As we stood together in Darfur’s golden sand, the stark reality hit us squarely over the head: the Sahara is rolling slowly southward. The desert is advancing, rendering access to basic resources such as land and water a matter of life or death. If you have access to those resourcesor the support of those in political power, you survive. When there is no democracy, no peaceful way of accessing power, then in Sudan, as in so many other places around the world,
people pick up guns to win back their rights.In Darfur, the government of Sudan armed that country’s far deadlier version of the Ku Klux Klan, the Janjaweed, a mixed bag of bandits and racist ideologues whose ethnic cleansing of all non-Arab people is mostly motivated by the desire to take over land and steal livestock. John has talked with young Janjaweed recruits. They felt they had no economic alternative. These were the same feelings of the young members of the militias that committed the genocide in Rwanda. Cynical leaders can exploit economic destitution and desperation, and like macabre, racist piedpipers lead people right over the moral cliff.Since achieving independence from Great Britain in 1956, Sudan has been a country at war with itself. The genocide in Darfur is only the latest in a series of horrific conflicts. Sudan’s civil wars unfold in a depressingly familiar pattern. The Khartoum government’s counterinsurgency strategy has nearly always begun with killing and displacement on a massive scale. When the international community starts to take notice and the spotlight shines on government atrocities, the regime then scales back the military assault and the chess game begins. They manipulate ethnic dynamics, sowing internal divisions within the opposition. They manipulateAmerican, European, and African diplomats, buying time through disingenuous negotiation to gain the upper hand on the battlefield. And they manipulate humanitarian assistance, hiding behind the iron curtain of state sovereignty to deny humanitarians access to territory where vulnerable civilians need help.The ruling National Islamic Front (known today as the National Congress Party) has taken state-sponsored brutality to extraordinary levels, but the systematic hoarding of wealth and power by elites in Khartoum and the endless violent campaign to silence a deprived and angry population have deep historical roots.
- Don Cheadle and John Prendergast, authors of Not on Our Watch