As this post is being read, violence continues in the Darfur region of Sudan. Without engaging in the debate concerning whether or not the atrocities in Darfur may indeed be deemed genocide according to international law, mass atrocities continue to be committed. The mass violence in Darfur is an issue that affects the ‘international community’ as well as smaller communities in the US and the people who are victims of genocide in Sudan, and while it is a challenging issue to discuss, there are solutions. There are obvious and less obvious community sectors and major global and local forces contributing to the problem. What is needed? A creative solution that operates both within existing state structures and outside the nation-state is what is needed.

The crisis in Darfur has many root causes and has grown out of several separate but intersecting conflicts (Straus 125). The first is a civil war between the Islamist, Khartoum-based national government, and two rebel groups based in Darfur (The Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality movement). “The rebels, angered by Darfur’s political and economic marginalization by Khartoum, first appeared in February 2003” (Straus 124). The government did not begin a major counteroffensive until the rebels carried out a major attack on a military airfield. Khartoum responded by “arming irregular militia forces and directing them to eradicate the rebellion. The militias set out to do just that, but mass violence against civilians is what followed” (Straus 125). The government essentially decided to covertly fight the rebels. In 2004, the government and main southern rebels entered negotiations and neared a comprehensive agreement. However, the Darfur region was never represented in these discussions: “the Darfur rebels decided to strike partly to avoid being left out of any new political settlement” (Straus 125). Here it can be seen that a community that was marginalized was merely attempting to fight for their rights.

More specifically, Darfur, which is about the size of Texas, is home to about six million people and several dozen tribes, which are then split between “those who claim ‘African’ descent and primarily practice sedentary agriculture, and those who claim ‘Arab’ descent and are mostly semi-nomadic livestock herders” (Straus 126). However, these divisions are far from clear since all Sudanese are technically African, and Darfurians are nearly all Muslim. In addition, years of intermarriage have decreased obvious physical differences between ‘Arabs and black ‘Africans’ (Straus 126). Extended drought and environmental factors have caused increased land disputes and have escalated the tensions in the region. The Khartoum government did not help matters by supporting and arming Arab tribes in the mid-1980s to “prevent the southern rebels from gaining a foothold in the region” (Straus 126). In response to rebel uprisings the government armed Arab militias to target black African civilians who came from the same tribes as the rebel groups.

While one person may be able to make a small mark, what is really needed in this solution is for people to come together and lobby governments all over the world to take action, while at the same time working outside the government structure to support projects such as solar cookers in refugee camps or NGO’s on the ground providing much-needed assistance. Gary Delgado, Oakland organizer writes in his introduction how his own experience as an organizer led him to believe, “the ground-breaking work, the innovation, the experimentation, and the motivating livid anger that comes from the truly oppressed is at the heart of the work in immigrants’ rights organizations, gay and lesbian organizations, disabled people’s organizations and organizations of people of color” (7). Organizers must not only focus on those who have money to donate, but also incorporate all oppressed people to illustrate that these actions will not be tolerated.
What should be included? Elements of activist using people power “to embarrass, disrupt, and publicly challenge key decision makers, forcing them to adhere to the group’s demands” (Delgado 20) and using “indigenous leadership with a professional staff.” It is also important to recognize where the solution fits into the larger picture and whether or not it can solve the root causes or serve as a band-aid. The situation in Sudan seems more similar to an analogy of a hemorrhage in that you cannot stop a hemorrhage with band-aids, “however many you apply; for a hemorrhage, you need major surgery. And I worry that as we fritter away our time and energies debating the minutia of small scale do-it-yourself-type community initiatives, the patient will bleed to death” (Gilligan 10). At the same time as we try slowing to patch up the patient, Sudan, we must also be aware of the larger picture, but it is these smaller scale initiatives that will hopefully lead to change.

According to Colin Fletcher, who writes on community problems, the problems must first be acknowledged as a shared. As Fletcher says, “the problems of society today can only be solved when society has become a community. Community occurs when a common predicament is shared. Sharing requires sympathetic understanding which in turn is the beginning of wisdom” (Fletcher 44). If we, as an international community, can recognize that this is indeed an issue that is important, than as individuals we can lobby our governments by movements in the street such as the Stop Genocide Rally on the Washington Mall in April 2006. Also by increasing awareness and continually showing that as an international community, we care.
This will also be a period calling for more collaboration between many diverse communities around the world (Calderon 53). As Calderon says, “Changing relations between all peoples and all countries are developing a more interdependent world. Today, we live with the reality that no community, no economy, and no country is able to exist separately” (Calderon 54). Although it may be hard to see at first glance how the victims of the genocide in Darfur are connected to us, as students in the US we are able to transcend national boundaries and work alongside communities as diverse as those in Sudan.

Since the movement to stop genocide is so strong in the US we can expand outwards and help train and mobilize others to lobby their governments to take some kind of action on the issue of Sudan. As a former student at Pitzer College, I brought together students, staff, faculty and anyone else interested to discuss current events in Sudan. I asked people with indigenous knowledge such as Lako Tongun, who is originally from the Sudan to work with Jerry Fowler, a visiting professor from the Holocaust Memorial Museum Committee on Conscious and student activists across the five colleges to come together to increase awareness of an important issue. Small groups must connect to schools outside the US, and tell them about what they are doing to help educate others about Darfur in hopes that schools can pass the message forward and contact other schools to mobilize transnational activism to stop genocide in Sudan, or at least assuage the situation.

Looking at the problem of genocide in Darfur, as students, we cannot change the ecological factors, we cannot individually choose to go in to fight against government-backed militias, nor can all of us travel to Sudan to speak to the refugees. We may not all agree on the measures that should be taken by the US or so-called international community to stop the atrocities: Should there be an invasion to stop the violence, an increased African Union force, targeted sanctions, comprehensive sanctions, or suspension of UN membership? The conditions are further complicated by the changes that are taking place day to day, as time goes by. What we can control is our own activism.

For more information:
http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/alert/darfur/contents/01-overview/
http://www.genocideintervention.net/
http://www.standnow.org/

References:

Fletcher, Colin, “The Meanings of ‘Community’ in Community Education,” in Community Education: An Agenda for Educational Reform, ed. Allen Garth, et al., Philadelphia: open University Press, 1987, 33-49.

Calderon, Jose, “An Essay on Sources of Intercommunity Conflict and Models of Collaboration,” California Politics and Policy, (10-1998), p.53-57.

Gilligan, James (2001) “Who Benefits from Violence” Preventing Violence. London: Thames and Hudson, 7-28 and 131-38.

Straus, Scott. “Darfur and the Genocide Debate,” Foreign Affairs, volume 84, No. 1 available at http://www.polisci.wisc.edu/users/Straus/Straus.pdf

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