Two recent articles – one by the New York Times‘ Jeffrey Gettleman and the other by the sharp-tongued and insightful Sudan observer Rob Crilly – shed light on the current situation in Darfur. The two articles paint starkly different portraits of the status quo in Darfur and provide divergent forecasts of what 2010 holds for a region of Sudan that has undoubtedly slipped out of the forefront of public and media attention in the past year, in part due to increased focus on the uptick in violence in southern Sudan.
Reporting on the front page of Saturday’s New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman brings word of a “fragile calm” in Darfur, while emphasizing that the conditions for the over four million displaced Darfuris (residing in camps in eastern Chad and in Darfur) are far from acceptable:
“In the camps, the transient life of the refugee is becoming permanent. Most people hate living here. The crowded huts, the waiting for food handouts, the idleness are steadily taking their toll.”
Still, Gettleman’s piece leaves the overall impression that the situation in Darfur is improving, while conspicuously understating both the unsustainable nature of the status quo, and perhaps more egregiously, the role the Sudanese government played in creating the humanitarian crisis to begin with.
Writing on the Huffington Post, Rob Crilly argues that Darfur is tragically becoming all too similar to other long-term, slow burn African conflicts:
“On a continent of forgotten wars, there was always supposed to be something different about Darfur. This was the first genocide of the twenty-first century. A slaughter of the innocents. The land’s African farmers were being wiped out by Arab raiders – the dreaded Janjaweed – doing the bidding of an evil Islamist empire in Khartoum. (…)
"Where once Darfur had been different, today it is achingly familiar. Complex, miserable and messy. Africa is not short of similar conflicts that grumble on for years, unresolved and out of sight."
Instead of finding hope in the overall decrease in violence in Darfur in recent years, Crilly calls attention to the frequent, fragmented skirmishes between Darfur’s multiple rebel factions, poor conditions in the camps, banditry, and violence against the joint AU/UN peacekeeping force.
But Crilly’s analysis does not lead him to a place of inertia or inaction. On the contrary, Crilly warns that "we cannot afford to let Darfur slip away." International attention and coordinated pressure yielded the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended decades of war between Sudan’s North and South. Crilly says that the same level of engagement is necessary now if Sudan is to avoid ongoing stalemate in Darfur and a potential resumption of North-South conflict in the coming year.
Despite their contrasting analysis of Darfur today, Gettleman and Crilly agree on some key points: 2010 is a make-or-break year for Sudan. Diplomats cannot afford to let Darfur become another "forgotten war" or to skate through the contentious national elections set for April. And the status quo throughout the country – be it fragile calm in Darfur or troubling backslide in the South – is unacceptable and dangerous for the majority of the people of Sudan.