Darfur is a region of Eastern Sudan, an African country that has been plagued by wars and civil unrest since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1956.
Sudan is a country with a diverse ethnic and religious population. In the north the majority of the population is Muslim, while the majority of Christians and other native religions occupy the south. Southern Sudan has its own share of sorrows and now maintains an autonomous region with a self-ruling government awaiting a referendum to gain independence from Sudan in 2011.
It is safe to say that Sudan is a country, which, if taken a closer look at, reveals a more complicated situation where greed and foreign interests overlap, where the friends of yesterday become the enemies of today.
The current unrest in Darfur started in 2003. The origins of the conflict trace to constant environmental degradation, lack of water and, most importantly, the lack of funding from the central government in Khartoum to help the region economically and environmentally. There are two main groups in Darfur: the Furs and the Arabs; Arabs are generally herders, Furs typically farmers. This distinction is not ethnic, but rather cultural as both groups are not racially different.
The media has played a vital role in this conflict by manipulating the facts, causing many to believe what happened in Darfur was genocide, where hundreds of thousands died as a result of the government-backed militias Western media has relied on the short memory of its viewers in order to successfully feed them false information to stir reactions and later when the truth comes out it is not given adequate coverage. This can be seen with the recent announcement by a group of former Sudanese activists who admit that the figures of those reported dead and displaced in the Darfur conflict were exaggerated. These former activists formed the National Group to Correct the Track on the Darfur Crisis (NGCTDC) as an attempt to end the crisis. Group members include former NGO employees who admitted to local news network “We used to exaggerate the numbers of murders and rapes … If the figure was 10, for example, we asked people to say two or three hundred.”
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK has also called Save Darfur campaign, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars, into question According to a recent announcement made by the ASA, Save Darfur should not advertise the figure of 400,000 deaths, as it is not a fact, but a disputed opinion. In their ads they imply that the deaths are direct results of massacres committed by the Sudanese government and its militias, rather than due, at least in part, to hunger and disease, blindly simplifying the conflict into Good vs. Evil, Furs vs. Arabs.
Alexander de Waal is a British writer and a researcher on African issues. De Waal has researched and studied this conflict extensively. He has concluded that, at most, there were 200,000 deaths, of which roughly 50,000 were a result of direct military attacks, as opposed to the 400,000 deaths that Save Darfur likes to propagate. This does not mean that the central Sudanese government should be immune from blame, since it has made many mistakes in dealing with the Darfur conflict.
The question is why are governments, such as the U.S. government, so focused on raising awareness globally by attempting to demonize one particular party and dividing the Sudanese population in half. If it was really to fulfill a humanitarian cause, why doesn’t the U.S. focus on countries such as Congo where deaths are counted up to five million? It seems to me that this is a pattern and an attempt, on behalf of the U.S. government, of “dividing and conquering,” in order to achieve their lucrative goals.
Sudan happens to lie on some of the world’s biggest oil reserves. It has been known since the ‘70s that the area in southern Sudan and Darfur contain large amounts of oil. Since then, wars over oil and control of the land have started.
For example, Chevron, an energy provider based in the U.S., found oil in the south of Sudan after spending some US$1.2 billion in 1983. This discovery is considered the catalyst of the civil war of 1983.
Today history repeats itself in Darfur. In Sudan’s neighbouring country, Chad, President Deby, has been accused of supplying the rebels in Darfur with U.S. arms and has by many accounts been responsible for launching the initial strike to set off the conflict in Darfur. It was the US support for Deby’s action against the Sudanese government that led to the severity and violence of the current conflict in Darfur. Coincidentally, Chad has recently completed building a $3.7 billion pipeline, with the help of American sponsorship and funds, in order to carry hundreds of thousands of oil barrels daily across Chad, starting in the East near Darfur and destined for U.S. refineries.
It is oil, rather than human misery, that NATO and UN troops are called to guard in Darfur. Sudan is at war on three fronts with three neighboring countries: Chad, Uganda, and Ethiopia. Each of those countries has a significantly strong tie with the U.S. military. The war in Sudan involves both American stealth operations and U.S.-sponsored “rebel” factions coming in from those neighboring countries.
In this case, mass media was obviously used to spread the lies and propaganda of specific groups that all share the same lucrative interests. My question is when will the media be held accountable for propagating false information and for being an extension of corrupt governments and big conglomerates?
Omar Al-Ramlawi is the Managing Editor at the Manitoban.