In March, we marked the 10th year since a “coalition of the willing” went to war to save Iraq from itself, triggering an upheaval that continues to wrack the country and its people. In those 10 years, “shock and awe” has given way to some degree of humility and wariness about the human and monetary cost of war.
March marked another 10th anniversary, the opening of another hell hole of violence and human suffering.
In Darfur, in the western region of the vast and war-hardened Sudan, Arab militias with military backing from the Arab-dominated central government took on non-Arab rebel forces in a scorched-earth struggle for land and power.
In one of the poorest regions of the world, a campaign of burning by the Janjaweed, the government-enabled militia, destroyed farmlands and whole villages at a time. Year after year, hundreds of thousands of villagers lost their lands and possessions.
Those who could escaped into neighboring Chad. The majority of the dispossessed were left landless and destitute in their homeland. Tens of thousands of others lost life itself. International aid agencies raised the alarm: a genocide in progress.
In 2008, the International Criminal Court accused Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2009, the court issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest, its first such warrant for a sitting head of state. The court in 2010 issued a second arrest warrant, charging Bashir with genocide.
Ten years on, the casualty estimates put Darfur’s dead from the war at 300,000. Nearly 1.5 million remain internally displaced in refugee camps. Aid agencies and the United Nations, which supports a joint peacekeeping force with the African Union in the region, say the violence that captured the attention of the world is greatly diminished, though the conflict is far from over.
Peace in Darfur is still elusive. Conflicts among the rebel forces and the Arab militias have undercut efforts at a negotiated peace. And President al-Bashir goes about the business of being president without any apparent fear of arrest and trial.
In the decade since 2003, Darfur has lost its place in front-page headlines, overshadowed by other tragedies with the force of immediacy: an earthquake in Haiti; a tsunami in Japan; fires, floods and landslides; droughts and famine. Syria is tottering in a grinding civil war that is threatening a catastrophe of dead and displaced. In Iraq and Afghanistan, bombs are still ripping apart the innocent.
If we didn’t forget some things, if the raw emotions provoked by certain events and experiences did not recede over time, many of us would run a good risk of losing our minds over time. Forgetfulness offers some cover. It offers some emotional distance from the waves of natural and man-made disasters that wash over us in the course of a year … a decade …a lifetime.
But forgetfulness can also give plain evil a pass. In the past few years, I admit, Darfur has mainly slipped my mind into that zone of forgetfulness.
Refugee camps with a million-and-a-half souls don’t simply melt away. Three hundred thousand dead still whisper to the conscience: What does it mean to swear: “Never again”?
The state of Qatar brokered a peace agreement between the Bashir government and one of the Dafuri rebel groups in 2011. In a hopeful sign for Darfur’s displaced population, Qatar hosted a conference of donors this week in Doha, the capital, the purpose to build a fund for reconstruction and development to move Darfur’s battered population toward some semblance of normal life.
According to the conference reports, Qatar, among the wealthiest of the Gulf states, has pledged to contribute $500 million toward a multiyear development project to build roads, water facilities and other infrastructure that would help wean Darfur off food and other emergency assistance. For their part, Britain has promised $100 million over a three-year period to Sudan, half of the funds to be used in Darfur to improve agriculture and work training, and the European Union would chip in $35 million.
Thank heavens that in the face of so much human suffering, with aid agencies straining to finance critical humanitarian efforts, Darfur is not entirely off the international radar.
Ofobike is the Beacon Journal chief editorial writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3513 or by email at email@example.com.