Dr. Ali Ali-Dinar, Outreach Director of the African Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, came to Swarthmore yesterday to present “A Call For Peace in Darfur”, a talk on the continuing war and genocide occurring in the Darfur region of his native Sudan.
A nearly full Scheuer Room listened to Ali-Dinar describe the history of ethnic conflicts in Sudan and explain the peculiarities of the current situation in Darfur that have made Darfur a well-known name while other conflicts went on unbeknownst to the world. Like many post-colonial African countries, Sudan contains many different ethnic groups. Sudan also has the more unique attribute of being the home of many Arabs. Only the narrow Red Sea lies between Sudan and Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Middle East. After years of Arab immigration and the mixing of the Muslims and the natives, it is usually hard to tell who is considered “native” and who is not. British colonial policy and migration patterns left the primarily Islamic north and the primarily native south locked in a bitter civil war from 1955 to 1972. Fighting continued in the South once the war ended as southerners strived for independence from a nation that was being ruled from capital Khartoum under increasingly strict Islamic law. Ali-Dinar stressed that the fighting has always been largely political in nature; the mixing that has gone on between groups has kept pure group conflict down.
Ali-Dinar noted that the government’s chief concern is staying in power, and to do so, it must keep its main army together. As peace treaties slowed down the conflict in the south, the army had nowhere to go, and Dinar says that they were sent to Darfur to keep them occupied. In April, 2003, two rebel groups in Darfur attacked the main army and did a good deal of damage. Despite the fact that 60% of the national army is from Darfur, Khartoum reacted by ordering the army to attack civilians, which has resulted in the genocide that has the world up in arms. In addition, native Darfurians claim that genocide had been going on unnoticed for years before the world finally took notice. 300,000 are dead thus far and 10,000 more dying each year.
The continual fighting in cities and towns has forced residents to set up camps. Dinar said that the camps themselves are fairly safe, but the residents are woefully underfed, and if they dare venture off to cut wood for fires or to attempt to find more food, they are liable to be attacked. Dinar also noted that much of the money being donated to the refugees from around the world doesn’t actually make its way to the people need it. A section of Western Sudan is occupied by refugees from Chad, and as “official” refugees, those people are able to subsist decently. In contrast, there is a lack of organization in the efforts to serve the Darfurian refugees. Along with the drain of funds mentioned above, this lack of organization results in the Darfurians given only rations of wheat, oil, and lentils. Dinar took several minutes to stress the importance of understanding that each individual caught in the conflict has a story of hardship.
The government reaches out to small groups with ambitious and angry leaders, Dinar explained, enlisting them in their efforts to control and kill the citizens of Darfur. “More is to come,” he said, noting that the government has an interest in continuing war as a way of legitimizing its rule and maintaining power. He concluded with 15 minutes of video he took when recently visiting two of the refugree camps. There was no audio, but Dinar told the stories of the people we saw on the screen-a family of six struggling to build a structure out of mud to supplement their small tent, a schoolteacher forced to lie about her ethnicity and flee the city. A question and answer period followed the presentation, which was sponsored by the Deparment of Peace and Conflict Studies, the Black Cultural Center, and SASS.
For more information on the war and genocide in Darfur, visit www.darfurinfo.org or www.darfurgenocide.org. There is also a site on Blackboard with updates on the genocide; email Mark Hanis (mhanis1) for more information.