It’s common knowledge that Darfur has one of the longest histories of human existence in the Sudan. Some time before carnage and inequality became the new law of order; Darfur was peaceful and ruled by sultans who exchanged letters with Napoleon and traded with Egypt.
Like many parts of Sudan, Darfur is home to many ethnic groups.
The Africans are divided into two groups:-
1-settled groups such as the “Fur”, the largest African ethnic group.
2-Non settled ones such as the Zaghawa
Dar means homeland and fur refers to this ethnic groups. Darfur takes its name from this ethnic group. There also other African tribes such as the Zaghawa etc..
Arabs arrived in Darfur between the 14th and 18th century, they are also divided into two groups
1-traders who arrived from the East and the West
2-Juhaynas who arrived from the North-West.
Juhayna Arabs: - a group of people who trace their lineage to the prophet’s tribe (Qoreish)
Juhayna Arabs fall into two groups:-
Baggara (cattle herders/cattle-people) or Abbala or (Camel-men)
The Fur sultans granted land to the Baggara however, the Abbala were not given any land. This is how they believe they are involved in the conflict now. They’ve been looking for land for the past 250 years.
Marginalization of Darfur
Surprisingly, Darfur wasn’t only marginalized by current Sudanese governments, the underdevelopment and marginalization of Darfur started from the colonial times.
Developing Darfur was not considered until 1945.
“The file economic development, Darfur province in the Khartoum national archives, contains just five entries for the entire period 1917-50” (De Waal)
Education was limited to the children of local chiefs.
The governments of Sudan continued neglecting Darfur after independence. There was no investment in Darfur whatsoever. Healthcare facilities and Education didn’t improve much.
Many promises were dishonored.
Water and migration
Water in Darfur is scarce. Lake Chad is drying up at an alarming rate and every season, tribes such as the Baggara migrate south to spend the long summer.
Note: - It is believed that they used to take back slaves and stolen cattle with them back in the days.
In the autumn, the Baggara escape African Sleeping Sickness and heavy rains and go to the North. If they found African tribes there, they sometimes pay them to stay in their land but sometimes fighting is better than paying.
In the next part, I will explain
1- How the Darfur conflict is not entirely restricted to Sudan, it involved and still involves Chad, Libya and other countries
2- The conflict didn’t really start in 2003
How Libya and Chad are involved
After Chad got its independence from France, they were under the leadership of Francis Tombalbaye, a president mostly hated by the Chadian Muslims for his policies and dictatorial rule.
After the civil war started in Chad, the Sudanese and the Libyans supported Hissene Habre to become the next president of Chad. Habre was Muslim and possibly Arab. According to Sudan and Libya, he was the perfect candidate.
The Americans and the Egyptians also provided military and financial support to Habre. The Sudanese provided him with lands in Darfur for training his army which was made up of Chadians and Sudanese. Habre took over the capital and the late Tombalbaye (who was removed in a coup d’état earlier) had nowhere to go but the Sudan. During the years of civil war and insurgency in Chad, unthinkable amounts of arms were smuggled to the Sudan. Most of the arms stayed in Darfur.
Like all the borders in Africa, the Chadian-Sudanese border is porous. Refugees crossed the borders freely and arms crossed even more freely.
Clashes between tribes especially settled (mostly Fur) and unsettled tribes (mostly Arabs) were common. Instead of fighting with knives or even rifles, they now had Kalashnikovs. The Arab tribes armed themselves. The age-old conflicts involving land and water started becoming more intense and bloody.
After supporting Habre, Sudan and Libya decided they don’t like him after all. In 1975, Libya invaded Chad and Libyan troops fought Chadian troops for the next 10 years or so. The military aid given to Chad by the United States and France was used to win the war against Gaddafi’s Libya. The Sudanese government supported Libya’s war against Chad. They didn’t provide military or financial aid but they just gave Libya the permission to use Darfur as a “rear base”.
Many lives were lost in the following years because of this stupid move.
“Thousands of Islamic legion troops and Chadian Arabs crossed the desert to Darfur. Given the increasing local tensions, this sparked a conflagration in Darfur: an Arab-Fur war between 1987 and 1989 in which thousands were killed and hundreds of villages burned” (De Waal)
The civil war started.
Darfur Civil war (1987-1989)
The civil war in Darfur was simply tribal conflicts. Arms were still being smuggled from Chad and it was fought during the second Sudanese civil war.
The government decided to take advantage of the Arabs in Darfur and started arming them. This was primarily to help them fight the wars they waged against the South but it was used for the internal conflicts too.
For example: - In 1987, Arab militia from the Baggara tribe killed and burned over 1,000 dinka’s in “El-Daíen”. They were heavily armed from the government to fight the SPLA and their supporters (the 1,000 innocent people they killed I suppose!).
Note: - about a month before the Islamist regime/National salvation government took over the country, peace talks ended the civil war in Darfur. Not once and not for all.
In 1990, Chad was close to having a new president. Idriss Deby(an ethnic Zaghawa, one of the largest tribes in Darfur).
For the tenth time, Darfur was being used as a training area for training Deby’s men and rearming them. Libya and Sudan armed Deby’s new group, The Patriotic Salvation.
“Khartoum assisted him by remobilizing 1,200 Chadian Arabs militia, and France looked the other way. In December, Deby counterattacked and swiftly occupied N’Djamena”. (De Waal)
Years later, Chad and Deby will be part of the picture again.
Kalashing the famine
“The Kalash brings cash, without a kalash you’re trash”
In 1990, the price of a Kalashnikov in Darfur was 40 dollars.
In the late 80’s, Darfur made headlines when it was hit by a horrible drought resulting in a famine.
There is an untold story about the famine. Darfurians weren’t only starved, they were also robbed. Arms were smuggled from Chad or handed out by Libya. The political instability in Chad leaked through the porous Chadian-Sudanese border in the form of “Armed Robberies”.
Sadly, tribes participated in this (especially settled ones). The arms intensified small tribal conflicts over water (a scarce source in Darfur).
Darfur: A Short History of a long War, Alex De Waal and Julie Flint
Notes from Darfur, my father personal diary from his work in Darfur (I lived 6 months in Darfur)
Covering Darfur (Arabic book) Ibrahim Al-Sadiq Ali attia