Socialist Worker

Are the occupiers of Iraq the answer here?

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 1912

TONY BLAIR says 5,000 British troops are poised to intervene in Darfur, western Sudan.

Nobody can doubt the terrible suffering in the region. But pouring in more military forces will make it worse.

British arms firms have already helped fuel conflict by selling weapons across the continent of Africa.

What Darfur needs is avalanche of food, water and other assistance, not bombs and guns.

Sudan’s tragedy is a product of colonialism, a world system that entrenches hundreds of millions of Africans in near-starvation, and the manoeuvres of the great powers and the multinationals.

The imperial powers that preside over this system will not solve Sudan’s problems.

Last month the UN human development report showed that life expectancy is collapsing across Africa.

In seven countries it is now below 40 years. Malnutrition and poverty are on the rise.

This is the world Blair and George Bush defend—one where people still starve, lack basic shelter and don’t have access to safe water, while the US spends $400 billion a year on weaponry.

Their supposed concern for Africans is hypocritical cover for their real motives.

The crisis in Darfur is surrounded by myths.

Many accounts of the fighting suggest it is between “Arabs” and “Africans”. Some even say it is between Muslims and Christians.

In fact all the people of Darfur are Muslims.

There are traditional distinctions between different groupings. But, as in much in of Africa, these are based on economic function rather than race.

There are two key groupings in Darfuri society.

The first are farmers, who grow crops. The second are nomadic animal-grazers who raise camels and cattle.

The first group is what the media call the Africans. The second is what they call the Arabs.

In fact the two groups look like one another, speak the same languages, depend on one another for the means of life and (in many cases) share extended family ties.

As Alex de Wall wrote in the Observer on Sunday, “Darfur’s Arabs are black, indigenous, African and Muslim—just like Darfur’s non-Arabs, who hail from the Fur, Masalit, Zaghawa and a dozen smaller tribes.”

Over many centuries these groups have clashed at various times, but also intermarried and cooperated at others.

In most cases disputes over water and land rights were settled by negotiation and compromise.

When the media, and the world’s governments, talks of war between Arabs and Africans, they are playing into the hands of Sudan’s rulers.

The Sudanese government has tried to intensify ethnic battles in Darfur as a way of smashing rebellion against its rule.

What we now call Sudan is a creation of colonialism, fought over by Britain and France a century ago.

This is where the British imperialist hero General Gordon was killed at Khartoum in 1885 by local people who had risen against foreign rule.

British colonialism divided Sudan between north and south (the roots of another modern Sudanese civil war, separate from the one in Darfur), and stoked ethnic divisions to make their rule easier.

Since independence in 1956, Sudanese governments have violently suppressed any move towards regional autonomy because it might threaten their control over the country’s oil deposits.

In the last decade the poverty of Darfur has worsened.

The central government has also stepped up demands for cheap labour from the area. All of this led to revolt, which greatly increased a year ago.

In order to break the rebellion the government has stressed ethnic differences, encouraging some groups to see themselves as exclusively “Arab”.

This is the background to the present fighting, with the government using helicopter gunships and jets to back up militias on the ground to destroy villages and murder its opponents.


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Features
Sat 31 Jul 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1912
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