We see images of Darfur on our computer screens, with people like Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, and Don Cheadle raising awareness about the mounting humanitarian crisis in that region of the Sudan and Chad. But to make the story clear, they tend to speak of Darfur as an isolated conflict inside Sudan; the greater context of the crisis does not change the dire need for aid and intervention.
But the reasons behind the conflict in Darfur are complicated, and they cannot be separated from Sudanese civil war history. The conflict in Darfur started as an uprising against the Sudanese government by the Fur and other farmers in the region because they were marginalized and excluded from the peace negotiations toward ending the Second Sudanese Civil War...
When Britain colonized the Sudan, the people in the north were largely segregated from those in the south. The northerners had ethnic ties to Egypt, and the people in the south were mostly tribal farmers. Britain appointed government leaders that had ties to Egypt, however, and the ethnic unfairness split the country deeply. The First Sudanese Civil War took place immediately when Sudan gained independence from England, and it lasted from 1955 to 1972.
A decade or so of relative peace followed, and during that time, Chevron discovered oil in Sudan's south-central region. The map to the right marks the oil concessions in Sudan, as well as the pipeline to Port Sudan. The oil is in the south, but controlled by the government, whose loyalties lie with the north.
When it came time to extract the oil, the government in the north brutally displaced the people whose villages and farms stood in the way of building the infrastructure. Militas systematically drove southerners away by pillaging and raping and murdering with impunity. They burned villages to the ground, killed all who couldn't flee, and enslaved those who remained that could carry water and gear for them.
The war continued for two decades, but the oppression in the south became exceedingly monstrous after 1999, when the Sudanese government completed the oil pipeline to Port Sudan. They were then able to export oil on a large scale, and have since become the third largest oil producer in Africa. The government then bought modern weaponry and built infrastructure to maintain control over the oil concessions in the south. Soon tanks, helicopters, missles, all-weather roads strengthened the north's position, and the relative power over the lands in the south became clear.
Human Rights Watch released a (nearly 600 page .pdf) report, Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights whose summary begins on page 36:
The first export of crude oil from Sudan in August 1999 marked a turning point in the country’s complex civil war, now in its twentieth year: oil became the main objective and a principal cause of the war. Oil now figures as an important remaining obstacle to a lasting peace and oil revenues have been used by the government to obtain weapons and ammunition that have enabled it to intensify the war and expand oil development. Expansion of oil development has continued to be accompanied by the violent displacement of the agro-pastoral southern Nuer and Dinka people from their traditional lands atop the oilfields. Members of such communities continue to be killed or maimed, their homes and crops burned, and their grains and cattle looted.
This 30 minute documentary (with embedding disabled) about the oil wars in Sudan describes how the government's army burned villages, and fired on civilians from helicopters that flew so low that survivors were able to describe the gunmen's faces. It gives many firsthand accounts of the abuses the people of the south suffered because of the oil under their land.
The Sudanese government adamantly insists that no person in the country was displaced for oil. They claim that the people of the south are nomads who follow the water with the seasons, and they left the area on their own accord.
The Sudan People's Liberation Movement signed a comprehensive peace agreement with the Sudanese government in January 2005. Sudan's significant oil economy is now enjoyed by the elite in the north, but the people of the south return to overwhelmingly harsh conditions.
Women for Women International, who extends support, training, and microcredit to women survivors of war, is one organization doing effective relief work in Southern Sudan. The short field report above describes the current conditions in the south.
This history does not bode well for the people of Darfur. While the Second Sudanese Civil War was a separate conflict with different circumstances, the people of Darfur suffer a similar crushing backlash and displacement by the Sudanese government -- perpetrated by Janjawid militias who rape, maim, and kill with impunity.
Since the colonial period, empires have plundered, drilled, and mined the African continent with patent disregard for the dignity, living conditions, and human rights of native populations. Today, Africa suffers from severe deforestation and drought, erosion, famine, and disease: UNEP describes the continent as one of the region's most vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. This essay is the first in a series by the Daily Kos EcoJustice Team on environmental injustice in Africa.
Some earlier diaries on Africa by the EcoJustice Team:
By boatsie: Kampala, Uganda. Case Study I
By rb137: Blood Stains on Green Technology
EcoJustice hosts on Monday evenings at 7PM PST.