War in Sudan Has Severe Consequences for Darfur

Editor’s note: The second post in our Spotlight on Sudan series is written by Dr. Amir Libiss, a former professor at the University of Khartoum who currently resides in Springfield, VA. To learn more about Dr. Libiss’ previous work examining the impact of language in Sudan, read his co-authored article. Humanity United is lending our platform to share these perspectives, however the views and opinions expressed are those of the author.

The conflict that we have seen between Sudan’s Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) over the last eight months has resulted in over 9,000 deaths and the displacement of millions more. While the scale of this violence is a tragically new phenomenon for most of the country, for the people of Darfur, it is simply an escalation of the violence they have been experiencing for the last 20 years.

Darfur was one of the most diverse provinces living in peaceful coexistence before the outbreak of war between the rebel groups and the federal government of Khartoum in 2003. The native administration had played a pivotal role in resolving conflicts in the ethnically diverse region through the mechanism of judiya.

Following the outbreak of the war, the central government used different strategies to dismantle these longstanding mechanisms of conflict resolution through divide and rule, intervention in the appointment of the native administrators and, worst of all, the division of the Darfurians into Arab and Zurga (Native African Tribes). Most Zurga tribes, namely the Massalit, Zagahwa and Fur, were identified as pro-rebel tribes and targeted through heinous acts of violence that reached the level of genocide according to the International Criminal Court. President Omar Al-Bashir was later indicted for those crimes.

Sudan’s media, which was controlled by Al Bashir’s National Salvation Government, had successfully influenced public opinion in other Sudanese states to believe that what had been going on in Darfur was a mere attempt to impose sovereignty of the state and that the ICC had no right to intervene in the sovereign state since Sudan was not a signatory to the Rome Statute. This was also coupled with a state of denial among the public opinion in Khartoum.

Adding insult to injury was the government’s decision to use the Arab militias – named locally as Janjaweed – to lead a proxy war against the rebel movements and the Zurga civilians. The massive attacks on civilians had forced them to be displaced to the cities and towns of Darfur where they lived in IDP camps, while those living in the borders had fled to Chad and South Sudan. International humanitarian organizations have been providing humanitarian relief to the Darfuri IDPs and refugees for almost 20 years despite the expulsion of some NGOs by the government on pretext of spying on the government’s activities.

Following the fall of Al-Bashir’s regime in 2019, a transitional government was formed through an alliance between the RSF (the new name for the Janjaweed), Forces of Freedom and Change, and the Military Security Committee. Despite the chant of slogans like “the whole country is Darfur,” not enough was done to address the root causes of the imbalance of power and wealth between the Sudanese regions, especially marginalized ones such as Darfur.

Starting on April 15, 2023 the RSF attacked Khartoum, targeting military institutions such as the general command and the barracks, then the war moved again to Darfur where the RSF attacked cities and villages including El Geneina, Nyala, Kutum, and El Fasher.

Over the last few months, much of Darfur has witnessed very violent attacks resulting in the murder of thousands of civilians and the forcible displacement of even more to neighboring Chad. Now that the war has spread throughout most Sudanese regions, it is more clear than ever that the Sudanese army doesn’t care about what’s going on in Darfur and that some of the worst atrocities of this war continue to be experienced by those in Darfur.