The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: July 16, 2004
Darfur: A genocide waiting to be prevented
By JOSEPH ADERO NGALA
Two high-profile officials provided the world with an overdue diplomatic road show in late June and early July. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, followed soon after by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, traveled to Darfur, western Sudan, site of an unfolding humanitarian crisis that many consider genocide.
Since February last year, ethnic Arab militias called the Janjaweed, backed by the central government in Khartoum, have inflicted stunning violence on black Africans in Darfur. The violence has left at least 10,000 dead and more than 1 million displaced. The Bush administration has described the violence as ethnic cleansing.
While in Khartoum, Powell talked tough. The Janjaweed must be controlled. They must be broken, he said. They must be kept from perpetrating acts of violence against the Sudanese population, he said, adding that he had given Sudan a timetable of days and weeks to rein in the militias.
Sudans Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail said, Fine. The government, he said, would send more forces to provide security, ease restrictions on humanitarian groups and speed up negotiations with the rebels.
But the militias did not agree. The Janjaweed said they were offended that Powell jetted in and jetted out without seeing them. Why didnt he talk to us as brothers? they asked. If he wants to treat us like that, then well go ahead with the fighting.
Only a few observers noted that Powells and Annans trips were a slip in diplomatic etiquette. The visits coincided with celebrations for the 15th anniversary of President Omar el-Bashirs seizing power from the democratically elected government of Sadiq el Mahdi.
Bashir hasnt led Sudan to new heights. He hounded not only Mahdi and his supporters, he destroyed his own supporters who could become rivals. People in the West cant forget that he provided haven to Osama bin Laden.
He has said that if he had had enough power he would have reduced the little that existed in southern Sudan to a sea of sand. As it was, he had a share in the deaths of more than 3 million southern Sudanese.
Neither Powell nor Annan is the type of person to be in the neighborhood for such a mans anniversary party.
Of course, Powell -- a person who does appear willing to do good -- had no choice. It happens that George W. Bush is in a reelection campaign. Powerful interest groups, some with religious and ideological agendas, others with money interests, want Bashir tamed.
Those with axes to grind against Middle Easterners of Arab descent have taken the side of persecuted black Muslims in the Sudan. This offers them an opportunity to point at a double standard. They argue that Arab countries rarely condemn their own, even Sudan, which has engaged in unparalleled bloodletting over the last 20 years in its southern region.
Annan, too, has no option but to deal with Bashir. The massacres in Rwanda happened while he headed the U.N. peacekeeping division. He certainly doesnt want another genocide on his watch. And that is where Darfur is headed.
What is interesting is that the international community never noticed what was coming in Darfur.
On March 20, 2003, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement issued a statement signed by Samson Kwaje, a respected Catholic layman with a doctorate in economics. The statement charged the Khartoum government with instigating tribal and racial conflict in Darfur. It was, the statement said, part of a 20-year pattern by the Khartoum ruling elite to marginalize non-Arab Sudanese. The following day, Mini Arkou Minawi from Darfur announced the formation of armed resistance against the militias. A disaster was in the making.
Refugees from Darfur seeking safety in Chad have reported to aid workers that the militias carried out mass rapes and execution-style killings. Villages and food supplies have been looted and burned while government helicopter gunships circled overhead, they said.
There is abundance of outrage in the West over what is going on in western Sudan. Which leads one to wonder, where are the African leaders? Why didnt Nigerias Olusegun Obasanjo and South Africans Thabo Mbeki go to Khartoum and remind Bashir of his duty to protect his citizens?
Annan upbraided 30 heads of state at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 6. The ruined villages, the camps overflowing with sick and hungry women and children, the fear in the eyes of the people, should be a clear warning to us all -- without action, the brutalities already inflicted on the civilian population of Darfur could be a prelude to even greater humanitarian catastrophe -- a catastrophe that could destabilize the region, he said.
The leaders pledged to send a few hundred troops to Darfur to patrol refugee camps and border areas between Sudan and Chad and to guard personnel it will send to monitor a ceasefire.
Africa Union officials also promised to investigate the charges of massacre. However, they have shown a notable lack of a sense of urgency. All that is required of them is sustained loud howls of condemnation, but these have not been forthcoming.
African international powerlessness is well known. This can be blamed on many things that include lack of readily deployed resources. One resource that Africa can muster but has been reluctant to do is to make use of collective outrage when bad things happen in its midst.
Joseph Adero Ngala, an African journalist based in Kenya, was in Khartoum in early July. He won the German Shalom Prize for reporting in Rwanda and Sudan in 1995.
National Catholic Reporter, July 16, 2004
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