The indictment of Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir by the International Criminal Court on March 4th was an expected move. Beforehand commentators had tried to guess what kind of reaction could be triggered if the regime felt threatened by international action. The guesses ran from predicting an internal coup – Bashir’s associates would consider him a liability and dump him, to dire predictions of attacks against foreigners – embassies recommended that their personnel should be extra careful and not go out if they could avoid it, and by way of starting an impending attack by the Darfur Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)guerrilla group against Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
In their considerable variety, all these predictions had one thing in common: they were grand. They required dramatic action and implied violent and desperate resolve. The whole paraphernalia of media Islamism – terrorists, fanatical crowds, rabble-rousing agitators – was supposed to be brought to the fore. The perpetrators were to be dangerous and the victims important. When the indictment was issued and the reaction duly took place, the reality was much less grand. It was much meaner and devoid of all the grandstanding which had taken place.
The Sudanese government decided to expel thirteen of the most important NGOs working in Darfur. Together they kept alive about 650,000 out of the 2.7 million internally displaces persons (IDP). How? By distributing food, supplying health care, and distributing fuel, fuel which is essential to run the pumps that bring the water from the wells that have been dug in the camps. One should try to imagine the incredibly cramped situation of the refugees who literally live on top of each other. Previously available water simply wouldn’t do. Wells were dug. Deep wells. Wells that required fuel for the pumps. Within two weeks the refugees will be desperately chasing any water, including dirty and contaminated water, because there won’t be anything else. Another crisis in addition to the reduced food rations and rapidly disappearing health care.
This was the cleverest and most cowardly way to re-start the genocide (which had been “on hold,” so to speak, for the past two years, with a regular but limited number of casualties). It was not started with noisy bullets and cruel looking Janjaweed riders, but silently, through disease and underfeeding.
Bashir and his henchmen knew that the world might not tolerate pictures of massacres, but people quietly dying under their tents are not much of a show.
Now some of the Janjaweed who feel a bit deprived of their usual benefits have taken to kidnapping three workers of Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) Belgium and are asking for a ransom. United Nations Secretary General Ban ki Moon reacted immediately by holding the Sudanese government responsible for the kidnapping. Once more, it was the humanitarian workers who were hit, in an attempt at stampeding them out of Darfur and causing as much suffering and destruction as possible among the IDP population.
Last month the Sudanese Army fought the guerillas in a series of pitched battles in Muhajiriyyah and on the slopes of Jebel Mara. This terror was roundly beaten. Starving civilians to death is definitely easier, even if it is the act of cowards.
Gérard Prunier is a widely acclaimed journalist as well as the Director of the French Centre for Ethiopian Studies in Addis Ababa. He has published over 120 articles and five books, including The Rwanda Crisis and Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide. His most recent book, Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophefocuses on Congo, the Rwandan genocide, and events that led to the death of some four million people. Living in Ethiopia allows Prunier a unique view of the politics and current events of Central and Eastern Africa. Be sure to check back on Tuesdays to read more Notes From Africa.