Darfur: Apologies and Reconciliation
Are Better than Bombs

 Mohamed Zeinelabdin Mohamed Hamad
Lieutenant General and former Sudanese Ambassador
Maryland, USA,  E-mail:  hamad1121@aol.com

The Sudan is the largest country in Africa and the Middle East. Its one million square miles is inhabited by over 30 millions. It is estimated that 70 % are Muslims, 10% are Christians and 20% adhere to African beliefs.

Darfur is situated in the western part of Sudan and has common borders with Libya, Chad, and Central Africa. The area of Darfur is similar to the area of France (186,000miles) and is inhabited by 7 million people.

The present disastrous situation in Darfur is the outcome of a complex web of under development, ecological, political, social, and security factors which will be discussed in this paper.

Background of Ecological Disasters

 Ecological disasters became prevalent in sub-Saharan countries during the last three decades. Droughts and ecological disasters had lingered in the region since 1968-1974, culminating in the infamous famines of 1973-74 and 1984-1985. Darfur alone had deaths estimated at 100,000. “By early1985, the drought and ensuing famine had compelled an estimated 10 millions Africans to abandon their homelands in search of food and water”[1]. “Live stock also perished in substantial numbers. A survey conducted by Oxfam in mid 1985 showed that 70 to 80 % of the cows and goats reared from northern Darfur to southern Darfur”[2]. Between 40% to 50 % of those reared in southern Darfur died due to lack of water and grass.

The most important factors which precipitated the famine were: underdevelopment, lack of an efficient food security system, drought, desertification, influx of refugees, and the slow response of the central government to the early warning signals of famine. This applies to most of the African Sahel countries.

The Tribal Conflict

Most of the nomads moved south wards after they lost substantial numbers of livestock due to drought.  In Darfur, conflicts also took place between settlers of the same origin like Fellatah vs. Barti. Both classified as African and between Rizzigat and Mallia, both are considered as Arab, they have very close relationships but the hostilities continued for long years. There are many other examples.

The case now is not white Arabs versus African blacks; all concerned are dark- skinned Sudanese Muslims.The main enmity is between rebels, nomads, farmers, tribes, and clans. The violence stems from land grabs, water sources, banditry, cattle rustling, and local vendettas. 

What Happened in Darfur Since 2002?

Since February 2002 the conflict started to grow between Zagawa, Fur, and turgum tribes in the Gebel Marra area. Mutual looting and killing developed over time and resulted in the disastrous situation prevailing now in Darfur. Over time, this conflict developed to have political dimension and two anti government militias appeared:

1. The liberation of Sudan (supported by SPLM/A).

2. The Justice and equality movement. This movement is affiliated to the popular congress which is a fragment of the National Islamic Front under the leadership of Dr. Hassan Al turabi.  who  and his followers were removed from power in 2000.

The rebels attacked El Fasher and were able to occupy some parts of the city. They destroyed 6 military aircraft and captured many hostages. They also attacked eight towns in Darfur.

The Armed Forces and Militias in Darfur

1. Sudanese Army

The exact numbers of troops  taking part are  not disclosed. They consist of a number of  combined battle groups in form of garrisons and  reserves  in the different towns of Darfur.

2. Popular Defense Force

 This was organized in different parts of the Sudan since 1990, with the aim of forming a popular force similar to the National Guard to support the Sudanese army in case of external aggression. The ftroops are recruited   in  different regions of the Sudan

3. The Janjaweed

The name Jangaweed was uncommon to most Sudanese people. Some say that this name was given locally in Darfur to bandits and gangs who conduct looting and robbery. This name is given now to the popular defense forces and all other groups who fight beside the government. Jangaweed is said to be originated from the name of a gang leader called Ahmed Janjaweed. Others say it means ‘Devil riding a horse and armed with an automatic rifle’.

4. The Tribal Militias

When a tribe is subjected to aggression, they usually form a force to defend themselves. Most of the tribes in the west and southern Sudan have armed militias or groups. The rebel movements have political agendas which may accommodate people from different tribes. Ethnicity and historical hostilities were exploited by warring parties.

 The Demography and Geopolitics of the Region

There are 80 different tribes in Darfur, 13 tribes live between the borders of The Sudan and Chad i.e. the Zagawa tribe (which is central in the present conflict), spills over the Sudanese border to Chad. The free movement across the borders between Sudan and Chad   influences the politics, security, and economy of the two countries.

