I am starting to think you only have to be Rwandan, to fully understand what it feels like to repeatedly receive insults on your human conscience and intelligence.
Only two weeks after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and less than one week after World Food Day, President Barack Obama, today, unveiled his strategy on Darfur.
Obama’s new policy aims to resolve the Darfur crisis with a conciliatory tone that contradicts his election campaign promise. He hopes to ‘normalize’ relations with President Omar al-Bashir – one who was charged with war crimes earlier this year.
The new policy appeases US envoy to Sudan, General Scott Gration, who suggested awarding “cookies” and “gold stars” to the government in Khartoum.
The same general who seeks to have the region’s attrocities downgraded from “genocide” to “the remnants of genocide”.
Why does this stink like Rwanda in 1994 when then Secretary of State Warren Christopher did not authorize officials to use the term “genocide” until a time hundreds of thousands were dead.
Even then, U.S. officials waited another three weeks before using the term in public.
‘Nobel’ standards notwithstanding - 400,000 mostly civilian lives, 2.5 million refugees, widespread use of sexual violence, gang rapes of women and girls, castration of men and boys with thousands of peacekeepers on watch – Darfur remains, the world’s most misunderstood conflict – a protracted struggle for the most basic human need Food.
Right before the conflict escalated in 2003, the region expected a bumper harvest but grasshoppers descended on key millet-producing areas and ruined everything.
Grain prices shot up as high as 10 goats for one sack of millet – yes, barter trade was the medium of exchange. Prior to this the rate was a more reasonable two goats per sack of millet.
The combination of conflict, drought and pests became very overwhelming on the population and led to social disruption.
Young men with no food raided villages and looted livestock in the droves while farmers tried to sell their cattle at a giveaway prices before it got looted. Market systems and seasonal labour opportunities were lost due to insecurity, and commercial transport was at a standstill.
“Survival in Darfur is a delicate balance with limited room for margin. While most communities have developed complex coping mechanisms to deal with a single bad season of drought or failed harvest, a second failed, ruined, burned or looted harvest can push families to the edge of survival,” HRW warned. For the last two decades, the Darfur region has been experiencing drought and desertification.
Otherwise intelligent young Darfurian males are left with no option but to grab Kalashnikovs and join a rebel forces when faced with the option of watching themselves and their families starve to death.
For lack of a better option, girls find themselves in early marriages and their children will be the rebels of tomorrow should the conflict protract.
This highlights a clear relationship between hunger, drought and the increment in numbers of militias.
The most crucial elements to resolving the Darfur crisis must start with addressing the basic needs of Darfurians. Providing adequate food, proper nutrition and access to education to make youth less vulnerable to recruitment by rebel forces.
‘Ensuring that no child goes to school hungry is the single greatest investment we can make in building prosperous, healthy and stable societies.’ Samuel R. Berger, a former national security advisor to President Clinton comments in an opinion piece in the L.A Times, published on World Food Day.
Equally important, a focus should be put on micro-economic activities to give the elderly population occupation and self reliance. A continued dependence on humanitarian assistance will leave communities even more disorganized once the aid is cut.
There are many other factors that have fueled Darfur crisis like crucial interests in oil investments, lucrative weapons trade, land pressure and more importantly, the marginalization of the southern region.
Only time will tell if Barack’s new policy will bear fruit but one thing is for sure -- General Gration will be surprised to find that Darfurians prefer the cookies to the goldstars.
The author is a US based student, freelance writer and policy analyst.