The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Darfur:
Famine, drought and disease decimate refugee camps

Nov 13, 2006

The following article is from the October 10 issue of Le Pouvoir aux Travailleurs (Workers Power), the publication of the African Union of Internationalist Communist Workers (UATCI).

The first humanitarian organizations visiting the refugee camps along the 375-mile border between Chad and Sudan immediately launched an alert. If aid isn’t rapidly sent, thousands of men, woman and especially children risk dying of hunger and thirst. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders fear a catastrophe, such as an epidemic like cholera.

After the media picked up the news, the rich countries send emissaries. All of them declare there is imminent danger of a catastrophe. French President Chirac said at the United Nations that Darfur is “a crime against humanity” in the making. Bush spoke of “genocide.”

But refugees from Sudan continue to die each day from hunger and thirst, from malnutrition and diarrhea. They live miserably in shacks of straw and branches. Those who have survived can thank the population of Chad, which has furnished food and water.

The humanitarian organizations that come set up tents for the refugees. They bring water and food. But the needs are so great, this charity is only a drop in the bucket.

Why did these refugees flee their villages, abandon fields and crops, winding up in camps with miserable living conditions?

The crisis began in December 2003 in the Darfur region of Sudan. This region in the west of Sudan is itself made up of three parts: North, West and South Darfur. A rebellion that broke out in North Darfur extended to the entire region. It broke out at the same time that the Sudanese government was settling on an agreement in Washington with a rebel group from another part of Sudan. The two main Darfur groups leading the fight against the central government of Sudan are the Movement for the Liberation of Sudan and the Movement for Justice and Equality. The rebels criticize the central government for neglecting Darfur. They also demand 13% of the country’s oil revenue, as well as the departure of the government’s army from Darfur and autonomy to run the area.

The central government in the capital of Khartoum appeared to negotiate, while it was sending the army to attack the rebels. As in the majority of such cases, the civilian population pays the price. Refugees questioned by the press recount how they fled their villages, which were bombed by the Sudanese army, and then pillaged and destroyed by the Janjaweed (government militias on horseback). The Janjaweed chase people up to the refugee camps, inside Chadian territory. These camps have been moved 30 miles inside Chad to avoid such attacks. There are 200,000 to 300,000 dead in Darfur with more than two million people displaced or turned into refugees in Chad. This adds up to a third of the population of Darfur.

Since the failure of negotiations between the rebel movements and the Khartoum government in 2003, Darfur has been soaked in blood. The few attempts at reconciliation all failed. The African Union also sent in a peacekeeping army of 7,000 soldiers. Nonetheless, the Sudanese government continues to attack the rebels.

Behind this civil war there are several conflicts. There have always been quarrels between nomads and livestock raisers, especially over cattle grazing in the fields. With drought and the advance of the desert, these quarrels multiply. But the local conflicts were in general settled in a friendly manner, even if sometimes unfortunately they were ended by weapons.

But behind the current conflict there is oil, the true impulse of this war. This begins with the rebels themselves, who demand 13% of oil revenues. But above all are the giant U.S. oil companies who want this oil. Speaking of “genocide” the U.S. leaves open the possibility to intervene militarily in Darfur and in this way take the oil from the Chinese who exploit it today. The U.S. has pushed to have U.N. forces enter as a way to do the same thing.

In fact, last September 30th, the African intervention force in Darfur was supposed to leave and be replaced by a U.N. force of 20,000. But the mission of the African force was prolonged for three more months because the Sudanese government refused U.N. mediation. They spoke of a plot “with the goal of dismembering the country and pillaging its oil.”

The population of this region of Sudan has known only violence and misery. Even when there was no official war, armed bands confronted one another. The peasants can no longer cultivate their meager lands nor raise livestock without risking their lives. They can no longer live in their villages, which have become war zones. And when they flee to refuge camps, they face starvation and death.