As the government backed janjaweed ravaged the Darfur region of Sudan, the region’s civilians beat a retreat across the arid landscape to find safety in neighboring Chad. Despite being in another country, the former Sudanese have been consistently hounded by attackers.
At the end of last week, a rebel movement began a siege against the Chadian government, leaving the fate of thousands of refugees in question. This morning, the first sign of potentially disastrous news made its way to the AP.
Chad rebels said they overwhelmed government troops Sunday and seized an eastern town along the border with Sudan’s war-ravaged Darfur region in an area with more than 400,000 refugees.
While there’s been no word from the camps themselves, and even the spokesman for the rebels wasn’t able to comment on what was currently happening in the area, it’s clear that the rebel movements aren’t localized to the capital of N’Djamena. With twelve camps operated by the United Nations in the area, containing 420,000 displaced persons, it’s difficult to imagine a worse set of circumstances.
Even more alarming are the recent reports that the Chadian rebels are being armed by the Sudanese government. With their utter lack of concern for the people of Darfur, it’s hard to see how the camps will escape the grasp of the janjaweed if the rebels are able to disrupt the governing of Chad.
With the primary season in full swing, I thought it might be helpful to revisit the various candidates and see what they have to say about Darfur, genocide, and Africa.
Giuliani has said the United States should focus its policy toward Africa on increases in trade. “U.S. government aid is important, but aid not linked to reform perpetuates bad policies and poverty,” he wrote in a September 2007 Foreign Affairs article. In that article, Giuliani also said the next president “should continue the Bush administration’s effort to help Africa overcome AIDS and malaria.”
In May 2007, Giuliani was informed that he held between $500,000 and $1 million in investments in companies that work in Sudan. His campaign spokesperson did not say whether he would be divesting (AP) from those companies.
Huckabee has not made many public statements relating to U.S. policy toward Africa. His stance on U.S.action in Darfur is unknown. He has said foreign aid (Time) “should be limited to purely humanitarian efforts.”
Romney’s positions on policy issues toward African countries are not well known. In a July 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Romney praised U2 singer Bono and other activists for their efforts to raise awareness of poverty in Africa and elsewhere. Romney said U.S. efforts to bolster the standing of moderate Muslims abroad by combating poverty and underdevelopment should be focused in Africa as well as the Middle East.
The Los Angeles Times reported on August 14, 2007, that Romney has investments in an oil company tied to the Sudanese government, which is accused of being partially responsible for the massacres in Darfur. Romney’s campaign spokesman told the Times that Romney’s attorney controls his investments and that he “had no influence over how his investments were handled.” His spokesman did not say whether Romney would divest these funds.
All position statements were drawn from the Council on Foreign Relations.
Fred Pearce has an interesting article in the Telegraph about a trend in using climate change as an excuse for genocide.
Climate change is being used as “a convenient excuse for wars, violence, conflict and bigotry brought on by migration,” says Mike Hulme, until recently director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Norwich.
As for the supposed helplessness of the Sudanese government in Darfur, Jan Pronk, the UN head of mission in Darfur, puts it this way: “Khartoum is booming on oil, but not a dinar is being spent on water or health care in Darfur.”
While Pearce correctly points out that the use of such explanations frequently lead to diplomatic laissez-faire attitudes, he doesn’t dig deep enough to uncover the kernel of truth that lies beneath such overly simplified statements. Darfur, to use his own example, has its roots in a massive drought that struck in the 1980s and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
It was this event, probably more than any other, that set the wheels of the current conflict in motion. As so many people were dying with little help from their capital, the residents of the region began to feel disenfranchised, which only worsened as the war between Khartoum and the South continued, creating the very real impression that the government cared little for the people of Darfur.
The simple truth is that climate change (or more accurately, unexpected climate shifts or collapses) is certainly one factor that may contribute to an outbreak of genocide. The violence itself, however, is almost always rooted in a clash of cultural ideals and misguided ideologies.
The Uppsala Conflict Data Program at the Uppsala University Department of Peace and Conflict Research is reporting that the number of violent conflicts has seen a rise in recent years as peace initiatives are falling off. The Center’s largest number of registered conflicts took place during the 1990’s, but a steady decline began to take place thereafter and continued until 2002. Since then, the number of active conflicts has been holding steady around thirty.
