The Conflict in Sudan

More than anything, the conflict in Sudan is about politics. Because most of the population has both black African and Arab blood, it cannot be labeled an issue about race. Mosques are being destroyed by the Islamic janjaweed forces, not because they are centers of religion, but rather because they are centers of community. So what is Sudan really about? And is it really a genocide?

For decades, Sudan has been embroiled in tensions due to religious, cultural and political divides. Much of the problem is associated with the terms "Arab" and "African". In modern day Sudan, "Arabs" are unlike the Islamic Arab tribes which arrived in the 15 th century. Generally, people of wealth and education are considered Arab as well as those who lead nomadic lifestyles. Physical characteristics are not as established because of the enslavement of many black Africans during Egyptian rule. These slaves became the concubines of many Arabs, giving birth to children of mixed heritage. Not all Arabs practice Islam or speak Arabic.

However, the majority of northern Sudan is Muslim, while the south practices mainly Christianity and Animism. Many southerners resent the power that Muslims have over the capital city, Khartoum. The janjaweed militamen were first employed by General al-Bashir to secure Khartoum, but were later used to retake rebel-occupied areas of Darfur.

Fighting the janjaweed are the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), both made up of southern ethnic groups. The SPLA had been involved with the Sudanese government in a long running civil war until 2001, when the UN ordered a cease-fire. In May of 2004, a peace agreement was signed, ending the second Sudanese Civil War, which had lasted for 20 years. However, even through negotiations, violence was escalating in Darfur. In their attacks on Darfur, the janjaweed have begun a "scorched-earth" campaign in which they have committed countless human rights violations, targeting the civilians of Darfur. This has resulted in the displacement of 3.5 million Sudanese and the death of around 300,000.

The crisis in Darfur has led to much international interest. Global leaders have labeled the ongoing violence as a "genocide" because of the atrocities committed and the high death toll of Darfuris. There is some speculation that this term has led to the SPLA and JEM to reject peace offers because they believe they have international support.