Libya was interested to annex Ozzou region in Northern Chad. This also took place as part of the former USSR strategies in the region during the cold war. Arms and military hardware were sent to Chad and Darfur in huge quantities during the cold war era. After the Libyan withdrawal from Chad  in 1988  the Sudanese governments  lost control on Darfur  There was  intensive armed robberies and tribal conflicts .The people of Darfur were severely terrorized during the last two decades.

In 1988 before the inception of the present regime, United States supplied the Sudan with a hundred Hummer military vehicles to be used to stop the convoys infiltrating from neighboring countries, carrying arms across the Sudanese western borders.

Africa in the past had no borders and the borders were drawn during the colonial era. Nowadays it is necessary to tightly close the borders with neighboring countries.

The people in Darfur feel that they are marginalized, and that all the political powers are centralized in the capital Khartoum. This applies also to the nomads who complain from marginalization and that the powers in Darfur are centralized in the hands of the settlers who are referred to as African.

In fact the present federal system does not give the state governments as much power as they would desire. To have a strong central state does not mean you deprive the states from having more powers. On the contrary the out come may be chaos, violence and civil war. 

The emerging phenomena of politicizing the society on ethnic basis  will weaken the traditional morals  and  the integration of  the population . This will lead to civil strife which will weaken the economy. Such situation will bring great dangers to the region and negatively influence the nation state building .The consequences of such failed situation may spill over the international borders. This situation may  also attract criminals and terrorist’s networks to enter Darfur from neighboring countries or other middle eastern countries .Usually such groups operate within areas where the government control is weak.

Many African countries are facing disintegration nowadays. The weakness of the state is due to many internal factors. In the post colonial era in Africa the states were not suited to match the  needs of the nations and there was a mismatch between the society  and the post – colonial states . The collapse in many countries was also due to internal factors, like bad leadership, bad economy planning, mismanagement and corruption of the state. The globalization, Economic, political and military interconnections are pressing the state.

As a result of these pressures , people started to seek security by identifying themselves with even smaller ethnic groups.  In this contest   democracy is seen as essential to ensure the viability of the state as an institution of governess and as a mechanism for human progress and peace.

Nowadays most of the countries in the northern parts of the sub-Saharan countries are facing the severe pressures of the drought and desertification. These countries are also facing the problems of societal pluralism and in fact suffering from protracted Problems between the Muslims in the Northern parts and those who adhere to African beliefs and Christianity in the southern parts .Alas, The people of Darfur  are all Muslims. 

When adding to these pressures the newly emerging pressures of globalization we can see that the result will be  the disintegration of the state .Most of west African states are facing these pressures and most of them are collapsing for similar reasons. West Africa is home to 10 of the world’s 20 poorest countries.[3]  Dafrur is considered to be geographically and ethnically part of West Africa. The most resent example of failing and collapsing states is Ivory Coast which was regarded as one of Africa most stable and prosperous countries. Ivory Coast was considered as model example for the (IMF) structural adjustments during the last two decades.

 Sierra Leon offers one example of state collapse. Liberia is also facing a similar situation. Government revenue declined From $. 250 millions in the mid -1970 to 10 millions in 1999.During 1990s, civil strife resulted in at least 50,000 deaths and many more injuries and maiming. For similar reasons like what happened in Darfur many African countries collapsed. ‘Since 1950s about a third of African states have been in failure. Gross domestic product per capita for all of Sub –Saharan Africa states fell from $660 in 1980 to $587 in 1990 to $563 in 2000”[4]. More information is available at http://devdata.worldbank.org/dataonline).

It seems that the  small arms in the hands of tribe’s men in Darfur at the present time are more than the number of the people in the region. If we sum up all the negative factors acting on the people of the belt extending from the horn of Africa to the Atlantic Ocean in the west , we can see that  there is  a  disastrous situation  emerging in this region . We can see also to the south of this belt ,Africans are suffering from the AIDS and other diseases.        

Deep insight and genuine evaluation are urgently needed. The political rhetoric will not solve the problem. Failure to understand the history and socio-economic conditions of  Africa will lead to wrong approach to the conflicts arising now . Some of the African thinkers believe that non Africans ,lack the correct understanding of the African societies and consequently they lack the ability to understand the political, societal and economical developments. Genuine local and regional efforts supported by the international community will help not only in finding solutions for  Darfur , but also  to face  similar situations  expected in some of   the African countries .

