Myths and Reality in Darfur

Despite my best efforts, there is still plenty of guff being written about Sudan and Darfur. Some is written through simple ignorance. Never has so much been written about a place by so many people who have never been there. At the same time, there are lots of campaigners who should know better. For anyone thinking about writing Darfur in the next weeks as we approach important elections, here is my simple guide to some myths and realities about the place:
  1. Darfur is the size of Texas or France - A far better comparison is Spain (or Turkmenistan, if you want to be really pedantic).
  2. The conflict in Darfur is between Muslims and Christians - It is not. They are pretty much all Muslims.
  3. The conflict is about oil - Nope. There is no oil in Darfur.
  4. The Arabs are the bad guys - While some Arab militias have joined the Janjaweed, most Arabs stayed out of the conflict altogether but have still wound up as victims.
  5. The rebels are the good guys - It would be nice if they were. But Africa is full of rebels who seized power only to repeat the abuses of the regimes they replaced. In Darfur, they use child soldiers, hijack aid and have been one of the barriers to peace.
  6. Foreign Arabs have settled in villages vacated by persecuted tribes - There are plenty of reports, but little evidence. In some cases the Arabs have been described as foreign because hundreds of years ago their ancestors arrived from other countries. But today they are Darfuris.
  7. The Arabs are light-skinned - it is nigh-on impossible to identify many people calling themselves Arab simply by skin colour. Some come from "African tribes" and adopt the name Arab to reflect their nomadic status. All Darfuris are black and African.
  8. President Omar al-Bashir is a crazy, genocidal monster - he is a war criminal, yes, but he has pursued a clever - and at times pragmatic - strategy to hold on to power. That is how we should deal with him.

Rob Crilly's book, Saving Darfur: Everyone's Favourite African War, is published by Reportage Press.