AfricaIraqSudan

Darfur: Fighting fire with water

The situation in is spinning further out of control. What should the international community do to stop the bloodletting?

The 7,000 peacekeepers in Darfur can no longer handle the situation there, according to a top AU official. “The African Union force cannot cope with the circumstances that it finds itself in, and we have to be honest about it,” Sam Ibok, head of the AU team charged with implementing a peace agreement in western , told Reuters Television. “Anybody who wants us to succeed would need to work to give us the ability to be more effective and that can only be done … between the United Nations and the African Union.”

But are more peacekeepers enough to resolve the conflict in Darfur? And what kind of military intervention should the international community consider?

The first step to deciding the right approach is to build an accurate understanding of the situation. Writing in the London Review of Books, Mahmood Mamdani draws parallels with the civil war in :

The similarities between Iraq and Darfur are remarkable. The estimate of the number of civilians killed over the past three years is roughly similar. The killers are mostly paramilitaries, closely linked to the official military, which is said to be their main source of arms. The victims too are by and large identified as members of groups, rather than targeted as individuals.

There are, however, key differences. Sudan is dirt poor and does not sit on the world's largest reserves. In Iraq, there is a massive foreign occupation. In Darfur, the Khartoum government backs one paramilitary against the others.

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Mamadani asks:

“What would happen if we thought of Darfur as we do of Iraq, as a place with a history and politics – a messy politics of insurgency and counter-insurgency? Why should an intervention in Darfur not turn out to be a trigger that escalates rather than reduces the level of violence as intervention in Iraq has done? Why might it not create the actual possibility of genocide, not just rhetorically but in reality?”

In my view, inaction is not an option, since the slaughter going on in Darfur is scandalous. But we need to make sure that whatever action we take does not release the genie we hope to dispel.

We need to put pressure on the government in Khartoum to stop backing the murderous janjaweed militia. And peacekeepers should be deployed under an international mandate to protect civilians, not to destroy the country as the US and its allies did in Iraq.

Ultimately, the solution to the problems of Darfur lies in politics and economics. The best intervention the international community can orchestrate is a long-term one that does not grab headlines but strikes at the root of the conflict: the breakdown in inter-tribal relations as they scramble to control precious water wells, triggered by the drought which has gripped Darfur since the late 1970s. In fact, Darfur could be seen as a test case of that most insidious and worrying of emerging 21st century conflicts, the ‘water wars'. Promoting reconciliation and sustainable development in the troubled region are crucial.

There are those who are calling for the world to fight fire with fire in Darfur. But the most effective weapon against fire is water.

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Author

  • Khaled Diab

    Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil . Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled's life has been divided between the and Europe. He grew up in and the UK, and has lived in , on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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Khaled Diab

Khaled Diab is an award-winning journalist, blogger and writer who has been based in Tunis, Jerusalem, Brussels, Geneva and Cairo. Khaled also gives talks and is regularly interviewed by the print and audiovisual media. Khaled Diab is the author of two books: Islam for the Politically Incorrect (2017) and Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land (2014). In 2014, the Anna Lindh Foundation awarded Khaled its Mediterranean Journalist Award in the press category. This website, The Chronikler, won the 2012 Best of the Blogs (BOBs) for the best English-language blog. Khaled was longlisted for the Orwell journalism prize in 2020. In addition, Khaled works as communications director for an environmental NGO based in Brussels. He has also worked as a communications consultant to intergovernmental organisations, such as the EU and the UN, as well as civil society. Khaled lives with his beautiful and brilliant wife, Katleen, who works in humanitarian aid. The foursome is completed by Iskander, their smart, creative and artistic son, and Sky, their mischievous and footballing cat. Egyptian by birth, Khaled’s life has been divided between the Middle East and Europe. He grew up in Egypt and the UK, and has lived in Belgium, on and off, since 2001. He holds dual Egyptian-Belgian nationality.

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