Last week President Bashir delivered a fiery speech in Darfur as part of a highly stage-managed effort meant to demonstrate that he remains popular in the war-torn region. “It’s not the U.S. or Britain who chooses the president of Sudan but the Sudanese people,” railed Bashir.
However, the displaced people living in two of Darfur’s largest camps offered their own powerful rebuttal to the president by refusing aid brought in at the behest of Khartoum. Leaders in the Kalma and Kass camps in south Darfur say that they’ll continue to refuse aid as long as Khartoum sticks by its decision to expel the aid agencies.
"If we allow them to distribute the food, then the government will be able to say to the world that everything is OK in Kalma," said Mubarak Shafi, a camp activist, according to the LA Times. "We want all the other problems solved first."
Given Khartoum’s central role in directing the six years of violence in Darfur, it’s no surprise that the traumatized people living in the camps are resisting the government re-inventing itself as an aid agency on which they would have to rely for life-saving support. Many Darfuris view international aid agencies as one of the few dependable actors amid the shifting allegiances of rebel groups and government forces. Some government representatives suggest that Abdel Wahid Nur, a Paris-based leader of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Army, may be behind the action taken by Kalma camp in particular, but our own Omer Ismail suggests that it is more likely a result of growing frustration from the grassroots level in the camps as conditions worsen. The camp leaders may see the refusal of aid simply and understandably as part of a larger rejection of Khartoum’s policies as a whole.
The people in the camps “think Bashir is only providing a token now because he has a noose around his neck,” said Ismail, adding that their reading of Bashir’s political calculations was more than likely true.
Given its long history of using starvation of a weapon, the government could not sound more sanctimonious: “If they [the people in the camps] want the services, we are ready to facilitate. But we can’t force anybody to eat," said Al-Hadi Najim, a representative of the government agency that oversees humanitarian aid, told the LA Times. "We hope that more people will go home," he said. "They can’t spend the rest of their lives begging the international community to feed them."
We here at Enough agree with Al-Hadi Najim on at least one crucial point: Darfurs displaced and refugees should be allowed to go home. Now it is up to the international community to set the forces in motion that will create the safety and security on the ground so that Darfuris will actually feel safe going home. That will require a much stronger peacekeeping force, a practical plan to neutralize the janjaweed militias, and practical efforts to end Sudanese government air attacks once and for all.
John Norris and Omer Ismail contributed to this post