Darfur: Radio Dabanga News Digest Number 28 | 6 November 2015: An ongoing chronicle of human suffering and destruction-and international indifference


This twenty-eighth installment of Darfur: Radio Dabanga News Digest focuses on events of the past two weeks, including violence and insecurity in Darfur and the continuing deterioration in humanitarian conditions throughout the region. The digest focuses in particular on the continuing brutal violence directed at the African farming populations in Darfur, including violent expropriation of farmlands. Also of particular concern are new humanitarian danger signals, including an apparent outbreak of Dengue Fever (a viral hemorrhagic fever in the same category as Ebola and Marburg) that may reach epidemic proportions. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts a crop failure that may reach to 50 percent of the normal harvest. Continuing water shortages and provision of sanitary facilities are also of great concern. Rape in Darfur has been highlighted in a new report from WagingPeace, even as Darfur has endured an unusually large number of reported rapes over the past two weeks.

There is a compelling reason for focusing on the continuing brutal violence directed at the African farming populations in Darfur. The expropriation of land by armed Arab groups and militias, as well as the ways in which violence-including rape, murder, and kidnapping-are closely linked to efforts to prevent farmers from returning to their lands, and this is now the single greatest obstacle to peace. Moreover, crops are frequently destroyed by nomadic Arab groups that allow their livestock-chiefly cattle and camels-to forage over lands on which crops have begun to move toward harvest; this exacerbates already critical food insecurity.

Unless this pattern is changed decisively, and expropriated agricultural lands restored to their rightful owners, peace cannot come to Darfur. Those who have lost their lands will never accept a peace in which they are required to sacrifice their major livelihood asset; failure to address this issue realistically was the major flaw in both the Darfur Peace Agreement (Abuja 2006) and the so-called "Doha Document for Peace in Darfur" (Qatar, July 2011). The latter-which has provided a diplomatic excuse for inaction to many Western countries, including the U.S.-has now been dismissed as unworkable and useless by all good faith actors, again including the U.S. Only Khartoum cleaves to the Doha agreement as a means of avoiding true mediation of the 12-year-old conflict.

But there is a terrible obverse to the problem of restoring lands to the displaced African farming communities, now numbering more than 2.7 million Internally Displaced Persons, along with 370,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad. For the Arab militias-including those formerly known as the Janjaweed, but also including the Central Reserve Police, the Border Intelligence Guard, the Popular Defense Forces, and most recently the grimly efficient and brutal Rapid Support Forces (RSF)-will not willingly give up land they now see as theirs. They believe they have been paid for service to Khartoum in fulfilling the August 2004 dictum from the Misteriha (North Darfur) headquarters of Musa Hilal: "Change the demography of Darfur; empty it of African tribes."


Musa Hilal, the man who would "change the demography of Darfur," and "empty it of African tribes"

Certainly the violent expropriation of land by Arab militias-and the violence attendant upon their efforts to prevent African farmers returning to their lands-have occurred with the clear approval of Khartoum, however chaotic the violence becomes at times. But if there can be no peace without a restoration of African farmlands, even if not complete, Khartoum's sanctioning of Arab efforts to seize lands and use them as pasturage has created a situation the regime finds increasingly difficult to reverse. The militia forces that have done so much of the genocidal work of the regime consider these lands their "payments" for violent services rendered. Any attempt by Khartoum to induce the Arab militias to give up the lands they have claimed would produce a violent backlash, and involve the regime in a new war-this time against Arab groups as well as the present, largely African rebel groups.

A forthcoming report ("Changing the Demography: Violence and Violent Expropriation of Farmlands in Darfur") will provide a series of maps indicating the patterns of violence and violent land expropriation over the past year-a year that largely replicates the one preceding and indeed much of the past four years of accelerating violence. Violence has for over a year been concentrated in North Darfur, in particular the area referred to as "Eastern Jebel Marra" (broadly, the part of North Darfur around Tawila-heartland of the Fur tribal group) and in Jebel Marra itself (now part of "Central Darfur," previously West Darfur). But the extent of the violence, including inter-tribal violence between Arab groups, extends to all parts of Darfur.

"Change the demography of Darfur; empty it of African tribes": what we have seen for the past four years and more is a renewed, and terrifyingly successful effort to change Darfur's demography.

In the process, life in the camps for some 2.7 million displaced persons-in addition to the 370,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad-has been made intolerable. More and more humanitarian organizations are withdrawing or shutting down, either for lack of funding or because of intolerable insecurity. Notable over the past year has been the shutdown of all operations in Darfur and Sudan by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)/Belgium because of insecurity, the withdrawal of Norwegian Church Aid for lack of funding, and the cessation of activity by several national NGOs. Altogether, more than thirty international humanitarian organizations have been expelled-or compelled to leave because of violence-and increasingly face funding shortages. Organizations that remain and are presently working in desperate circumstances deserve the most urgent support.

Throughout Darfur and indeed much of Sudan, various humanitarian indicators continue a relentless deterioration. Additionally, recent reports from OCHA present a truly terrifying portrait of malnutrition throughout Sudan, but especially in Darfur, where most of the region is indicated as suffering from Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates that are above the emergency humanitarian threshold; large excerpts from the report and commentary may be found here. Huge swathes of eastern Sudan, Blue Nile, and other areas also have GAM rates above the emergency threshold.