“This is of course a cause of concern. Today’s ongoing conflicts are extremely protracted,” comment researchers Professor Peter Walensteen and Lotta Harbom. “This indicates that the successful negotiation efforts of the 1990s are no longer being carried out with the same force or effectiveness.”
Today’s conflicts appear to be intractable and drawn-out, and the researchers believe that the 1990s peace strategies need to be improved in order to achieve results. At the same time, there are encouraging trends. Conflicts between different groups and peoples, with no involvement of the state, are decreasing in the number of both conflicts and fatalities.
“This type of conflict often arises in the wake of civil war, but they seem to be easier to bring to an end,” says Joakim Kreutz at the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.
Not surprisingly, one of the biggest problems in recent years is the lack of negotiations in the war torn Middle East. Even as the United States takes measures to physically curtail violence, there have been few visible signs that any of the parties in question are being addressed in a meaningful way.
The Middle East is the region in which peace initiatives are most clearly conspicuous in their absence. The central importance of the region for the world’s oil supply and for world religions makes this serious. The conference in Annapolis in lat November 2007 was the first attempt since 2001 to bring the parties together. They even found it difficult to agree on the declaration that started the negotiations, notes Peter Wallensteen.
“This is a worrisome sign. At the same time, we have to welcome all attempts to bring peace to this area. It has been more than 60 years since the UN General Assembly adopted a plan for Palestine. It must be adapted to today’s reality and implemented.”
During the year other regional conflict complexes have emerged and worsened. The crisis in the Sudanese region Darfur is now spreading to the surrounding countries, such as Chad and the Central African Republic.
“These developments have prompted neighboring countries to take certain peace initiatives,” states Lotta Harbom. “The international mediators in the Darfur conflict, including Jan Eliasson, who is also a visiting professor at Uppsala University, are working to arrange negotiations among the parties. But thus far they have had no success.”
It’s likely that many of these conflicts will continue to linger until the United Nations (and others) decide to press en masse. The larger peace deals in the 20th Century were accomplished through multi-national pressure, persuasion, and promising that we’ve seen little of in the last ten to fifteen years.
As I wrote back in August, George Clooney signed on to narrate a documentary about Darfur entitled Sand and Sorrow. The show premiered last night on HBO, and if you missed it (or don’t subscribe to HBO), you can watch the full film through their website for the next two days (Dec. 7-9).
As the Darfur peace talks continued, even without the key rebel leaders, the Herald Tribune takes note of the fact that hoping to bring both “sides” of this conflict together is an utter misnomer. The fact is, the rebel groups themselves have fractured and splintered into so many different factions that it’s almost impossible to tell who should be at the negotiating table.
It’s not easy being a Darfurian rebel, especially if you’re a member of the B team. Instead of being praised for coming here in the interests of peace, as the world begged them to do, they have been gaped at, criticized for being ineffective and dogged by questions about where the big guys are, like Abdel Wahid el-Nur, a founding father of Darfur’s rebellion, and Khalil Ibrahim, the commander of one of the strongest rebel armies, both of whom are boycotting the talks.
But the reality that international negotiators are beginning to grudgingly accept is that the rebels here in Sirte, Libya’s government center, represent the facts on the ground. After years of fragmentation and isolation, Darfur’s resistance movements have broken down into a fractious bunch of men, many of whom have never met before, who hail from different corners of the land and who belong to different tribes and command their own little armies.
According to the United Nations best estimate, the rebels have fractured from two main groups into twenty-eight separate causes. This recent Libyan attempt at peace talks only managed to bring seven of those leaders to the table.
Darfur peace talks that were planned for this weekend have been effectively shutdown as the main rebel leaders boycotted the meeting. The current talks are part of a pre-negotiation phase that would lead to more in-depth discussions in the next couple of weeks.
It was hoped that negotiations between rebel leaders and government forces would break the deadlock in the four and a half year conflict in Darfur.