Underdevelopment in Darfur

Darfur suffers from underdevelopment like other parts of Sudan, but the difference here is that the ecological degradation and the intervention of the neighboring countries during the cold war era and at the present time have serious impacts on Darfur. The shortage of water for people and animals are on the top of the list. The majority of the labor force is unemployed .The poverty and unemployment led to serious security hazards.

Due to poverty and unemployment banditry crimes were common in all parts of Darfur to the extent that during the last two decades, no vehicle could travel from one town to another without good escort. To give an idea about the situation in Darfur three years ago before the out break of the recent hostilities between the government and the rebels ,we refer to D. Elobeid report, he  was a regional minister and in charge of the Sudanese Red Crescent. This report was published in Al Rayaam news paper. The main head lines  were, Quote; “ More than 100,000  small arms  are  illegally in the hands of the people in Darfur – armed children is a dangerous phenomenon –the drugs gangs are the main importers of weapons to Darfur .The police during the last seven years collected 9441 pieces of small arms. The police records showed that that 856 robberies took place, 736 Drug abuse cases. Death crimes were 972. Crimes committed by women and children were 34% of the total crimes. The tribal wars during seven years were 12 wars. The total crimes registered in the police records were 119,743. “The number of the crimes committed by children was 4,757”[5].

Mistakes of the Warring Parties

The internal Sudanese political rivalries aggravated the conflict. The Sudanese Government could not contain this in the early stages and when the government’s friendly forces took part, it was difficult to control them and the war took a tribal shape.

Other Sudanese ends are also to blame for ignoring the security of their own people in their quest to overthrow the regime. It seems  that the retaliation of the government was not well calculated or anticipated when the rebel movements declared war. It is very difficult to conduct Guerilla warfare in an open country without having ground or air covers.

From history lessons, some of the guerilla warfare thinkers highlighted the importance of good treatment of the people and to avoid exposing them to dangers . At the same time the  safety of the fighters is integral part of the strategic agenda of the movement .Mao tse dong , believed that the” Guerilla warfare strategy is, “To conduct a long term war of attrition bearing in mind not to expose the movement and the fighters to great dangers”.

During the second war Newton Baker told the congress of United States, “An armed Mob could be called an army and sent to war, but the result will be massacre.” This applies to all ends. It is very sad that the majority of the victims were innocent people in Darfur .

Concerning the use of private sector or friendly forces, it seems that the most important lesson is the difficulty to establish control over them in addition to the  protracted tribal conflicts which will arise. During the last twenty years the nature of using the rule of law on the basis on which nation state employs force has been changing fundamentally. Routine and regularity systems are being developed so that public actors will be able to fight side by side when using physical force. Magnus Hornqvist believes that, “sometimes the special nature of security threat justifies the use of extraordinary measurements to handle them”[6]. “The innovation of security has been the key to legitimizing the use of force, but more generally it has opened for the state to mobilize or take special powers to handle the existential threat[7]”.

One of the main principle of war is the economy of force and in peace keeping, the principal is “Use minimum force”,  this requires  good command and control over .In many cases field commanders do not abide by the political decisions and this applies to different  regular and irregular troops in the field of both sides .The firm application of sound political decisions will help in reaching solutions. From experience no control can be established on such forces like the one called Janjaweed or the rebel movements and in certain situations the regular forces when the war starts.  Accordingly this lesson should well considered in future because the outcome might be the overall loss of control in the region.  

 Suggested Hints for the Solution

The majority of the Sudanese in Darfur or the rest of Sudan are not taking part in this war. A conference for all Darfur people will lead to positive results.

 -The government and the two movements should immediately resume negotiations in Abuja. The Government and the rebels should apply fully the cease fire agreement signed in 8th of April 2004.

- The government should disarm all militias and all who are not authorized to take arms. All ends should facilitate the free movement of United Nations, African unity and different organizations staff in Darfur.

To facilitate the  free return of  displaced  people to their homes, the government and the two movements should agree to solve the problem through negotiations.

The Sudan Government, The rebel movements should abide by the agreements signed and cooperate fully with the United Nations and different organizations.

 The futuristic solution for the whole Sudan can be reached by applying similar system to the system agreed to in the protocols of Nivasha between the Government and the SPLM/A.

Concerning the recent blame on the government and the rebels, the real debate should not focus only on assigning blame and sanctions but on concrete strategies to help the people in Darfur to recover. Applying more sanctions in futures may lead to more complications and will harm all the Sudanese people and may result in negative situation.

