The Darfur conflict started in 2003 and is responsible for the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. While it is rooted in inequality between the center of the country and the ‘peripheral’ areas such as Darfur, the war has many interlinked causes.
And it is a conflict which the Paris summit will not solve according to former Médecins Sans Frontieres leader Rony Brauman: “Neither Sarkozy, nor this conference will solve the conflict. Only the Sudanese can do that. What the international community CAN do is help and even urge warring parties to get together and talk. The idea is to help them reach a peace deal, not to impose a peace deal, that doesn’t work.”
This large territory nearly the size of France is populated by a mixed population of Arab nomads such as the Janjaweed militia and more sedentary non-Arabs. Almost all the fighters as well as the victims in Darfur are Muslim as are government leaders in Khartoum.
The Sudanese government, while publicly denying that it supports the Janjaweed, has provided money and assistance to the militia and has participated in joint attacks against the tribes from which the rebels draw support. The other side comprises a variety of rebel groups, notably the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement, who are demanding greater political autonomy and a more equitable share of resources.
Water, land, and especially oil – that is what is widely perceived as the main stake in this conflict, and what explains both domestic and international intervention. Sudan, a recently oil-rich country, exports an estimated 500,000 barils per day according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.
The vast majority of this oil is sold to China, now the world’s second-largest consumer. The rest goes mainly to India and Malaysia. Few countries owe so much, over so little time, to oil. From near-bankruptcy in the early 1990s, Sudan has trebled its GDP in the past seven years. But, it seems, the magic of black gold comes at a very high price.