|by Sarah Zaaimi|
|Published on: Dec 25, 2006|
|Despite its being the widest country of the black continent, crossed by the biggest river of the world (The Nile), and enjoying a rich amount of mineral resources, especially oil and gold, Sudan remains one of the hot spots of the world because of a bad distribution of resources among the diverse components of the Sudanese populice. This damages the unity of the regions and menaces many of its close neighbors. After the Mehdi’s putsch, the South crisis and many bloody episodes, now it is Darfur's to explode into pieces, while the international public opinion and the media are busy following every helicopter sound in Iraq and every single word pronounced by Ahmadi Najad. Simultaneously, millions of citizens from Darfur and the Chadian borders are suffering the real apocalypse.
In this paper, I would try first to present Sudan in general and especially the region of Darfur, as to throw a preliminary background of the crisis, where I will lay on some generic sources. Then, I will talk about the conflict, its causes and give a diagnosis of what is happening now after the UN involvement in the issue from the UN missions’ reports, Secretary General reports and other trustworthy NGOs. The third part of the paper will tackle the Sudanese position and interests in this crisis, relaying mainly on the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site and Sudanese leaders declarations to the media.
Sudan is situated in Northern Africa and borders the Red Sea. Covering 2.505.824 Km², it is the larger state in Africa. Because of it size, Sudan borders many African countries: the Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Uganda (CIA fact book). As Sudan lies in the Tropics and is quite completely landlocked, it has a tropical Climate in the south, arid desert in the north, and rain varies by regions and seasons. Sudan is mainly flat, apart from some mountains in the south, northeast and west. Yet, the desert dominates the north.
Sudan has a rich amount of natural resources: petroleum, gold, small reserves of iron ore, copper, chromium ore, zinc, silver, hydropower. However, most of these resources remained largely unexploited until the Chinese came. One of the most important issues in this apparent balanced image is environmental issues which caused ethnic and national disputes, such as inadequate supplies of potable water, soil erosion, desertification and periodic drought.
The Sudanese population was more than 41 million inhabitants in July 2006, mostly between 0 and 14 years old, which is low compared to the large area Sudan covers. This population is constituted by many ethnic groups: Black 52%, Arabs 39%, Beja 6% and foreigners 2%. Among this population there are 70% of Sunni Muslims situated in the north, 25% indigenous believers and 5% of Christians situated in the south and Khartoum. The Arabization program did not kill native languages and dialects like: Ta Badawie, Sudanic, Nilotic and Nubian, etc.
Sudan’s economy is an emergent fragile economy that has survived huge changes after the starting of oil exportation, but it is still facing many agricultural troubles. According to the CIA World Fact Book:
“Sudan has turned around a struggling economy with sound economic policies and infrastructure investments, but it still faces formidable economic problems, starting from its low level of per capita output. From 1997 to date, Sudan has been implementing IMF macroeconomic reforms. In 1999, Sudan began exporting crude oil and in the last quarter of 1999 recorded its first trade surplus, which, along with monetary policy, has stabilized the exchange rate. Increased oil production, revived light industry, and expanded export processing zones helped sustain GDP growth at 8.6% in 2004. Agricultural production remains Sudan's most important sector, employing 80% of the work force, contributing 39% of GDP, and accounting for most of GDP growth, but most farms remain rain-fed and susceptible to drought. Chronic instability - resulting from the long-standing civil war between the Muslim north and the Christian/pagan south, adverse weather, and weak world agricultural prices - ensure that much of the population will remain at or below the poverty line for years.”
Politically, since its independence from UK in 1956, Sudan’s political scene has been dominated by Military Islamic regime, which doesn’t take into consideration the diverse components; especially the non-Arabs and non-Muslims living in the south. Consequently, the country sunk into two long civil wars during the second half of the last century. The first civil war lasted till 1983. The second war and famine affected more than 4 million people in the crisis of the South. The crisis ended in a final Nayvasha peace treaty of January 2005, which granted the southern rebels autonomy for six years, after which a referendum for independence would be held.