The peace in Sudan after January, 01, 2005 requires the cooperation of the international community and requires similar peace accords with other Sudanese opposition faction.

No doubt, the essence of the state is the monopoly of using legitimate force, but  the state is not justified to use force beyond the legitimate  limits. 

 The U.N military intervention according to U.N regulations can take place in certain cases according to the recent modification. “The security council has an obligation to intervene militarily as last resort in case of genocide, ethnic cleansing or cases of mass killing that the government has proved powerless or unwilling to prevent.”

The genocide debate and the Darfur crisis drew the attention and allowed pundits and advocates to move Sudan to the center of the public and international agenda. The lack of any subsequent action, however, showed that the genocide convention does not provide nearly the impetus that many thought it would be. The Bush administration was facing appeals to call Darfur “genocide”, Powell insisted that such determination if it came, would not change U.S policy towards Sudan. “Later, Powell acknowledged that there was genocide in Sudan and this was based on a U.S. study made by the Bush administration, the EU, Canada,  and U.K. avoided using the term Genocide” [8].

 No doubt, the international and the regional politics influence the Security Council decisions, according to U.N regulations the U.N is unlikely to intervene militarily in case a regional organization is involved. Increasing the number of the observers is a good idea. It is always better to solve the problems locally and regionally before a United Nations military force is used. It was declared recently that many atrocities were committed by peacekeepers. United Nations said recently that it had uncovered 150 allegations of sexual abuse committed by United Nations peacekeepers stationed in Congo. The raping of women and girls is an all too way tactic in the war raging involving numerous militia groups. “In Congo, a program run by UNICEF has treated 2000 victims of sexual violence in recent months”[9]

Fifty countries are represented in Congo peace force with 1000 civilians and 10,800 Soldiers who make the united mission on Congo, they represent many countries but still they lack the proper discipline. The lessons we can draw out of this situation is that well trained and disciplined troops should be selected for such missions. Most of the U.N. troops in Darfur are coming from countries which are suffering from similar situations and if similar violent sex practices occurred, the out come will be transmission of many diseases .

The ethnic violence was horrible and claimed thousands of people. The number of those killed was estimated to be 50 ,000 to 7000,00 according  to different sources while the government consider it to be about five thousands .Those who were uprooted from their homes are estimated to  be 1.8 million. This disastrous situation was met with a quick response and received a great deal of attention but there was  no much attention for how to stop the crisis  or finding permanent  settlement  and remedies for the present situation .Some of the factors which requires the internal community involvement are underdevelopment , poverty and ecological disasters

Concerning the humanitarian situation in Darfur, it seems that due to the high number of other crises in different parts of the world and due to donors fatigue ,the money  made available to Darfur is  only 288 millions out of 722 millions required at the  present time. If we compare the number of victims and those who were uprooted with similar situations in other places, we can see that the money allotted is far less than any one in other places.

Closing the borders with neighboring countries is difficult. Refugees from neighboring countries are expected due to the ecological degradation, wars, and armed robberies in the region .

It is very difficult to distinguish between the people of the different countries in this region, moreover they are all Muslims, accordingly tribal leaders should be involved to give help .

Immediate post conflict arrangements should be established after reaching agreement between the government and the rebel and World Bank should be involved. This should be started earlier because the scarcity of infra structure is part of the problem in Darfur. Many Lessons emerged from World Bank experiences with post conflict reconstruction included: “engage early and deploy a strong field presence; coordinate aid, establish partnership with other donors, and agree on respective roles of each donor, and adapt services and products to post conflict situation.”  [10].

 Post conflict Sudan which will be applied after signing the agreement between the Sudan government and the SPLM in southern Sudan should be extended to Darfur with a similar priority. We have to realize that it will be difficult to maintain law and order unless proper development is achieved in Darfur. In view of the uncontrollable situation in Darfur, it is advisable to establish safe islands or sectors  which is well escorted and then to render good services and development projects inside it. This will encourage people to come and settle inside.

