A decade ago the Sudan government decided to deal with a rebellion by African tribes in the southwest by chasing the rebellious population away. Most of the rebels came from the Fur tribe, which is the largest tribe in what is called Darfur (literally, “land of the Fur”). To make this work the government exploited the ancient Arab disdain for the sub-Saharan Africans.
The government of Sudan was dominated by Sudanese who considered themselves Arabs. Nearly all Sudanese are black African in appearance, but those in the north have long adopted the language and customs of more advanced civilizations to the north (Egypt, Byzantium). This was usually done voluntarily, not by force. For example, Moslem armies were unable to conquer Sudan during the great Islamic wars of conquest in the 7th and 8th centuries. But over the next few centuries most Sudanese converted to Islam peacefully, via commercial and social contacts with Moslem states to the north. While those in north Sudan began to see themselves as Arabs, those in the southwest, especially the Fur, accepted Islam enthusiastically but clung to their black African culture. This was seen as an opportunity by the Sudan government a decade ago when seeking a way to deal with the Fur rebellion.
To get rid of the Fur, and Fur rebels, the government had loyal tribes in Darfur that were mainly nomadic herders who considered themselves Arab (although they looked like the sedentary Fur). Over half the population of Darfur was black African farmers, the rest were Arabized nomads who were eager to seize additional water supplies and grazing land. There are only 7.5 million people in Darfur (an area the size of France), of whom 30 percent were Fur. The farmers and herders had long quarreled over water and land rights and now the government armed and encouraged the nomads to chase the Fur farmers off the land they had tilled for centuries. The government provided the nomads with guns and other equipment, as well as air support. The ethnic cleansing was largely done via raids that included looting, rape, murder, and extensive destruction of property. To help with this Sudan used electronic and print media to mobilize the Arabized nomads against the African farmers. After a few years of this there were over 300,000 deaths (mostly among the farmers) and half the Darfur population (most of them black African farmers) driven from their homes. There are still over two million farmers in refugee camps.
The world was slow to respond, in part because the Arab governments in the region did not want to criticize the “Arab” government of Sudan. The rest of the world mobilized a huge relief operation which, by 2006 (despite a peace deal with the rebels) consisted of over 16,000 aid workers in Darfur to supply food and other aid to 60 percent of the people in the area, most of them victims of the ethnic cleansing encouraged by the Sudanese government. In response to this, in 2009 the International Criminal Court indicted Sudanese president Omar al Bashir of crimes against humanity for his ethnic cleansing campaign in Darfur. In response to this, Bashir expelled most of the aid workers from Darfur, causing great suffering among the dispossessed and starving victims of the ethnic cleansing.
The aid workers were gradually let back in, if only to avoid an even more embarrassing mass starvation. But the impact of the ethnic cleansing remains. The Arabized tribes were allowed to hold onto most of the land and water resources they had stolen. The attacks on black African farmers continues with several hundred thousand driven from their villages so far this year. The African rebels continue to resist but now also fight with each other over the limited resources left to their people.
Darfur was a case where the bad buys won, and continue to win. The Moslem world prefers to ignore it and the rest of the world does not want to get involved in using force to stop the suffering. After all, Darfur is indeed in the middle of nowhere, even more so than Afghanistan.