Sudan: First, some history
Sudan is the largest country in Africa with a population of 42.2 million. It is home to many different ethnic groups, kingdoms and tribes. Some are African and some are Arab, and it was once co-ruled by Britain and Egypt.
The Sahara desert cuts across Sudan, so Sudan is a complex combination of the two halves of Africa – Arab Northern Africa and Christian or pagan Sub-Saharan Africa. Much of the historic tension in Sudan is because of this split between what many see as Arab versus African. The labels “African” and “Arab” can be misleading, because Sudan has a much more complex ethnic history than these two categories. North and South Sudan have a long history of civil war based on the split between the Muslim North and the Christian and pagan South.
In fact, the North-South Civil War is one of the longest wars in Africa and in the world. The forty year war ended in 2005 and the current genocide in Sudan is not part of this civil war.
With the announcement of final voting results in February 2011, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said that his government would accept the choice of southern Sudan to separate from the north.
The capital of Sudan is Khartoum, in the Northern part of the country.
Even though Sudan is a war-ravaged country, Sudan is rich in natural resources, like oil and is not necessarily a poor country.
A closer look at Darfur
Darfur is a state in the western part of Sudan. Six million Sudanese people call Darfur home, but at least half of them have been displaced from Darfur because of recent conflict. Darfur is the poorest state in Sudan and all tribal groups in Darfur have suffered from the neglect of the Sudanese government.
Ethnic Issues in Darfur:
Darfur can be confusing because of the mix of ethnic groups, so here’s the deal – in Darfur;
- Some trace their roots back to ancient non-Arab African Kingdoms (the Fur, Zaghawa, and Massalit). They are historically farmers.
- Some trace their roots back to ancient ethnic Arab nomads (the Rizeigat and the Misseriya)
- There are many Darfuris that are a mix of the two backgrounds
- All share the Muslim religion and managed to live in relative peace with each other until recently. So they share a religion, but are of different ethnic backgrounds.
- Until 2003, the intermittent conflict between the Arab tribes and the African farmer were over Darfur’s scare water and land resources. The farmers need land and water to farm and the nomads need land and water to live and graze their camels or horses.
The roots of the genocide in Darfur
The conflict in Darfur is separate from the long civil war between Muslim Northern Sudan and Christian and pagan Southern Sudan.
The genocide in Darfur began in February 2003.
In 2003 rebels from Darfur, part of what they called the Sudan Liberation Army, attacked a government base. The attack was their attempt to get more representation, development and human rights for the people of Darfur.
The government did not want to deal with the rebels – it was still busy in wrapping up a civil war and was in peace talks with the South. It needed a quick way to end the rebellion. The Sudanese government set out to eliminate ALL of the ethnic populations that were linked to the rebel group. These ethnic populations were mainly the Fur, the Massalit and the Zaghawa tribes. So the government went to the militias of the poorer, Arab tribes: the Janjaweed. In Arabic, Janjaweed means “a man with a gun on horseback.”
It armed them, trained them and told them to wipe out the rebels - the Fur, the Zaghawa and the Massalit. Their instructions were to systematically do the following in all of these ethnic villages -
- Carpet-bomb the village in the morning
- Ride in on horseback
- Murder the men
- Rape the women
- Set fire to every last hut
- On horseback and armed with guns, chase any survivors into the desert
- Repeat in next village
What’s happening now
For eight years, the Government of Sudan has allied itself with the Janjaweed militia and have been wiping out the Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa people. They continue to move from village to village and follow the pattern of destruction above. After setting fire to the huts and driving the survivors into the desert, they are left almost completely without food, water, or shelter. Villages that provide refuge from the harsh desert conditions are burnt to the ground.
Since the beginning of the crisis, over 400,000 Darfurian civilians have been killed. The majority of deaths are due to either violent acts or disease. About three million people have been displaced within Sudan due to recent conflict. 80% of the displaced are women and girls who are victims of sexual violence and slavery. As a result, its government has been called "the most repressive regime in the world."
The creation of the Republic of South Sudan
In January of 2011, 99% of the voters in the southern region of Sudan voted to approve an internationally backed referendum that would split the country into a northern and southern half. This vote makes official the long-existing cultural, political and religious division between the two regions. Though the two regions have been functioning largely separately for years, renewed civil conflict broke out as the two regions were forced to negotiate shared resources like oil. The Republic of South Sudan was declared an independent country in July of 2011.
An international peacekeeping force has been authorized and partially deployed but it is under-equipped, under-funded and short-staffed.
A peace agreement was signed in 2006 but it has been consistently violated since shortly after its signing.
Humanitarian aid workers are often the targets of violence and many organizations have been forced to stop their operations in Darfur.
For more, check out the key players in an overview of what's being done by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the Arab League, China, Sudan, and advocacy groups in Darfur since 2003.
Or want a better understanding of Sudan as a country leading up to the genocide? Check out our Sudan timeline.