EcoJustice: About Darfur, Part 1.

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)


There is a years long grisly struggle between ethnic groups in Darfur — with one government-backed militia brutalizing civilians with ethnic connections to the guerrilla rebels they fight. There is a refugee crisis, starvation, drought, and horrible violence.

The conflict in Darfur is complicated. It has several causes, and the people who fight sometimes do so for different reasons. Sudan is riddled with deep ethnic divides, fueled by the colonialism that favored one ethnic group over others. There is political posturing and finger pointing in Khartoum that might occupy a handful of doctoral theses on the subject before we understand it all. But at least two of the reasons this conflict persists are rooted in ecojustice: desertification and oil. And that oil doesn’t even lie under Darfur.

The structure of the conflict in Darfur has its roots in the Anglo-Egyptian period in the Sudan. In 1899, England gave the Egyptians joint rule over the land, a period that lasted until 1955. Those in the north who had Egyptian and Arab ties lived with significant privilege. Shortly after Sudan gained independence from this rule, the people in the south rose up against the government in the north and started the 1st Sudanese Civil War, which lasted until 1972. That ceasefire lasted until 1983, when the 2nd Sudanese civil war broke out, largely as a continuation of the earlier conflict.

During the decade of relative peace, Chevron discovered oil in the south. The government was centralized in the north, and it controlled Sudan’s only port. It began building infrastructure to extract the oil in the south, as well as a pipeline to move it to the port. The southerners were forcibly displaced to make way for the oil fields — a fact that was central to the brutality and suffering during the 2nd Sudanese civil war.

KuangSi2The borders of Sudan, like those of many colonies, were not drawn in ways that make ethnic or geographic sense. The Sudan is made up of three regions which have little direct connection to one another other than the arbitrary border that surrounds them.

The people in the north are ethnically Arab, Muslim, and ruling class under Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Those in the south mostly identify as black and non-Muslim. In the west — the land of the Fur — the Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa are traditionally farmers who are ethnically black and mostly Muslim. Also in the west are the nomadic tribes who are herders and have ethnic ties to the Arabs.

When the 2nd Sudanese Civil war ended, the peace was settled by sharing oil revenues between the north and the south. The people in the west, particularly the ethnic blacks, were left out of the agreement. Rebel groups rose up immediately because they felt marginalized by the terms.

The government’s response to the uprising is what we hear about in the news.

That said, there are deep tensions in Darfur over food and water. Desertification, coupled with a rivalry between ethnic groups to obtain basic resources feed the fires of the war there. The Sahara Desert is expanding into the Sudan, and the land can no longer support the people in their traditional lifestyles. Resources that were shared between the farmers and herders are now scarce, and the competition over water motivates the groups to rise up against one another.

What does China have to do with it? China consumes 70% of the oil extracted in the Sudan — now the 3rd largest oil producer in Africa. When the rebellion began in the west, the Sudanese government was pressed to quash it in order to maintain business. To secure the oil supply, China is assisting the Sudanese government. They provide financial assistance, modern weapons, bombers, and helicopters to carry out air attacks against the rebel guerrillas.

KuangSi2With this support, the Sudanese government lauched a systematic attack against the black Muslims in the west — a method sometimes called getting the fish by draining the sea. The idea is to flush out the rebels by brutalizing the civilians. They first attack villages by air and then enlist a bloody milita to follow on the ground. Given that the farmers started the rebellion, the government empowered the western Arab tribes, the ones competing with the farmers for resources, to go after them. The Arab militias pillage and burn the farming communities in cooperation with the Sudanese government. These are the Janjawid. The Devils on Horseback.

So, they drain the sea village by village. They bomb a community by night, and then at dawn launch a machine gun attack by air from helicopters. After the helicopters, the Jangawid move in on the ground. They kill, rape, destroy all sources of food, and then burn the village. Finally, they make sure that the village is uninhabitable by throwing bodies into the wells nearby to contaminate the water supply.

Until quite recently, the United States has been the only country to call these actions genocide. The UN investigated on the ground and felt that called it was a war crime, but they failed to find genocidal intent.

There is an important practical distinction between a war crime and a genocide in terms of what happens to the Sudanese government and their oil production — a war crime implies that reform is possible, and a genocide implies the need for a complete regime change. Depending on who has a stake in resolving the conflict, what we call it could impact whether or not it the problem is intractable. And because oil flows so nicely from the Sudan, cynicism abounds in all directions.

The International Criminal Court is now considering genocide charges against Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir. If this happens, it will be the first time the world charges a sitting head of state with genocide.

This is part of the EcoJustice Africa series that the EcoJustice team at L’Orange is posting. I will crosspost my essays here, as well.

KuangSi2Since the colonial period, empires have plundered, drilled, and mined the African continent with patent disregard for the dignity, living conditions, and human rights of native populations. Today, Africa suffers from severe deforestation and drought, erosion, famine, and disease: UNEP describes the continent as one of the region’s most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. This essay is the first in a series by the Daily Kos EcoJustice Team on environmental injustice in Africa.

Earlier diaries on Africa by the EcoJustice Team:

By citisven: Good Night and Good Luck Jonathan: The Niger Delta Cries Out for EcoJustice

By rb137: Conflict Metals in the Democratic Republic of Congo and The Spoils of Oil in the Sudan

By boatsie: Kampala, Uganda. Case Study I

EcoJustice hosts on Monday evenings at 7PM PST.

Notes: Darfur map borrowed from STAND.

1 comment

    • rb137 on February 23, 2010 at 03:08

    Thanks for reading. More an Darfur later…

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