Complexities of an African tragedy

The desert of Sudan is a sea of sadness. The war that began in 2003 was overshadowed by the noise of the US invasion of Iraq. Over the next four years it developed into an unbridled massacre in which thousands of innocent people were tortured, raped and executed. Slowly and steadily the scale of the horror, underlined by some 2 million refugees, became far too big to ignore. The West appeared reluctant to become involved. «Saying that Darfur is too far away is like saying that it is too black,» I remember Robert Balogh, an intelligent and melancholy student from Hungary, saying irately to his colleagues at a student conference in Portoroz, Slovenia, last September. He was right; if white people were being killed in Darfur, no one would dare say it is too far away to intervene. At the time, I also heard about a Slovenian journalist who had traveled to Darfur in the previous months. Tomo Kriznar has indeed been one of the few eyewitnesses to risk a journey to Darfur in the last three years. Kriznar attempted to break the silence surrounding the brutality of this war that the government of Sudan has concealed in every way possible. As he later explained, his relationship with the region was not a new one. He had arrived in Sudan for the first time in 1980. He then spent a good while living with the Nuba tribe in central Sudan, recording their culture. He left at the end of the 90s, when the Nuba were suffering under mounting oppression. He prepared a book and a documentary on the situation in the region and returned there many times until the Nairobi peace agreement, which marked the end of the war in southern Sudan. His latest trip to Darfur took place when the president of Slovenia, Janez Drnovsek, proposed him as his envoy to the area in an effort to ascertain the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis and research the possibilities for organizing a peace process. To my proposal for an interview about Darfur, he responded with a sincere lack of enthusiasm. «Another conversation about Sudan is pointless if someone doesn’t explain firstly the complexities of this reality.» Indeed, by being one of only a handful of journalists to have traveled to Darfur over the last few years, an area equal in size to France, he was more than right. People learn about the Sudanese reality solely through brief, distant reports in which evil Muslims occasionally slaughter helpless Africans. What, though, is the reality of this war and what is the reason for its cruelty? In his description, Kriznar stresses how complex the reality is. He explains the differences between the tribal rebel leaders of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), Abdel Wahid and Minni Minawi, who are fighting against the government of Sudan and sporadically against each other; the ambiguous role of the neutral African Union; and the limited support from Western humanitarian organizations to the victims in Sudan. The war as described by Kriznar is not a simple confrontation between the fundamentalist Janjaweed and African rebels of Darfur. It is more like the articles of Ryszard Kapuscinski, the Polish journalist who covered the wars and rebellions across the continent during the collapse of colonialism and the national awakening of Africa. Tribes fighting for scarce drinking water; ruthless bandits running amok in a frontier-less battlefield burning and looting; governments and leaders equipping and manipulating them according to their interests. After three months in Darfur – during which he lived and traveled with the rebels fighting the Janjaweed militia – Kriznar was arrested by the African Union in July 2006. «The government was afraid that the documents I had gathered would expose the level of genocide,» he says. «My status as a representative of the president of Slovenia expired formally in May 2006, when the peace agreement was signed in Abuja, Nigeria, between the Sudanese government and the SLA faction led by Mini Minawi. Still I decided to stay, believing that peace didn’t have a chance.»

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