Discussing the pressing humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC on Aug. 11 were Omar Ishmael of the Darfur Peace and Development Organization; Adotei Akwei, Amnesty International director for Africa; and Kristin Wells, a congressional aid to Rep. John Conyers (D-MI).
Although each speaker acknowledged that the situation was far more complex than the mainstream press was reporting, none of them addressed those complexities fully.
Ishmael, who is from the Darfur region, spoke emotionally of the systematic failure throughout Sudan's history to address ethnic, cultural, and economic tensions between tribes. Sudan, he explained, was formed from three regions, becoming known as Sudan around 1820, but successive governments had not tried to integrate the three regional groups. In the only mention of colonialism's effect on the country's current situation, Ishmael said the British exacerbated that disintegration through "closed district" zones which isolated the south.
It was the British, according to Ishmael, who annexed Darfur in 1922, but it was not until January 1956 that Sudan gained its independence. Reiterating that no social or economic issues in Darfur had been addressed, resulting in long-term rifts in the area, Ishmael faulted the present government, in power for 13 years, for having failed to solve such historic problems in what he described as one million square miles of underdeveloped land.
The world should care about this region, he said, because of the oil in Chad and the French pipeline running through Cameroon-and because that million square miles could turn into a breeding ground for terror. Although he had begun his talk by saying that Darfur's problems were more complex than Arab versus African, Ishmael concluded by saying that it would be a disservice to the Sudanese people to turn the situation into a semantic debate over the use of the word "genocide." Saying the U.S. had used the term, he challenged Americans to "do something about it."
Amnesty International's Akwei agreed that the "genocide or not" debate was a distraction, and that the situation needed intervention. He conceded that Amnesty International had not declared genocide, while acting as if it were.
Akwei distinguished three aspects of the problem: humanitarian, security, and peacekeeping.
On a human scale, Akwei cited numbers of 2.2 million affected, 1.3 million displaced and in need of aid for at least two years, only 800,000 who would be fed in even the best case scenario, and that 300,000 to 350,000 people were projected to die by December. Moreover, he said, despite the many donations, the food assistance project in place would likely run out by October. He asked the audience not to let U.S. elections delay aid.
On the question of security, Akwei said that the region's militias, such as the outlawed Janjaweed, were carrying out deliberate attacks, and accused the Sudanese army of doing likewise. …