Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Darfur Crisis

I came across an excellent articulation of the origin of this crisis from Jan Pronk, a senior Dutch politician and statesman who worked as the head of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), in today’s Hindu. It is worth a repeat. Do read the full interview here.

The seeds of this conflict lie in the historic, tribal, economic, ethnic and ecological dimensions of the problem that had been slowly unfolding over the years in Darfur.

Historically speaking, the borders of Sudan were drawn in the Berlin conference of 1892 at the behest of the colonial powers, with nobody from Sudan being even present there. Subsequently, the north of the country was administered differently and the south in another manner. And before that, the slave trade, dominated by the Arab constituents within the tribal identities, had created their own imbalances.

The baggage and legacy of all this laid the foundations for mistrust and power struggles, leading to the conflicts of the present day. And then progressive desertification, resulting in resource scarcity and economic hardships had been leading to tensions between the nomadic Arab pastoral tribes and the settled agricultural black African communities in the region.

The disgruntled rebels, representing the farming villagers, after continued inaction by the government to act on their behalf, attacked the Al Fasher airport in April 2003. This was the spark that led to unspeakable violence.

The Janjaweed militia, with the tacit and covert support of the government, retaliated and unleashed terror that borders on ethnic cleansing and even genocide. Villagers had to flee their homes to refugee camps, running away from rape, murder, torture, poisoned wells and burnt farmlands. There are now roughly two million displaced people in the camps and another 2,00,000 refugees in neighbouring Chad. The people in the refugee camps now live off international donations, whose continued inflow is not guaranteed within any legal framework. Conditions are difficult in these camps, and there is the risk of a whole generation losing out.

It is imperative that these people are restored to their homes and lands if they are too see meaningful lives again. The world has a great crisis on its hands.