June 15, 2007
The crisis in Western Sudan often seems too huge and complex for an individual citizen to impact. Yet students across the United States are leading efforts to do just that, even as their governments are slow to act. Darfur implores: “Take action now!” Yet the world’s leading political figures, who ardently proclaimed “never again” after the Holocaust only to repeat the same words after the Rwandan genocide, have yet to keep their promise.
The atrocities taking place in Darfur–a territory roughly the size of France–are not fictional horrors conjured up by politicians, journalists and activists to sensationalize world media. Darfur, Sudan, is a real place, and it is a lawless bloodbath. The U.N. has described the current situation in Darfur as “the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century” while President Bush and the U.S. Congress have labeled the situation “genocide.”
Since the inception of the conflict, at least 200,000 people have been murdered and more than a million people displaced. Women and young girls are consistently being raped and beaten. Since 2003, approximately every five minutes someone dies in Darfur from starvation, disease or murder. But in order to grasp the transnational origins of this disaster, it’s necessary to understand Sudan’s turbulent history. Sudan, like much of Africa, has wrestled with the twin demons of tribal conflict and colonial rule, and emerged in the 21st century having settled a 25-year war in the southeast, only to see Darfur erupt.
Complex conflict with a human toll
The crisis in Darfur began virtually unnoticed by the international scene in 2003, when all eyes were turned to President Bush’s more important and benevolent scheme to “liberate the people of Iraq.” In early 2003, the SLM/A (Sudan Liberation Movement/Army) issued a declaration that it had taken arms against Khartoum, the central government where all the political power is concentrated. Not long after, JEM (Justice and Equality Movement) began an uprising of its own against the government.
Like distraught children looking for attention from neglecting parents, the SLM/A and the JEM were appealing for an equal and accepting government that would include Darfur’s Africans interests upon governmental decision making. Up until 2003, Darfur had been marginalized and underdeveloped by the Sudanese government. Both the JEM and the SLM/A were demanding political representation and equal distribution of natural resources.