If you gave the world’s people a free association test on Darfur, probably the first word to come to mind for most of them would be “genocide.”
But let the world’s political leaders in on the game of Darfur plus genocide, and chances are, for them, the next two words to pop out would be “so what?”
When there’s gobs of money to be made or political leverage to be gained, a dozen years of militarized political oppression, at least 300,000 to 400,000 people killed and 1.2 million displaced hardly seem to matter.
Among the countries from which investment and political support have flowed to Sudan since the Darfur genocide began are Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy, India, China and Russia.
In October 2017, just a month after Amnesty International reported that the Sudanese Government was using chemical weapons to kill more civilians in remote Northern Darfur, the Trump Administration announced it was easing economic sanctions against Sudan and removing it from the list of countries where travel by Americans is restricted.
Apparently because the Sudanese leader since 1989 Omar al-Bashir promised to stop buying weapons from North Korea and stop making nice to Iran, the Trump State Department was moving towards taking Sudan off a much more significant list: countries regarded as state sponsors of terrorism. Being on that list meant being ineligible for American aid or private investment.
“It’s a serious mistake,” said Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch of the easing of sanctions. “Sudan has made no progress on human rights.”
That was almost a year and a half ago, and since then human rights and Sudanese citizens have been taking a beating, preventing any move to take Sudan off the American “sponsors of terrorism” list.
Three months of almost nightly demonstrations against al-Bashir’s government left him with two choices, according to the Washington Post: reform or crack down. Al-Bashir chose the latter. Shaking up his government by replacing all his political governors with military officers and promoting to top positions in the government and the ruling National Congress party, two men who have been charged, along with al-Bashir himself, by the International Criminal Court with crimes against humanity for leading the genocide in Darfur.
Meanwhile on the streets, demonstrations continue in the face of dozens of civilian deaths, hundreds of arrests and almost immediate convictions by special courts which have sent thousands to prison.
In Darfur, thousands of families have found their best chance for prosperity is renting their children to President Trump’s friend Prince Mohammed bin Salman for use as cannon-fodder in the Saudi leader’s ruinous war in Yemen.
Thousands of Darfuri fighters have been enlisted by the Saudis, the New York Times reports, many of them as young as 14 years of age. Hundreds have been killed.
How’s this for a summation of the desperation in Darfur? While the Saudis’ child soldiers come from families uprooted and impoverished by the genocide, many of their mercenary force commanders have been recruited by the Saudis from the Janjaweed, the militia that did much of the actually killing in President al-Bashir’s criminal Darfur campaign.
Susan Burgess-Lent is Executive Director of Women’s Centers International, a non-profit that creates safe spaces where women affected by conflict and poverty can access resources to build the lives they want. She is the author of Trouble Ahead: Dangerous Missions with Desperate People.
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Susan moved to San Francisco after a stint at the University of Michigan. Her first job at KQED-TV marked the beginning of a twenty-year career in television news on both coasts, working for Voice of America TV, NBC4 News, CBS News, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, KRON-TV, WTTG-TV, and WJLA-TV.
Susan was drawn to international relief and development work during the Rwanda genocide. In 1994 – 96, she served with the American Red Cross International Services, providing administrative and logistical support for relief workers in Rwanda, Bosnia and Central Asia. She traveled to Rwanda in 1998. It was her first trip to the continent and the genesis of her humanitarian field work.
From 2006 through 2011, she completed six missions to Darfur, Sudan as Program Director with Darfur Peace and Development Organization (DPDO). At Kassab IDP Camp in North Darfur, she opened a Center to support literacy and livelihoods among displaced women. Kassab Women’s Center became the model for WCI’s work.
Susan collaborated with a team in Nairobi in October 2012 to create Baraka Women’s Center, that has served over 500 members with training and support programs. The first U.S.-based Center in California Oakland Women’s Center, opened in May 2015 … and closed in April 2018 after service to nearly 250 women.