Friday, January 25, 2008

Remembering Hadja

Today is two years since my colleague Hadja Ahmed died while evacuating from the fighting in Darfur. Hadja was a mother, a dedicated worker, and a good friend to many. Her death was a huge blow to everyone who worked with her. My thoughts are with her family today, and I ask you to remember the good work that Hadja and many other brave Sudanese are doing to help ease the suffering in Darfur.

When I read the news reports from Sudan, I feel both angry that the situation has been allowed to deteriorate so much, and frustrated with the simplistic black-and-white nature of the reporting. The conflict in Darfur is so much more complicated that the media would have you believe, and since I left it has gotten even more chaotic.

Contrary to what the media would have you believe, there was no systematic ethnic cleansing going on at the time I lived there. Yes, there are tribal tensions, notably between nomadic traders and agricultural pastoralists. There have long been conflicts between these two groups, especially in years where rainfall is poor, and the nomads encroach on the farmers' lands. The government has indeed manipulated these tensions by providing arms to the nomads. But for the most part, you get killed in Darfur because of which faction controls your town, not because you ride a donkey instead of a camel. And increasingly, the violence is occurring within factions, not between them. The people killing each other have much more in common than they have different.

I usually avoid politics in this blog, and I know many people, even some of my former colleagues in Darfur, would disagree with my views. But I think it does no justice to the people of Darfur, and it leads us no closer to the resolution of the conflict, to paint the situation in terms of good guys against bad guys. And I worry that shouting "genocide" every time a civil war includes a component of ethnic violence, is a bit like crying wolf. If we're already desensitized to Darfur, what will be our reaction if another Rwanda rolls around?

I feel like I have written this all wrong, and yet I don't really know what else to say. What I really want people to know about Darfur is that the people I met there were the kindest, most generous, most honest people I have ever had the good fortune to come into contact with. That is they story I would like to write, but I don't even know how to begin.