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April 13, 2006
The regular foot-dragging with regards to action in Africa has not been interrupted this year. While the UN continues to "agree to discuss agreements to consider possible sanctions on Sudan" or something of the sort, almost 400,000 people have been killed in Darfur region – about 35 times the number of people killed in the Israel-Palestine conflict over 50 years.
This conflict is between non-Arab black tribes (like Fur and Masalit), and tribes known collectively as Baggara. Both these groups are, by international standards, black people and Muslims. However, this has not stopped conflict between them, caused by competition in the slave trade and differing economic needs. Access to land and surface water have frequently become warring issues. Unfortunately, this conflict is part of the amorphous history of violence in Sudan and this conflict occurred alongside the second civil war (1983–2005). Meanwhile the Sudanese government blames rebels for killing more than 3000 soldiers and destroying 80 police stations.
Almost 6 million people have been displaced, many of them across the border to Chad. The American government, uncharacteristically, has pushed hard for intervention but not enough to take unilateral action, as in, say, Iraq. And now the war is spilling into Chad – another dirt poor country with few paved roads and little oil. The plot has thickened, however – the Sudanese government, which was for UN intervention, has now started to lobby against it.
Sudan was already one of Africa's poorest countries and with more than half of the state budget devoted to the war effort, economic development is inhibited by the country's security concerns, the severe shortage of foreign exchange, inadequate infrastructure and exorbitant debt. The national economy has, however, begun recovery – Sudan 's GDP grew by 6% in 1999 and inflation dropped sharply to 8.8% in 2004 after peaking at 166% in 1996. The GDP real growth rate for 2004 was 5.9% – growth attributed to oil these days. Nevertheless, oil exports that now account for about some 70% of export earnings (77% in the first quarter of 2001), are unlikely to boost the economy significantly unless the civil war can be ended.
The First Sudanese Civil War occurred between 1955 and 1972 between the northern part of Sudan and the south, which demanded more regional autonomy. Half a million people died over the 17 years of war – an agreement was signed in 1972 which addressed some but not all concerns. These crucial failings then led to the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005). The period between 1955 and 2005 is sometimes considered a single conflict with a ceasefire in between.
There is a 6000-strong AU force present – but is widely held to be incompetent, as most AU efforts are. The peacekeeping force needs to be multiplied considerably – remember that the region of Darfur alone is the size of France and Sudan bigger than Western Europe. The fighting must be choked off once and for all using a large contingent of soldiers, about 30,000. This seems fantasy at the moment due to the lack of peacekeepers worldwide. As the Economist says, the force must have a 'Muslim face' – but as it points out, Pakistan, Nigeria, et al are busy.
There are deep economic and social structural problems in Sudan – a promised referendum in 6 years for Southern Independence is one step towards unity of a sort. The United States should use its influence with more vigour because this is a case where few would not follow the USA in a concerted attack and few would damn it for going it alone.