Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Different views of Sudan

Sudan is at the top of my list of countries that could achieve true greatness if it would just get itself together. (African nations dominate the list, which also includes Mexico, Myanmar, Lebanon, Pakistan, and others.) It's a nation blessed with pristine wild spaces, natural resources that could be used to create a modern industrial nation, and smart industrious people. Unfortunately, it seems like most of those resources have been committed to various forms of slaughter for decades.

Benn loxo du taccu, a music blog focussing on Africa, writes in Apolitical Sudan:

Despite continued civil strife, religious tension between Christians, Muslims and pagans, ethnic fighting between Arabs and blacks, and several Islamist authoritarian regimes, Sudan does have a few things going for it. It’s not as absolutely hopeless as people outside of Africa tend to say it is. Its economy is actually quite strong compared to most West African nations. Its population is relatively educated, too, and the culture is well-developed. Its AIDS-rate is quite low by African standards. Sudan is also (blessed?) with oil and other major natural resources. While its economy remains based mainly in traditional agriculture, it’s actually growing these days - unlike so many other African nations.

It's nice to read these things, and to hear a spark of hope about places that seem persistently at the edge of collapse. The Sudanese music is a sign of hope and possibility, and we can only hope that the whole country will one day be as harmonious.

Unfortunately, the problems there can't be dismissed. There is a genocide going on. USAID and others have satellite images documenting destruction of villages. The Passion of the Present is a blog that tracks the slow movement of this issue as the international community tries valiantly to avoid taking any action in Sudan. In the midst of a decades long civil war, combatants have been using slavery as a weapon.

It's important to point out that the crisis in Darfur is separate from the civil war. The civil war is a north-south conflict along racial and religious lines. The south has the natural resources but less wealth, and the people are dark skinned Christians or animists. The north is wealthier with a drier climate and the people are lighter skinned Muslims. The south wants to separate and take its wealth for itself, the north wants to keep the country together. This is a war that has been waging since 1983, during which government forces and their proxies have attacked villages as well as relief agencies. Militias attack villages, seize children, kill livestock and men, rape women, and sell the children into slavery. It's a war that seems to exist outside of any memory of precipitating events or complaints. The combatants have simply reached a point of mutual hate, and that won't be alleviated by anything short of genocide or a border with a wide DMZ.

In Darfur, a different separatist movement arose. The government was tied down in its conflict with the south, so it armed and deputized militias, known as the Janjaweed. They were from different tribes from the rebellious tribes, and what began as a counter-insurgency escalated to tribal warfare. Since the Janjaweed have trucks and machine guns and, at least occasionally, air support from Sudanese fighter planes and bombers, it was never a fair fight. As the native tribes are forced out of their villages, the family and tribes associated with the Janjaweed take over the farms, and the former residents are forced into refugee camps. Then the Janjaweed attack the camps. They rape the women, telling them that their children will be Janjaweed. They steal the food and water, and drive the refugees like sheep, until they drive them into Chad, where the UN and African Union have well defended refugee camps.

The successes that Benn loxo du taccu describes cannot be achieved at this cost. Unfortunately, no one in the world is prepared to take the small effort necessary to end it. With American logistical support and funds, as well as EU funds, transportation and supplies, this could be ended. The African Union could mop the floor with the Janjaweed, and the refugees could be repatriated.

This is an album that offers aid to Sudanese refugees.