The New York Times recently reported on a troubling development in Darfur’s refugee camps: the presence of “angry and outspoken,” even “extreme” youths who are collectively calling themselves the “shabaab,” the Arabic word for “young men.”
These young men are challenging traditional sheiks and elders, in some cases violently; 11 sheiks have been killed in and around refugee camps in the Zalingei region of West Darfur since early 2007. Although the cases are unsolved, many suspect that shabaab involvement. As the Times article remarked, the growing youth militia adds a new and complicating dynamic to any peace efforts in Darfur as tribal leaders try to keep young hardliners on-side.
The young Darfuri movement shares a name with the insurgent group in Somalia, but the two groups are unconnected. However, the disturbing transformation of the shabaab in Somalia over the past two years (see Enough’s recent Somalia strategy paper for more) makes the presence of a fledgling, violent youth movement all the more worrisome.
The group does not yet have a unified political ideology, but one Sudanese writer said that anger is “the factor unifying them,” and unsurprising dynamic when their families are helplessly attacked in the camps by Sudanese security forces. The shabaab movement demonstrates the need for a new, comprehensive approach to peace (what Enough has called a “peace surge”) in Darfur and all of Sudan—before it is too late.