AJR  Features
From AJR,   February/March 2005

The Roots of the Strife   

By Sherry Ricchiardi
Sherry Ricchiardi (sricchia@iupui.edu) is an AJR senior contributing writer.     

Related reading:
   » Déjà Vu

Tensions have long flared in the Darfur region of Western Sudan between farmers, mostly ethnic Africans, in the central part of the area, and nomadic herders, largely of Arab ancestry, residing in the northern part. Their feud has been fueled by a struggle for limited resources, such as land and water, in an area that has suffered from paralyzing droughts.

The current spate of violence began in February 2003 when two non-Arab rebel groups--the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Quality Movement--captured a number of towns in the region and demanded that the central government in Khartoum grant them more power. The government responded by paying Arab militias called Janjaweed to crush the ethnic Africans. The government has conducted bombing raids on towns and villages while government forces and the Janjaweed have waged a campaign of rape, torture and murder against the ethnic Africans, leaving up to 70,000 dead and millions on the run. The rebels, in turn, have kidnapped civilians and attacked government forces.

The United States has condemned the government and Janjaweed attacks as genocide. The United Nations Security Council has threatened sanctions against the government if it doesn't clamp down on the Janjaweed, to little effect.

Source: Human Rights Watch

This is an excerpt from a story by Emily Wax that ran on page one of the Washington Post on June 27, 2004:

Mornay, Sudan--There are tents here that no parent wants to visit. They are called feeding centers, shady rectangular units where children fight death. Sitting on a mat and holding his son's frail hand, Mohammed Ishaq and his wife, Aisha, have been here five days, nursing 9-year-old Zohar on drops of water from a large pink cup, praying that somehow he will survive.

Zohar spits up the water. His cough is rough, and his thin skin clings to his ribs. His withered left arm is connected to an IV. He is suffering from malaria, complicated by malnutrition. Near him, other parents rock, nurse and pray for their babies, who are passed out or moaning, their eyes rolled back as they vomit emergency rations of corn and oil.

Six hundred miles to the east in the capital, Khartoum, Mustafa Osman Ismail, the foreign minister of Sudan, stretched back in his plump chair in an air-conditioned office overlooking the Nile.

"In Darfur, there is no hunger. There is no malnutrition. There is no epidemic disease," he said in an interview. Yes, he conceded, there is "a humanitarian situation." But the hunger, he said, was "imagined" by the media.

This is an excerpt from a column by Nicholas D. Kristof that ran in the New York Times on October 20, 2004:

Saraha, Sudan--Allow me to introduce Abdelrahim Khamis Ghani and his little brother, Muhammad.

The challenge we Americans face in Sudan is this: Are we willing to save Abdelrahim and Muhammad, and two million more like them?

I photographed Abdelrahim and Muhammad in their mostly abandoned Darfur village, where the murderous Janjaweed militia, backed by the Sudanese government, has already killed seven members of their family. The boys have been hiding for months here in a war zone, hungry and frightened and hunted like wild beasts.

"We're afraid here," said the boys' older sister, 17-year-old Asha. "We would go if we could. But we have no transport, no camel."

This land stinks of fear and death, but perhaps just as striking as the murder and rape are the moral choices that families here are forced to make each day.

For Abdelrahim's family members, the choice is whether to let adults and older siblings try to hike to safety in Chad--it's a six-day walk. They could leave one adult behind to try and keep Abdelrahim and Muhammed alive. Or should the whole family stay, putting more people at risk but increasing the chance that the boys can be saved?

The family has elected for now to stay here together, surviving by gathering wild seeds to eat. Apart from starvation, the danger is that the Janjaweed or Sudanese troops will return to kill the men and rape and disfigure--and sometimes kill--the women and girls.

This is an excerpt from a story by Knight Ridder's Sudarsan Raghavan that ran on November 27, 2004:

Abu Shouk, Sudan--There were no smiles, no blessings at the birth of the light-skinned girl with the ebony eyes and curly black hair.

Not a glimpse of joy. For a family bleeding from war, the baby was salt on their wounds.

"My father didn't speak for the entire day," said her mother, Suad Abdalaziz, 28, her voice cracking and face streaming with tears. "He was not angry at me. He was angry at the [J]anjaweed and the government for giving me this baby."

In the troubled Sudan province of Darfur, pro-government Arab militias, called the [J]anjaweed, have raped countless black African women in a campaign the U.S. Administration has called genocide.

Now, their babies are emerging across this tableau of human suffering. They are outcasts in a scarred society where rape is a source of shame and a father's identity defines the child.

Relatives shun them, seeing in their tiny faces the atrocities committed by their enemies.

Mothers struggle to accept them, torn between loyalty to their tribe and their instincts to love and care.

Many are resigned to a life of isolation, where marriage is unlikely and where their children forever will carry a stigma.

Seated in her cool tent, her feet nervously shifting in the sand, Suad cradled the infant she had borne three days earlier. She was still thinking of a name worthy of the child. She wiped her puffy, almond-shaped eyes and continued, "I didn't show her to the people," she said. "I was ashamed."