Over 83,000 displaced due to violence in Sudan’s Darfur region: OCHA

Among the multiple factors driving the violence are alleged mining interests, contest over land and water, and the attempt to end the war with a power-sharing deal between the leadership of the fighting parties without addressing the root causes or involving the communities

December 17, 2021 by Pavan Kulkarni
Darfur violence, Sudan
(Photo: Modesta Ndubi/UNHCR)

“Stop the bleeding of Darfur” and “All cities are Darfur” were among the slogans raised at the protest demonstrations in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, Khartoum North, Omdurman, and various other towns in several States across the country on Thursday, December 16.

Hundreds have been killed and over 83,000 people displaced since October due to the increasing armed violence in the Darfur region, according to the latest situation report published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on December 16. Several dozen villages have been burnt down.

In West Darfur alone, the number of people killed in armed clashes reached 200 as of December 13. “It is worth noting that many of the wounded die because of the difficulty of getting them to medical facilities in a timely manner, as well as the lack of rural hospitals with the necessary capabilities to save them, and this explains the number of deaths exceeding the number of wounded,” the West Darfur Doctors’ committee said in a statement.

“These tragedies are added to the massacres sweeping the region, especially West Darfur, in the absence of any indication of the government’s desire to protect the lives and property of civilians, and the complete inability to take any step to impose the Rule of Law. The state has left millions of civilians facing their unknown fate, burying dozens of their relatives. Some of them are in mass graves,” as per the statement

A majority of the killings unfolded on December 10-11 when heavily armed militias of nomadic herdsmen, mounted on four-wheel drives, attacked the communities of sedentary pastoralists in villages and in camps sheltering Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Jebel Moon and around the Kereneik locality. Similar attacks have also occurred in the States of North Darfur and South Darfur. 

In the popular discourse, the camel-back nomads are often referred to as Arabic tribes while the settled pastoralists raising sheep and farming in the region are referred to as African tribes, although the validity of this classification is contested. Nevertheless, this classification is often relied upon to simplify the violence as a tribal conflict.       

“What happened has absolutely nothing to do with tribal conflicts, and any attempt to describe it in this way is a complicity in the crime,” according to Ahmed Ishag, member of the Committee for Stopping the Massacres in West Darfur.

State-backed militias are “an integral part of the recent conflicts

Adam Rahal, spokesperson for the General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur, claimed that the attacking militias were from the notorious Rapid Support Forces (RSF). This state-backed militia operates outside of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), under the direct command of the ruling military junta’s deputy chairman, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo aka Hemeti. 

Rahal said that the “RSF are an integral part of the recent conflicts, they ride in cars and motorcycles that are prohibited in the region to attack villages, camps and areas to kill and rape without restriction, and the state is completely absent.”  

The RSF was created out of what are known as the Janjaweed militias, put together with recruits from the nomadic tribes, and armed and funded by the state during the rule of former dictator Omar al-Bashir. Their purpose was to put down the armed rebellion by groups representing the marginalized pastoralist communities in the region. In the process, they allegedly committed a genocide for which Bashir is being tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The civil war has formally ended with the Juba peace agreement signed in October 2020 between what was – until the coup on October 25, 2021 – the transitional joint military-civilian government and a number of armed rebel groups. Hemeti was the general who signed on behalf of the government. 

Juba agreement merely a power-sharing deal

Critics argue that the Juba peace agreement was merely a power-sharing deal on the basis of which, the leadership of the RSF and the rebel groups agreed to stop fighting in exchange for an arrangement to share power. 

This deal has failed to resolve the root-causes of the conflict between the nomadic herdsmen and the pastoralists, which has historically been over resources, mainly pastoral land, that are depleting with the increasing desertification of the Sahel region over the last decades. The IDPs were not a part of the peace negotiations.

According to sources observing the developments in Darfur, even if the leadership of the RSF and the armed rebel groups who signed the Juba agreement wish to stop the violence, they are not in a position to do so because the foot soldiers on both sides feel betrayed by their leaders’ power-sharing deal, which offers little to the communities that both sides claim to represent.   

Further, several factions of armed rebel groups have not signed the Juba agreement and continue to remain at war with the state. On the other hand, the sections of Janjaweed militias which were not integrated into the RSF have not been disarmed and do not necessarily take orders from Hemeti.

Mining interests

Hemeti, in any case, does not appear to be keen on de-escalating the violence. Rahal has alleged that Hemeti is using the RSF to unleash violence to displace people from the mineral-rich areas of the region in order to make way for mining interests. Darfur is rich in copper, gold, precious stones and uranium

“Sudan sits on what may be the largest gold reserves in Africa and the government of Khartoum has awarded exploration contracts to more than 600 (Western) mining  companies looking for gold and other metals,” according to a 2020 position paper by The Gulf Futures Center.

Thus, violence in Darfur has continued as a result of multiple factors – including mining interests, contest over land and water, and the attempt to end the war with a power-sharing agreement between the leadership of the fighting parties without addressing the root causes involving the communities.

Declaring the Juba peace agreement as a non-starter for peace in Darfur and other troubled regions, the forces of December Revolution – which overthrew Bashir and are now resisting the military junta that has seized power since the October 25 coup – propose a radical solution. 

This includes the overthrow of the military junta and the formation of a full-civilian government. RSF and the rebel groups are to be dissolved, its fighters disarmed and eventually integrated into the army which is to be subjugated to civilian authority.