Posted By: Michael, an aid and peace-building expert working in Darfur.
I recently spent a few days in Darfur, on a short-term assignment for an NGO working in the region. I was there to support the organization’s peace-building work, which seeks to create grassroots dialogue between and among tribes which live in the same area. Most of the world’s attention has focused on the 2.4 million people forced to flee their homes, many of whom now live in IDP camps scattered throughout the region. Millions more people, though, continue to live in villages and settlements across Darfur. They, too, are victims of the conflict — often living in fear, and brutal poverty. The peace-building project tries to foster stability in these difficult-to-reach rural areas, trying to restore some of the inter-tribal relationships and understanding that existed before the war.
We drove out to one village — a trip through scrub brush and scattered trees, a Darfuri-safari in some ways, the occasional camels and goats loitering by the side of the track, and once a pair of orange-furred monkeys running off in the distance. On the way we passed two burnt, abandoned villages and then later two men walking by the side of the road, kalishnakovs slung over their shoulders. JJ, the person sitting behind me announced. Then, after a moment he added that there weren’t that many Janjaweed attacks anymore, just scattered looting and livestock theft, by which point we’d left the two men far in the distance.
After an hour we reached the village, where we sat with tribal leaders under a thatched awning, the brutal afternoon heat just beginning to cool. They said that the conflict came down to land — agriculturalists and pastoralists battling over the same scarce resources. They then described how the peace-building project helped bring the different tribes together, which in turn helped ensure that inter-tribal disagreements and disputes didn’t flare up into larger and more violent confrontations. There is still a long way to go, but such grassroots efforts at least represent a few first, small steps towards peace.