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The Crisis in Darfur

Stephanos Karavas

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The first photograph I took in Darfur was of a tiny child, Mihad Hamid. She was only a year old when I found her. Her mother had attempted to escape an onslaught from helicopter gunships and Janjaweed marauders that had descended upon her village ... in October 2004. Carrying her daughter in a cloth wrapped around her waist, as is common in Sudan, Mihad's terrified mother had run from her attackers. But a bullet had rung out through the dry air, slicing through Mihad's flesh and puncturing her lungs. When I discovered the child, she was nestled in her mother's lap, wheezing in a valiant effort to breathe. -- Brian Steidle

A former United States Marine, Steidle was sent by the military to Darfur with two other men to observe the conflict and capture it with their cameras. Under the protection of the 7,000 African Union (A.U.) peacekeeping troops stationed in the Darfur region, Steidle continued to document the conflict vigorously.

His aforementioned account was his first encounter with the violence and atrocities that have been and are being committed in Darfur. After finding the mother with her dying child, Steidle did his best to save little Mihad, but unfortunately it was too late; "It broke my heart to be able to offer her only a prayer and a glance of compassion".

Scenes like the one in Steidle's account have become part of the daily life in Darfur, and much worse have been and are being committed. Steidle describes the most horrific atrocity he witnessed: "The worst thing I saw came last December, when Labado, a village of 20,000 people, was burned to the ground".

The "Darfur Conflict", as it is referred to, began in February of 2003, and has been raging on since then with little to no diplomatic progress. As the violence escalates, the world continues to watch. The governments and people of nations are well aware of what is happening in the Darfur region of Western Sudan. After all, there exists an abundance of information on the internet, in books and in eyewitness accounts such as Steidle's. Charles Gibson even announced on ABC News that a website has been created where one can view the ravaged land through satellite GPS and read the accounts of individual villages. So why doesn't the world react? Why, for over four years, has the entire world sat still as the Sudanese government and Arab militias jointly commit crimes against humanity? While the reason for the worldwide inaction is debatable, one fact remains clear: abundant proof of the atrocities exists, and the world continues to observe from afar. In order, though, to understand the reasons for the Darfur Conflict which broke out in 2003, it is necessary to understand the historical roots of the conflict (they go back much farther than the past four years).

In the beginning of the 20th century, when Africa was being carved up by the Imperial European powers, Sudan fell to the British under Field Marshall Herbert Kitchener. Sudan was then co-ruled by Britain and Egypt, but was essentially under British imperialistic rule given that Egyptian politics were nearly controlled by Britain at the time. The ruling British dedicated most of the resources, funds, and provisions budgeted to Sudan to the capital, Khartoum, and the regions along the Nile River, leaving the outer regions including Darfur less developed. From the early 1900's, an economic disparity was created in Sudan that would come to divide the country and its politics into a have vs. have-not battle.

Since the time of British Imperialism, Sudanese politics have also been partially dictated by a blame game between ethnic Arabs and ethnic Africans, who hold each other responsible for the underdevelopment in Darfur. In the 1960's through the 1980's, neighboring nations like Libya under Muammar Gaddafi have meddled with Sudanese politics on the side of the Arabs. A direct result of this interference has created an ideology of Arab Supremacy in the Sudanese government which has lasted through the conflict to this day.

Fighting broke out between the rebel group JEM (Justice and Equality Movement), SLM (Sudan Liberation Army), and the Sudanese Government Forces in early 2003. The JEM and SLM both claim that the government has oppressed ethnic Africans, and jointly carried out successful operations against the government forces. With no military strategy and defeat in sight, the government hired the Janjaweed, a rebel group of ethnic Arabs to fight the JEM and SLM. The Sudanese government supplied the Janjaweed with arms and funds, and dispatched them to the Darfur region in 2003.

While the Janjaweed was sent to fight the African rebel groups, their efforts since their armament have been almost entirely directed towards oppressing, raping, and murdering the ethnically African population of the Darfur region. Countless massacres, burning of villages and mass-murders have taken place and continue to through 2007. The people of Darfur are confronted daily with the choice of who in the family will get the water from an urban center; if the man goes, chances are he will be shot by the Janjaweed. If the woman goes, it is likely that she will be raped. Such is the condition of the desperation of the people suffering in Darfur. Yet, the world continues to stand by.

Diplomatic negotiations between NATO, the U.S., and recently China with the government of Sudan have been taking place since the beginning of the massacre. Countless deals have been made for the improvement of the situation, and the Sudanese government has not honored one.

Diplomacy has failed with Sudan, and the time has come to take further action. The U.N., which traditionally sets for itself the goal of preventing genocide, is still debating on whether genocide is really happening or not in Darfur. China, which buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and supplies the government with arms, only began pressuring Sudan diplomatically on April 17, 2007. The European Union, which according to The Economist, has a stronger economy than the U.S. and China and is a neighbor to Africa, has done little to nothing for the Darfur cause. Only the United States has been providing logistical support to the terribly under armed African Union troops in Sudan and a great deal of funds. No other nation in the world has taken the next step in aiding Darfur, where 400,000 people have been massacred and 2.5 million have been displaced since 2003.

While the United States, which is overstretched in Iraq and facing the continued decline of the dollar, has been the most active in aiding Darfur, the rest of the world needs to muster up the conviction to support the cause. More than that, military intervention is a necessity in the coming years if the genocide is to end. For, it is only by force and military might that the Janjaweed and the Sudanese government will be forced to end their reign of terror. Unfortunately, the world continued to watch as the genocide continues. The people of Darfur are asking themselves the same question as the Jews of Europe in World War II: where are the world powers when such inhuman atrocities are taking place. While the U.S. and Russia had the obstacle of overcoming the army of the Third Reich in the 1940's, there lies today no obstacle in the path of intervention for Darfur except the ineptitude of current governments around the world.

Stephanos Karavas is a high school student with a keen interest in current affairs. A winner of several important awards in history and language and team captain of his school soccer team, Stephanos lives with his parents in Canton, Massachusetts.

This article first appeared in The Hellenic Voice. Reprinted with permission of The Hellenic Voice.

Posted: 23-Jun-07

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