group SPLA. They also carried out massacres against the civilian African population of the Dinka tribe in the South Darfur/South Sudan borderland. These militias who undertake such atrocities are not a master-race of Arabs from Khartoum but traditionally the poorest and most desperate of Darfur’s population. Unfortunately, NGOs have failed to grasp this socio-economic dimension as a major root cause of the conflict. Very few food aid or development programs have integrated the Arabs, whose livelihood opportunities are as destroyed as those of the “Africans”. Because of the “genocide” term and the continuing use of the “Arab” vs. “African” dichotomy by western media and lobby groups, giving food aid to Arabs is not politically correct. Many Arabs are thus marginalised by both the Sudanese government and the international agencies in the most expensive relief operation in the world. The pull towards human rights abusing militias thus remains compelling should the Arab tribes continue to feel this double marginalisation.

I have previously written a thesis on the history of displacement in Sudan using my year working in the biggest camp for the displaced in Darfur where these points are put in an elaborate historical perspective. A summary of my fieldwork and a discussion of the coexistence between an international vocabulary of human rights and universal justice and the local experiences of the displaced of Darfur can be found in the article “Violating Darfur. The Emergent truth of Categories in my own and Sune Haugbolle’s “The Politics of Violence, Truth and Reconciliation in the Arab Middle East”.

Let me conclude these remarks by reiterating my gratefulness to all individuals far away from Darfur and most notably in the US, where a tougher Darfur policy can be expected from the Obama administration, for their compassion with the Darfurians and their earnest desire to end the current catastrophe. Perhaps because I have been there so long and seen the situation change and words and meanings shift that I am uncomfortable uncritically applying the term “genocide”.