Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on September 2, 2009
We are all aware of the humanitarian crisis taking place in Darfur. We know it began in back 2003 after Africans rebel groups The Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attacked the Arab dominated government after years of marginalization and oppression. We also know that the government responded by backing an Arab militia, the Janjaweed, to burn down entire villages and commit atrocities on its African inhabitants. And we know the horrifying statistics: 2.5 million plus displaced; over 450,000 killed.
But what we may not know why this genocide is taking place.
Is it religious?
No. Of Sudan’s 40 million people, 70% are Sunni Muslim, 25% are Animist and 5% are Christian. However, both groups in the current conflict are black, indigenous and largely Muslim.
Is it political?
Yes. The factors behind the conflict are complex but political marginalization was a trigger. The Arab dominated government in Khartoum has long neglected its ethnic African population, which resulted in a lack of infrastructure such as schools, health services and roads.
Is there conflict over resources?
Yes. There has been a long tradition of rivalry between the African farmers to the South and Arab herders to the North. Environmental factors like drought and desertification has intensified this rivalry by placing more pressure on its inhabitants for land and water.
Any other resources perchance?
Yes. Oil. Chevron discovered oil in southern Sudan in 1978. The government of the time redrew Sudan’s jurisdictional boundaries to exclude the oil reserves from the south. Prolonged negotiations led to 21 years of civil war. The discovery of oil in Darfur in Sudan’s west is more recent. “There’s some speculation that one of the reasons that these land grabs are going on is to get the African tribes off the ground so they can be controlled by the government in Khartoum,” says Ken Bacon, president of U.S. advocacy organization Refugees International (as quoted by Reuters).
Is oil funding the genocide?
Yes. “Sudan began exporting oil in August 1999, which provides an estimated one-half to one billion dollar yearly revenue”. It has been reported that part of this revenue is used to purchase attack helicopters, MiGs and other weapons that the Janjaweed use against the rebels as part of its scorched earth policy.
Has oil impacted the West’s stance towards Darfur?
Some would argue it has. In the early days of the conflict, Washington and the EU did nothing to stop the violence taking place. And according to Worldpress, “only when the escalating crisis in Darfur threatened to derail the north-south peace deal and prevent the opening up of Sudan’s lucrative oilfields to Western exploitation did the US start waving the threat of UN sanctions against Sudan”.
This may be a cynical view, but when it comes to oil — stranger things have happened.
For a more detailed history of this crisis, click here.