Simon Haselock (below), director of Albany Associates, a strategic communications consultancy which has been active in Darfur for the past two years, provides an insider's account of what is really happening in Sudan's war-torn region.
Opinion is split on whether the potential indictment for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of President Al Bashir of Sudan is a good or a bad thing for peace in Darfur. However, given the scale of the tragedy there, it is perhaps understandable that much of this debate is highly polarised, based as it is so often on an overly simplistic understanding of what is really happening.
But even before the intervention of the ICC prosecutor, recent events had conspired to further complicate what was already a deeply complex situation. In May, for example, the Darfur conflict finally came to Khartoum as rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) attacked the capital, leaving their wreckage and dead bodies in the streets of Omdurman.
And in July, seven peacekeepers from the joint African Union and United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) were killed and 22 wounded as they returned from a patrol to investigate rebel claims that two of their fighters had been killed in North Darfur. This attack, the worst suffered by the Mission so far, was highly organised and carried out by 200 gunmen equipped with heavy calibre weapons against which the lightly equipped peacekeepers had little protection.
The prevailing narrative has it that the Darfur conflict is essentially an ethnic war resulting from longstanding enmity between African farmers and "Arab" nomads, principally centred on the competition for land and water; that the rebels represent the Africans and the "Arabs" are supported by the Sudanese government who prosecute the war through a surrogate militia known infamously as the Janjaweed. That the Chinese government, which buys two-thirds of Sudan's oil, stands idly by and chooses not to use its influence to pressurise Khartoum to stop the atrocities and the wholesale abuse of human rights.
While this black and white characterisation of the situation in Darfur is superficially true, the reality is far more complex. What is clear though, is that over 2.5 million people have been displaced and now live in makeshift camps, and 200,000-300,000 (depending on whose figures you believe) have been killed or have died from starvation and disease as a result of the war. Whatever...