But many of Darfur’s rebel leaders stayed away from the talks. Some distrusted the role of Libya, which is seen as being too close to the Sudanese government. This view was reinforced earlier this month when Col Gadafy dismissed the conflict in Darfur as a “quarrel about a camel”.
Opening the talks on Saturday, Col Gadafy noted that both key rival leaders, Abdul Wahid al-Nur and Khalil Ibrahim, were absent. “These are major movements, and without them we cannot achieve peace,” he said.
Even as the talks began, Reuters reported that Sudanese forces were attacking areas along the Chad border.
Rebels from two factions, which did not attend the talks, said on Monday the government had attacked the Jabel Moun area along the Chad-Sudan border on Saturday, the very day the government announced a ceasefire.
“At the same time they were announcing that there is a ceasefire there was aerial bombardment in Jabel Moun,” said Justice and Equality Movement commander Abdel Aziz el-Nur Ashr.
Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) commander Jar el-Neby confirmed there had been an attack but offered no details.
A Sudanese army spokesman, however, denied the reports.
This is the same pattern that has played out any number of times over the last seven years. The majority of rebel groups continue to distrust the government’s intentions for peace, while Khartoum continues to treat negotiations as a form of bait to attack rebel positions and the civilian population.
During a televised discussion with students at Cambridge University, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said that the violence in Darfur was nothing more than a “quarrel over a camel.”
“You might laugh if I say that the main reason of this issue is a camel,” he said.
“Africa has thousands of issues – they are about water, about grass – and Africa is divided into 50 countries, and the tribes are divided amongst so many countries, although they belong to each other.
“The problem we are having now is that we politicise such problems between tribes.”
He said that in Darfur the issue had been politicised because “there are super powers who are interested in oil and other things”.
He also said that the crisis had been prolonged by international aid agencies because the local population increasingly depended on the support it received and, therefore, wanted the conflict to continue.
Ironically, there are a number of valid points in Gaddafi’s argument, despite the fact that he over-simplifies the entire conflict, and adds his own political spin to the issue. Nonetheless, he is correct in that these sorts of disputes used to be handled by local, tribal leaders before they were ever given a chance to escalate out of control.
Unfortunately, when the government of Sudan began arming forces to propagate the conflict, the violence turned from a local issue into a regional (and thus humanitarian) concern.
Former President Jimmy Carter was stopped by Sudanese security forces while he was attempting to talk with refugees in the town of Kabkabiya in Darfur. He originally flew in to visit Africans in the World Food Program compound, as the UN deemed the actual refugee camps too dangerous.
But none of the refugees showed up and Carter decided to walk into the town — a volatile stronghold of the pro-government janjaweed militia — to meet refugees too frightened to attend the meeting at the compound.
He was able to make it to a school where he met with one tribal representative and was preparing to go further into town when Sudanese security officers stopped him.
“You can’t go,” the local chief of the feared Sudanese secret police, who only gave his first name as Omar, ordered Carter. “It’s not on the program!”
“We’re going to anyway!” an angry Carter retorted as a small crowd began to gather around. “You don’t have the power to stop me.”
However, U.N. officials told Carter’s entourage the powerful Sudanese state police could bar his way.
“We’ve got to move, or someone is going to get shot,” warned one of the U.N. staff accompanying the delegation.
During the visit, Richard Branson, who was traveling with Carter, was slipped a note that read: “We (are) still suffering from the war as our girls are being raped on a daily basis.”
Even as the United Nations attempts to cobble together enough material support to send troops into the embattled Darfur region of Sudan, a group of rebels attacked an African Union (AU) peacekeeping base this past weekend. According to a report from The New York Times, ten soldiers were killed, at least a dozen were kidnapped, and various types of equipment, including heavy weaponry, were stolen.
The raid, which began late Saturday and appeared to be highly organized, was the deadliest and boldest attack on African Union peacekeepers since they arrived in Darfur three years ago.
As the conflict continues in Darfur, these periods of violence are becoming regular parts of the landscape. It is still unclear as to which rebel group is responsible for the raid, but the United Nations is adamant that it will not stop the peace process.
Update: Time is reporting that the AU claims the attacks were committed by a rebel splinter group that calls itself the Sudanese Liberation Army-Unity (SLA-U).