At the same time another sensitive crisis acquired in the Darfur region in 2003, which we will deal with in more detail. Sudan also suffers from refugee problems, and is waiting for crucial national elections for 2008 - 2009.
The Darfur conflict is not as simple as it seems, as it roots go back to the bitter history of magnetization of the non-Arab and non-Muslims by Khartoum, and because many actors are involved in the issue. Such that, the conflict began when years of drought touched the miserable region of Darfur (which means Land of the Fur) in 2003, when rebel groups influenced by John Guarang began attacking government targets and fertile private exploitations. They claimed that the region was being neglected by Khartoum and left in famine because of their non-Arab origins. Since then the arid land of “Darfur has been facing many years of tensions over fertile land between nomadic Arabs from one hand and farmers from the Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa communities” (www.bbc.com).
On the land of conflict there are two main rebel groups: the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). In addition to these two, there is the National Redemption Front, led by Ahmed Diraige, which units the groups opposed to the May Peace Treaty initiated by the government of Khartoum. From its side the government mobilized “self-defense militias” as they like to call them. But quickly these militias lacked of discipline and start seeking their own interests and became what is called the Janjaweed. “Refugees from Darfur say that following air raids by government aircraft, the Janjaweed ride into villages on horses and camels, slaughtering men, raping women and stealing whatever they can find. Many women report being abducted by the Janjaweed and held as sex slaves for more than a week before being released.” (Human Rights Wash report)
The Sudanese government, however, denies any relations with these groups or having any control over them. Yet after international pressure and the threats of sanctions, they promised to disarm the Janjaweed. Under such conditions about 200,000 Sudanese fled as refugees to Chad, which caused a huge diplomatic problem between the two countries. In particular, the persistent Janjaweed threat over the 600 km of borders where the refugees’ camps lay placed them under disastrous humanitarian conditions. Non Sudanese actors are trying to save the situation:
“About 7,000 African Union troops have slowly been deployed in Darfur on a very limited mandate. Experts say the soldiers are too few to cover an area the size of France, and the African Union says it does not have the money to fund the operation for much longer. Sudan has resisted strong western diplomatic pressure for the UN to take control of the peacekeeping mission. The latest plan (resolution 1706) envisages 17,000 troops and 3,000 UN policemen.”(UN Secretary General Report).
In addition, the UN mission is very active in helping refugees, and international help and NGOs have started acting to improve the situation there.
As far as the Sudanese Government position is concerned, it is clear that Sudan is in a sensitive situation; especially after the potential losing of its southern rich states in the coming referendum. The Sudanese government is also waiting for crucial elections within two years, and by allowing a foreign intervention in the Darfur crisis it will menace to throw the public opinion against the Islamic regime; a regime that many see as illegitimate. Economically the government is very friendly with China, which has an exclusive right to exploit Sudanese oil. However, in the Darfur region the population sympathizes more with America, which supplies them with food. With the Americans in Darfur, Chinese interests are being menaced and so are the government's interests and image. The government also committed a huge mistake by constituting the Janjaweed, thinking it would be cheaper. Now they are paying the high price, as their image at the international level is very poor. So Sudan continued refusing the UN resolution, and playing the card of sovereignty, but was forced to accept them to avoid a typical international intervention. Especially with Chad involved and supported by the French army.
On the Sudanese Foreign ministry web site we can read the following headlines: “There is a deep engagement to fight organized terrorism… and support peace efforts and to improve our international cooperation in terms of economic development of our entire region”. Yet, it is clear that these idealistic words are far away from the bitter reality of the ruling process.
Until Resolution 1706 Sudan was calling for non-violation of its sovereignty and calling for the reinforcement of only African peace keeping troops. Yet, the image of the humanitarian disaster are becoming more and more clear to the international community.
The frustrations of millions of Sudanese since 1956 may reach an end with the explosive file of Darfur and through the coming elections. But the price has been bloody tragedies and decades of marginalization.
The Picture is taken from Reuters.