 The Reconciliation Process

We have very important dimension missing here and that we need to reconcile the warring parties in Darfur. From the experience in different parts of the world, adopting local mechanisms or spiritual factors may lead to stopping the violence.  If the chain of violence prevailing now is not properly addressed, it will lead to a real disaster in Darfur. The principals of real politick prevailing now may not lead to the proper conflict resolution required. We need  something more effective to achieve the peaceful settlement required  and that could be the spiritual and moral factors. Darfur people are all Muslims and this makes the reconciliation process easier”.[11]

Many stories and experiences of forgiveness and reconciliation are available in Michael Henderson book, “Michael Henderson The forgiveness Factor: Stories of hope in a World of Conflict”.[12]

 Many scholars, Journalists and states men from different religions and believes showed their support to the ideas of Michael Henderson.  Raj Mohan Gandhi  who  is a  research Professor at the Centre for Policy Research ,New Delhi and former Senator said  about this book , “Some times history, selective history , gets us by the throat, threatening Revenge and breathing new life into a chain of oppression and retaliation. He also said, “I marvel the array of Henderson‘s evidence of reconciliation between bitterly divided groups. What is the invisible spark that, seemingly sudden at times, unites humans who had vowed death and humiliation to each other?”

Joseph Montville said about this book, Traditional concepts of diplomacy and peace making, rarely take into consideration the psychological influence on individual, groups and nations of traumatic or violent attack and grievous loss”. Yet most political conflicts have had episodes of violence, open warfare or even genocide. Certain psychological effects endure for years, generations and centuries. Modern history experience show that, Time will not heal wounds, only healing heals wound.”

Tom Hartman and Rabbi Gellman from the god squad of good morning America said about Michael Henderson Book, “His words remind us that while peace is difficult, it is a virtue that can be achieved”.  Dr. Zaki Mustafa, principal of Islamic college in London said about Michael Henderson words “In fact this is true, in a world torn apart by hatred and the thirst for revenge, the call for this strategy is urgently needed.”

 Our duty now is to reconcile the groups fighting each other in Darfur and to stop violence. This can not take place unless we break the chain of hate and adopt  different path to address this conflict at the present time.

 We need to Use the local traditional  reconciliation Mechanisms to support the present efforts to achieve permanent peace and stability in Darfur. No doubt the role of  the religion in achieving peace is very influential and  more attention should be given  to use the religion to counter violence . This can be the best way to reverse the religious violence prevailing now in many parts of the world.[13]

We believe that, apologies and reconciliation are better than bombs. 


Rachel Davis, Interfaith Dialogue as Interactive Conflict Resolution, : Using Religion to Counter Violence ,International Affairs Review. Volume 13, N0.2, Fall 2004.P39.

[1] de Wal ,Alex ,Famine that kills:Darfur1984-1985;Oxford ,Clarendon Press,1989.in Gamal  ,Mahmoud  Hamid, Population Displacement  in The Sudan. Center for Migration Studies ,New York,1996.

[2] Jacobson, Environmental Refugees : A yardstick of Habitability .WORLD Watch Paper86 (November),World Watch Institute  ,1988.  In Gamal Mahmoud Hamid, Population Displacement in Sudan ,Center for Migration Studies ,New York,1996.

[3] Regina Martyn, Regional integration in West Africa: Will rhetoric become reality ,in international affairs review,(volume X111 No.2 ,Fall2004),P.12

[4] Stephen D. Kruser, sharing sovereignty: New institutions for collapsed and falling states, In international security, Harvard University (Vol.29 No.2 Fall 2004), P.93.

[5] El Obeid ,  Armed Robbery in Darfur,Al Ray Al amm daily news Paper Khartoum. , January ,17,2002).

[6] Magnus Horn Qvist , Birth of Public Sector, in Race and Class, Institute of Race relations ,London (Vol.46 July –September 2004) P.31.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Scott Strauss, Darfur the Genocide Debate, in Foreign Affairs (Volume 84,No.1 ,Jan-Feb 2005) P.123.

[9] Marc Lacy , Congo War, Even Peace Keepers  Add Horror ,The New York Times (Vol. CLIV. No 53,067 , Saturday, December 18,2004.P.1

[10] Farid Hassan,Lessons ,Lessons Learned from World Bank, World Bank, Washington D.C.

[11] Douglas Johnston and Cynthia Sampson, editors: Religion ,the Missing Dimension of states craft, Oxford University Press,1994, 350pp

       [12] Michael  Henderson, The Forgiveness Factor : Stories of Hope in a World of Conflict.USA,1996.

    [13] Rachel Davis, Interfaith Dialogue as Interactive Conflict Resolution, : Using Religion to Counter Violence, International Affairs Review. Volume 13, N0.2, Fall 2004.P39.