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Darfur 101 August 8, 2007

Posted by Andreas in activism, Film screening, Politics, Society.

Until embarrassingly recently I was one of those people who had heard about stuff happening in Darfur – bad stuff, no, very bad stuff – but who wouldn’t really have been able to tell you exactly what this bad stuff was and who was doing it to whom and why.

Living in Africa, I decided that I couldn’t just not know about what sounded like a massive catastrophe. So I did some research and ended up writing this very basic primer on the crisis in Darfur for Women24.com:

So, tell me about… Darfur
Not sure what’s happening in Darfur? This’ll help.


Darfur (the ‘homeland of the Fur’), is the arid and remote western region of Sudan that has been the site of an ongoing and very bloody civil war since the early 2000’s

Approximately 7.4 million people inhabit Darfur, which is divided into three federal states.The vast majority of Darfurians are black African Muslims, but several Arab ethnic groups also inhabit the region. Since independence from Britain in 1956, the Sudanese state, including the government, military, judiciary and administrative bureaucracy, has been dominated by a small Arab elite drawn mostly from three tribes living alongside the Nile north of the capital Khartoum. Until the end of the millennium, the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual population of Darfur coexisted in relatively peaceful harmony.

The Conflict:
Accusing the Sudanese government of marginalising Darfur through racist policies of neglect, predominantly black African rebels belonging to either the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) or the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) started attacking police stations, military convoys and army outposts in Darfur in 2003. The Sudanese army responded with massive and ruthless air and land offensives on rebel strongholds, frequently resulting in civilian casualties.

The ethnically Arab Janjaweed militias, supported and armed by the Sudanese government, also started to fight the rebels. These brutal militias (Janjaweed means ‘devil on horseback’) have been accused of numerous atrocities against civilians, including mass killings, torture, burning of whole villages, public mass rapes, abduction of women and children, sex slavery, theft and destruction. Negotiations between the government and rebel groups have resulted in several ceasefire agreements, none of which have brought an end to the fighting.

The Consequences:
The situation in Darfur has been described as ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘genocide’. The underlying reasons for the conflict are complex (spot the Chinese oil pipe, for one thing) and although atrocities have been committed by both sides, the Sudanese military and the Janjaweed have been the main perpetrators of war crimes.

Accurate figures on the human toll are difficult to establish, but as many as 2.5 million people have been driven into overcrowded and unsanitary refugee camps, including several in neighbouring Chad. Between 700 and 2000 villages have been totally or partially destroyed. The United Nations estimates that up to 450 000 people have been killed in Darfur in recent years as a result of violence and disease. The Sudanese government contests these figures, saying that only 9000 have died

The International Response:
The African Union maintains an ill-equipped, poorly funded and hence mostly ineffectual peacekeeping force of 7000 soldiers in the region. The UN Resolution 1706 of 2006, calls for a 17 300 strong UN peacekeeping force, but implementation has been suspended indefinitely because of opposition from the Sudanese government. A number of UN, non-governmental and humanitarian aid organisations are active in Darfur and Chad, but their work is severely hampered by the remoteness of the region and the obstructionist tactics of the Sudanese government.

The USA maintains a set of limited sanctions against Sudan dating back to the country’s support of Osama bin Laden and together with the UK has threatened to impose new sanctions.In May, the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued warrants of arrest for a Janjaweed leader and a Sudanese government minister. Denying the authority of the ICC on the matter, the Sudanese government has refused to hand over the two men.

Shocked? Want to know what can YOU do?

Find out more:

Watch The Devil came on Horseback, a documentary on the crisis in Darfur which is being “buzz screened” by While You Were Sleeping and the Labia on Orange in Cape Town on 10, 11 and 12 August 2007. Click here for more details. It premieres at the Tri-Continental Festival in September 2007.

Get involved:

Join with like-minded South Africans, and find out about divestment (like “clever sanctions”) by clicking here.


  • Savedarfur.org
  • Human Rights Watch
  • Amnesty International
  • Darfur-Awareness
  • Check out the Facebook group While You Were Sleeping.
  • One connection I didn’t really make nearly forcefully enough in this short article is the role of resources in the Darfur crisis and particularly the role of (you guessed it) oil. Here’s a link to a really good story about exactly that.


    1. Walton - August 8, 2007

    Thanks, Andreas, that’s brilliant and really useful

    2. Anonymous - August 16, 2009

    Wonderful! That Has Made Me Understand Alot More Now And Has Helped Me With My Year 9 Assessment. Taa x

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