The Frayed Decade: On Darfur, Peace and Possibility

The War in Darfur began ten years ago. We must keep talking about it.

In January 2006, Glenys Kinnock of the Guardian wrote a piece titled The Rape of Darfur in which she said “…close to 400,000 people have been killed as part of a government-sponsored program of ethnic cleansing” and that “…the brutal rape of women and children has become a weapon of war.”

Awareness surrounding the situation in Darfur was intensifying in 2006. Students around the world were protesting and documentaries were being made. In April of that same year 50,000 people attended the Save Darfur: Rally to Stop Genocide and marched across the National Mall in Washington D.C. Newspaper articles about the rally reached an estimated 31 million readers.

And here we are today. Just yesterday, Mahmoud A. Suleiman of The Sudan Tribune opens his article Darfur peace stays a mirage with the following:

This article comes against the backdrop of the tenth anniversary by 26 February 2003 when the two Darfuri rebel groups the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M) had to take up arms against the central government in Khartoum. They resorted to armed rebellion in response to the announcement of President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir that he would not negotiate with those who do not carry weapons. Thus, the Sudanese government decided to resort to the military option to counter the Darfur fighters. Prior to that turn of events, the rebel group accused the Islamist putschists government of the so-called National Salvation Revolution (NSR) of political and economic marginalisation of the people of the Darfur region by depriving them their rights of sharing power and wealth of the country.

Since then people of Sudan in Darfur have witnessed uncountable tribulations and atrocities at the hands of the National Islamic Front (NIF) government and allied militias imported from the neighbouring countries. Darfur and its civilian population subjected to all kinds chilling atrocities included crimes against humanity, war crimes; ethnic cleansing and genocide similar to the calamity the Tutsi people of Rwanda endured at the hands of their fellow Hutu Génocidaire ten years earlier, in 1994. A question arises and naively wondering about this phenomenon of ‘Ten Years” which hit both the Tutsi of Rwanda and the people of Darfur is it a coincidence or bad omen?

Some say Darfur cannot be saved, others say the US and China’s demand for oil is fueling the crisis. Some say the US and China are the only superpowers who can turn things around. Reasons abound as to what started this war and why it continues and even what to call it. The only real certainty is that what we’ve witnessed in Darfur is a shining example of how peace is not simply something to be found; peace must be built.

Pouring over the articles from 2003 until today was a crushing exercise. The vast majority could have simply swapped dates – the content was that similar. The parasite alongside the profound lack of answers or the inability to carry out answers is this: nothing sparks a global health crisis quite like war. An estimated three million people are now displaced, and the incredible steps seen throughout the continent in regards to the treatment and prevention of diseases like malaria have at times been nonexistent in Darfur.

This morning, William Bain wrote in his article titled Ten Years On: Why Darfur is on Repeat and What Our Leaders Can Do to Stop It:

Until there is peace in Darfur, there will continue to be humanitarian needs, including long-term support whilst people build up their self-sufficiency once more. The Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, signed between one of the rebel movements and the government of Sudan, brought some hope, yet this promise will only be fulfilled if all parties are genuinely committed to peace.

Mr. Bain is also on repeat. He offers nothing new. I’m guilty, too.

Some of our world’s best filmmakers, photographers and journalists have risked their lives and told stories that will last the ages. Our leaders, well, they’ve formed committees and been elected to boards and become chairmen of things. Our celebrities could not have done more in terms of raising awareness. So, what must be done? Here are four suggestions although there are hundreds equally and undoubtedly more worthy:

(1) We must keep talking about Darfur. Awareness can seem a hopeless cause until it’s not.

(2) A radical waging of applied secular ethics. Sustained wars are a result of retaliating, blaming and desperation. While I personally believe Buddhist leaders such as His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso and Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh offer the clearest insights into these matters, the religion ideas come from must be stripped – especially in an area 10-years ripe with divisiveness.

(3) Creativity. Here in Thailand during the 2011 flood crisis, Buddhist monks and psychologists floated on boats to help maintain the mental health of those who were stranded in their homes. Many peacekeepers in Darfur have been killed while trying to help, yet 25-year-old Jonah Burke raised $100,000 for aid organizations through his simple The Darfur Wall idea. How best can we fuel humanitarian innovation?

(4) Practice. Science is showing that empathy and happiness aren’t just states of being that we move in and out of depending on what the external environment throws our way. They are practices and worth practicing. So Darfur is on repeat. What has succeeded and failed in Darfur? How best can public and private sectors pool resources into the former? What parts of the peace practice we’ve already tried should be discarded?

Al Jazeera English released a terrific video yesterday titled “A Decade of Disaster in Darfur.” Please check it out below and join the conversation: What can be done in Darfur? How can the next decade be different?


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