Listening to Sudanese Voices on Darfur
It goes without saying that Sudanese scholars are the true experts on Darfur’s crisis. The short book edited by Abdel Ghaffar Mohammed Ahmed and Leif Manger, Understanding the Crisis in Darfur: Listening to Sudanese Voices, is an essential resource for those wishing to understand how Sudanese see the conflict and the possible resolution to it.
The contributors to this volume–almost all of them Sudanese social scientists–possess a subtle and insightful analysis of Darfur’s crisis. They situate the crisis in Sudan’s broader challenges of national unity and identity, and equitable development, which have preoccupied Sudanese social and political thinkers for several generations.
Abdel Ghaffar Ahmed, a leading social anthrologist and for many years the head of the Organisation of Social Science Research in Eastern and Eastern Africa, does a superb job of mapping the root causes of the conflict. He identifies three interlocking factors, namely (i) resource-based conflict at the community level, (ii) the political background and leanings of local educated elites, including the leaders of the armed movements, and (iii) the position of Sudan (and specifically Darfur) in the politics of the region.
Musa Abdul-Jalil’s essay focuses on land tenure and land use and how ecological change and political factors have contributed to conflict. He rejects the argument that Darfur can be interpreted solely in terms of natural ecology and resource competition, arguing that the intersection of these with national political factors is crucial. Atta El-Battahani takes the approach of drawing up a typology of conflict, distinguishing between local inter-tribal conflicts, intra-regional conflicts and center-periphery conflicts. Mustafa Babiker concentrates on the land use, livelihood and developmental components of the crisis.
The book also contains reports on meetings in Addis Ababa in which Sudanese intellectuals grappled with understanding the crisis and proposing solutions.
It is interesting to compare these articles with the findings of Adam Azzain Mohammed, who conducted a survey of 236 educated Darfurians in Sudan, asking them for their analysis of the causes of the crisis, and what might be a possible solution. (This is described in his chapter “The Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Darfur,” in War in Darfur and the Search for Peace.) They represented all political affiliations and tribal identities, but most refused to be identified by ethnic labels, preferring to call themselves simply “Darfurian.” Most saw conflict over resources and lack of development as the underlying issue, and the largest number (45%) saw the best option for the administration of the region as being government by a technocratic elite without political bias. Only 15% wanted some form of power-sharing arrangement between the National Congress Party, the rebel movements and other parties–displaying a distinct lack of confidence in the political elites to run the region. Most of these Darfur elites thought that the native administration–the tribal elders–were best qualified to mediate the conflict.
Prof. Adam Azzain’s findings are especially interesting because the great majority of the Darfurians he interviewed were highly critical of the government. He does, of course, note that these are Darfurian elite views–the opinions of ordinary Darfurians may be different. A future posting will report on the views expressed by Darfurians in the preparatory consultations for the Darfur-Darfur Dialogue and Consultation–to date the most extensive exercise in actually asking ordinary people in Darfur for their views.