Despite the scale of the humanitarian and security needs in Darfur, the Khartoum regime remains in a state of adamant, at times viciously preposterous denial.  Hostility to international relief efforts and UN/African Union peacekeeping mission remains unrelenting. Examples appear in the body of this digest.

[Because the News Digest now appears on a biweekly basis, dispatches will frequently be reduced to the title, the URL (always embedded in the title), and perhaps a key sentence-and much diminished commentary will be even briefer.]

[A note on Radio Dabanga's use of the word "herder(s)": confusingly, Radio Dabanga uses the word in two very different senses. On the one hand, it typically refers to Arab militia groups (as in "militant Abbala herders"-aeaning, armed Arab camel herders). On the other hand, it can occasionally refer to African farmers, who also herd livestock, as in a dispatch titled, "Two young herders die as Darfur's East Jebel Marra shelled." These two boys were African farmers, "herding" cattle when killed.]

[For previous Radio Dabanga Digests, see:

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 1 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1CD     [28 February 2015]

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 2 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1De

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 3 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Dt

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 4 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Ei

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 5 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1EL

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 6 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Fp     [April 6, 2015]

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 7 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1FL

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 8 | http://wp.me/s45rOG-6452

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 9 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Gi

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 10 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Gt

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 11 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Hq   [May 10, 2015]

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 12 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1HY

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 13 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Ia

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 14 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1II

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 15 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Ji

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 16 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1JU    [June 14, 2015]

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 17 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Kp

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 18 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1L7

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 19 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Lm

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 20 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1LM

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 21 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Mv   [August 2, 2015

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 22 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1MX

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 23 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Nr

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 24 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1NH

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 25 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1NT

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 26 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1O6   [October 11, 2015]

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 27 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Og

Darfur: Radio Dabanga Digest, Number 28 | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Or

[All emphases in all quoted material (in bold) have been added; all editorial comments are in italics, in blue, with my initials following; a useful and quite recent administrative map of Darfur appears here.]


Over the past year, Khartoum has repeatedly made clear its contempt for international humanitarian efforts in Darfur (expelling two senior UN humanitarian officials last December), for the UN/African Union "hybrid" Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), and for the people of Darfur-not least be denying they face insecurity and in one extraordinary moment declaring that the "Darfur displaced prefer aid to development," as if life in the camps were somehow an easy ride that required no work.

President al-Bashir has repeatedly declared that "Darfur does not need UNAMID protection," even as violence accelerates, particularly in the East Jebel Marra region. Khartoum is steadily increasing pressure on the UN and African Union to devise an "exit strategy," pressure that recently took the form of withholding the transport of food supplies for UNAMID personnel. Although the food was eventually allowed into Darfur, a clear signal had been sent: "we can make your life in Darfur impossible whenever we choose."


Containers at Port Sudan

Within Darfur, UNAMID is constantly denied access to camps and to areas where atrocities have been reported. The mission has already been cut by some 10,000 personnel, and many more are scheduled to leave within the year. Morale within UNAMID is disastrous in most locations, and there is little inclination to undertake missions that risk the attacks that have seen some 60 UNAMID personnel killed-most at the hands of Khartoum's Arab militia proxies.


An Arab militiaman on camel-back; Arab militia forces have been responsible for a large majority of the most deadly attacks on UNAMID

The claim that "Darfur does not need UNAMID protection" is simply another way of putting pressure on the Mission to "exit." But protection, real protection, is precisely what the people of Darfur need, and the lack of such explains too much of the violence and impunity that define the region today. Moreover, there is a continual "referendum" on the security of Darfur, conducted every day by the 370,000 Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad: they adamantly refuse to return to their lands and their country because insecurity is simply too great. And camps in eastern Chad are in many ways even less well served than those in Darfur itself. Recently, the UN's World Food Program announced that there is no funding for continuing the provision of food to the refugee populations in the twelve refugee camps running north to south along the Chad/Sudan border. This comes on top of what have already been severe cuts to daily rations.

Despite the privation and extreme difficulty of life in eastern Chad, the refugees stay-and each day that they stay represents a collective judgment that as bad as life may be in Chad, the violent insecurity in Darfur is worse:

• Refugees in eastern Chad refuse to return to Darfur | November 1, 2015 | Eastern Chad

The Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad categorically refuse to join the voluntary repatriation programme in the current insecure climate. The refugees set the restoration of the rule of law, disarmament of the militias, prosecution of the perpetrators of war crimes, and compensation, as conditions for their voluntary return. A delegation of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and a representative of the Chadian government, held a meeting with refugee leaders in the Djabal camp on Tuesday concerning the voluntary repatriation programme, as agreed between the UNHCR and the Sudanese and Chadian authorities in September.

"They told us that a Sudanese delegation will visit the camps in November to prepare for the return of the refugees," El Zein Mohamed Ahmed, Radio Dabanga correspondent in eastern Chad reported. "The refugee elders and sheikhs asserted their categorical rejection of the voluntary repatriation programme while the situation in most parts of Darfur is still extremely unsafe and insecure," he said. "They told them the refugees will not welcome any delegation from the Khartoum regime, which is the main cause of their suffering."

It will bear close watching in the coming weeks and months to see if pressure from UNCHR and Déby regime in N'Djamena will be used to force returns. Such compelled repatriation clearly violates international humanitarian law.

[ full text, with URLs and photographs, at | http://wp.me/p45rOG-1Or ]

Eric Reeves 

Smith College

Northampton, MA  01063