Handwringing Over Genocide - Darfur,
by Dan Connell
The Progressive magazine, December
A 'the of gang rapes, bloody massacres,
and village demolitions in Darfur, Sudan, flooded the news media
this fall, Secretary of State Cohn Powell went before the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee to characterize the carnage as "genocide."
Both President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry echoed this
indictment during the first of three Presidential debates. But
what was most remarkable about these charges was not so much who
was making them as how little impact they had on the unfolding
At least 70,000 civilians have been killed,
400 villages destroyed, and more than 1.5 million people displaced
in a brutal campaign that has devastated Darfur over the past
eighteen months, leading U.N. officials to term this "the
world's worst humanitarian crisis."
Though large-scale attacks slowed over
the summer after a parade of reporters, diplomats, and relief
workers trooped through the area, acts of terror continue. Janjaweed
militiamen are raping women and girls as they leave camps to collect
firewood, says Dennis McNamara, a senior official in the U.N.'s
Nairobi Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance.
The U.N.'s special representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, told the
Security Council in October that since August there has been "no
systematic improvement of people's security and no progress on
In response, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi
Annan established a five-member commission to determine whether
genocide is being committed. Headed by Antonio Cassese, an Italian
judge who served as the first president of the International Criminal
Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the commission includes members
from Egypt, Pakistan, Ghana, and Peru. Its appearance signals
a growing international outcry over this slaughter, muted for
nearly a year as the bodies piled up, even as punitive action
The Dutch foreign minister has raised
the prospect of European Union sanctions on Sudan, while Britain,
Australia, and New Zealand have offered to send peacekeepers.
Congress has called the killing "genocide" and, on September
18, the Bush Administration shepherded a resolution threatening
sanctions through the U.N. Security Council.
But for all the public handwringing, precious
little action has resulted from any quarter beyond the dispatch
of a few dozen African Union monitors to document the deteriorating
situation. Nor is it likely to, apart from efforts to send more
monitors and to accelerate a belated relief effort-which suits
the Khartoum government and just about everyone else involved,
except the people of Darfur themselves.
The Darfur crisis often, described as
tribal warfare between Arabs and Africans, is both more and less
The frontline combatants and their victims
are mainly of Arab or African descent, though it is often difficult
to distinguish them face to face. But the Janjaweed themselves
are more a rampaging gang than an organized militia. Even their
name is merely a colloquialism for "horsemen with guns,"
not a term with cultural, linguistic, or political roots, and
they do not in any organized way "represent" the Arab
tribes in western Sudan.
Those who are being described as Janjaweed
and are raping and pillaging under this name are drawn mainly
from pastoral peoples who compete with the settled Fur farmers
they are attacking for access to land and water. This longstanding
contest has intensified as desertification has worsened. Many
of these livestock herders only arrived in Sudan from Chad and
West Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.
These tensions escalated into today's
catastrophe when Sudan's central government-fearing a popular
uprising among the Fur after the emergence in early 2003 of two
small rebel groups demanding greater autonomy-stoked the resource
rivalry by unleashing the Janjaweed as a proxy army. Since then,
Khartoum has developed a more systematic counterinsurgency by
incorporating Janjaweed militia members into the regular army
The Darfur crisis is not one people assaulting
another in a frenzy of long-buried ethnic hatred, as in Rwanda.
It is a mob of armed thugs cashing in on the opportunity to loot
at will, while securing political objectives set by their handlers:
the quashing of an uprising that could not only threaten the government's
hold on this region but also unravel its efforts to reach a lasting
truce with the rebellious south.
Nor is the nature and scope of this disaster
unique within Sudan. It is the outcome of a decades-long strategy
of divide and rule that successive governments-all drawn from
the fractious elite that resides in and around Khartoum-have used
to put down challenges, mostly out of the international spotlight.
The tragic reality is that the Sudanese
government has largely got what it wanted from its Janjaweed proxies
by now: the routing of the two small rebel armies-the Sudan Liberation
Army and the Justice and Equality Movement-that attacked government
military installations in 2003 and the draining of the civilian
sea in which they swam.
For their part, the Janjaweed have got
what they wanted: a treasure trove of booty pillaged from their
victims, none of which is likely to be returned, together with
vastly expanded access to grazing land for their herds. Aid workers
told visiting journalists in September that Janjaweed working
as camp police are trying to bribe refugees to go back to their
villages to blunt international protest.
If the Khartoum government can maintain
a modicum of control over the Janjaweed, the Bush Administration
will get what it wants, too: an apparent diplomatic success at
modest cost. Such a result would satisfy Bush's evangelical Christian
constituency, which is crusading against the regime's persecution
of southern Christians. That result would also permit the dismantling
of Clinton-era sanctions, thus allowing the reopening of Sudan's
extensive and largely untapped oil reserves to American companies.
Dan Connell, the founder and former director
of Grassroots International, writes frequently on the Horn of
Africa. He teaches journalism and African politics at Simmons
College in Boston.