(FinalCall.com) – The critical nature of my first trip to the African continent outweighed any romanticism that could have shaped my journey. Full of expectation and anticipation of the truly unknown, my stomach churned as we taxied on the runway to take off from the airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia headed to Khartoum, Sudan.
Once landed on Sudanese soil, our schedule was non-stop marathon meetings with members of various sections of the country–national government, local government, security, religious, legal, business and refugee camp administrators. The experience was overwhelmingly eye-opening. Provokingly confusing at times. Complex and compounded.
The first layer of truth we pulled back involved the Arab/African identity within the Sudanese population. Although it is portrayed in Western mainstream media as an ethnic conflict of light-skinned Arabs systematically launching a genocidal program of murder and rape against Black Africans, the conflict in Darfur is absolutely not rooted in race nor ethnicity.
For in The Sudan, one cannot distinguish the “Arab” from the “African” by skin color. These terms identify tribes based on their language. If you speak Arabic, you are considered an Arab; it is a cultural identity. However, in the U.S., when one says Arab, the thoughts of olive-skin or fair-complexions come to mind.
All of the tribes speak Arabic and are culturally considered Arab. To distinguish among these Arab tribes, the term African is applied to those tribes that retain the use of local languages. The local tribes of Darfur speak their tribal language and Arabic. The long history of the population of The Sudan based on intermixing created a homogenous ethnic population that does not divide itself along racial lines. No–that is the racist construct of the USA, which misappropriates itself to define other cultures in its own warped values–out of ignorance and to cause mischief. Black people in America were once classified as maroons, octoroons and quadroons, which exemplified the deep sickness and obsession with color that this government is rooted in. This does not mean that there does not exist inequalities of class, perhaps even elitism, in Sudan.
A second layer of truth that unfolded to our delegation was Darfur’s slow progression of development, i.e., the need for well paved roads, schools, education, refined water sources and established health centers, the limited resources of which has fueled tribal clashes that have existed for over 400 years. Both Arab and African tribes in Darfur, which is a 100 percent Muslim-populated region made up of pastorial (farmers) and nomads (herders), maintain it is an area that has been neglected by the central government of Khartoum.
The escalation of these historic, long-existing conflicts was marked by rebel attacks against police in February 2003. In one of the early surprise attacks, rebels attacked the airport in Elfasher, killing 75 policemen and taking an air commander hostage with them.
As the layers continued to unfold around us, the delegation obtained a clearer picture of the government’s action than what has been reported in the press. For one thing, there are two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).
Very little media attention highlights the demands of the rebels, or even the presence of a rebel movement, although talks in Abuja, Nigeria have been ongoing. While emphasis should undoubtedly be placed on the humanitarian crisis in order to solve it, pulling a media veil over the instigation of the escalated armed conflict does a disservice to the potential development of peace.
Perhaps, if the public eye rested too long on the rebels, questions would arise about their support, sophisticated weaponry and the threads of a web of covert action meant to destabilize the Khartoum. Perhaps the public eye would begin to form its own opinion into the historic pattern of the intelligence agencies of the West and its allies.
Far from being the mercenary arm of the Sudanese military, the “janjaweed” are a loosely organized group of renegade horsemen, who among others, initially responded to the government’s call to local Darfurians to help them fight the rebels. According to information we received, the word janjaweed is a new term to the Sudanese people and even to the linguistic scholars of Arabic language.
A program that has been in place for years, the government has historically relied on local tribes to help diffuse conflicts (a practice common in other African countries), based on a principle similar in very broad terms to the U.S. Army Reserves.
These local groups collectively are called the Popular Defense Force (PDF). They receive uniforms, training and arms from the government if they don’t already have them–as arms proliferate the country as a result of the lengthy civil war and other armed conflicts within the region.
Local Darfurian leaders estimate that of the approximately 3,600 men recruited for the PDF by the government to fight the rebels attacks, only 200 of them belong to Arab tribes. However, the janjaweed are mostly Arab nomads from Chad who fought against the government there during its civil war and relocated to Darfur within the past 25 years.
The janjaweed are considered outsiders, they do not own any land. According to one Darfurian leader, they were promised land and positions by the government if they helped. He said instead of dealing with the rebels, they took advantage of the chaos caused by the rebels fighting. They forgot about any promises by the government and began attacking civilians and looting their villages.
When Colin Powell visited the refugee camps, he remarked that the conditions were improving, yet several weeks later, back in the U.S., he told a Senate committee meeting that genocide had occurred and will continue to occur and the media spread this report all over the world. Why the 360 degree change in assessment?
The study he based his conclusion on was a little over 1,000 refugees living in Chad, out of the estimated 1 million displaced in Darfur. The local Arab and African leaders in Darfur that spoke to our delegation all agreed that while thousands have been killed in the area, they do not consider it genocide.
How many times does the world have to ask the U.S. government to show the evidence to prove their claims?
We must look carefully into what is going on in Sudan and not just take the media’s word as gospel. Let us not continue to be pawns of a government that has manifested one hidden agenda after another shrouded in deceptive disinformation too many times. The Sudanese need help, not sanctions. Where Darfur is concerned, don’t rush to judgment.
12 Sept. 2004