Monday, December 10, 2007


I haven't been able to post anything, nor will I be able to further for another month. Until then...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Last night, after going mad from boredom and loneliness in my compound, I went for a walk in a drizzling rain through empty streets and happened on a busy teashop.

The room was just a small straw hut covered in a blue UNICEF tarpaulin and under it huddled twenty young men hovered over sheesha pipes. At least ten of them smoked deeply and breathed out a thick cloud of sweetened smoke as their neighbors conversed. Everything was somber except for the glowing red coals that hovered in front of their dark faces, and the bright hearth that sat in the corner holding a small fire.

There was too much smoke for me to enter, and nowhere to sit, so I joined the others outside under the rain in the almost pitch-black muddy street. The young locals with whom I sat and exchanged pipes with were an employee of a humanitarian organization, a young soldier in Sudanese army fatigues, an older Chadian boy who had left his studies across the border just short of a high school degree and arrived here to join his comrades and “fight for the revolution,” as well as the entrepreneurial owner of the shack along with a few stragglers. It seemed to me a strange but normal group, a typical cross-section of employment opportunities here in Darfur.

We sat and smoked and exchanged pleasantries through my limited Arabic, taking turns holding a small metal lid over the coals to protect them from being extinguished by the cold falling rain. It was nice to be out from behind my barbed wire compound, where my colleagues sat and watched satellite TV and drank smuggled Chadian Whiskey (“Johnny Walter”) alone and insulated from the celebrating town around them. People in town seem to be happy on Ramadan nights, when they sit with friends and family and - I imagine - feel the agreeable sensation of food in their stomach after a long day of fasting.

The Chadian rebel left to go watch the Barcelona football game. I was soaked when I stood up to leave, and I walked back to my gate to hear my security guard reprimand me for being out past curfew. But it was a nice excursion. There were no gunshots heard in the distance, and I later slept peacefully.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

400 - 500 Killed ?

Rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army - Unity faction say they shot down two helicopters, destroyed 70 military vehicles, and captured many soldiers while repelling an attack on the town of Haskanita by Sudanese Government Forces.

Rebel leaders also say that among those captured is a high-ranking Sudanese Army General.

That much has been published in an article by the Sudanese Tribune, a Southern newspaper based out of Juba. What was not published, and what I have been told by sources here, is that the rebels claim to have killed up to 500 Sudanese soldiers. They have even asked international aid organizations for help in burying them!

If this is the truth - and my sources have confidence that it is - then why is the international media not covering this story?

The main reason is that most people here are afraid of getting expelled. Jan Pronk, former head of United Nations Mission in Sudan, was thrown out of the country in late 2006 after blogging his thoughts on the effect of Sudanese military defeats on the morale of the armed forces.

Unfortunately, not only aid workers practice self-censorship. Journalists have been kicked out of the country or even jailed for publishing facts that offend the government. This is the sad debate that many of us in advocacy or journalism churn around in our heads - to submit watered-down reports and stay, or write the reality and not sleep at night for fear of waking up unemployed and kicked out of the country.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


On Jul 31 Reuters published an article on the malnutrition rate of Al Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. It discussed a recently published survey performed by an international NGO stating that global acute malnutrition rates in the town had increased to 2 percentage points above emergency level. According to the Reuters article, the head of the NGO assured that “urgent action” was needed to prevent a worsening of the situation.

This week, in a related AP article, a local UN official said that “malnutrition is on the rise in Darfur,” and another official – this time from New York - declared that malnutrition rates were “well over” 17 percent in many areas of Darfur, and that we were experiencing a general decline in the humanitarian situation.

But just five days before, a Los Angeles Times article said,

“Since 2005, key indicators, including mortality and malnutrition rates, have been improving steadily. Today those rates are not only below thresholds commonly used internationally to define an ‘emergency,’ but in some cases, they are better than before the conflict, or better than those observed in other parts of Sudan and Africa.

‘There is very little malnutrition and very little disease,’ said Mike McDonagh, the north Sudan manager for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. ‘We very quickly got it turned around.’

Malnutrition rates in Darfur have been reduced by almost half since 2004 to 12.9%, according to U.N. figures. The ‘emergency’ threshold is 15%.”

So what is actually going on?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


I haven't had time to write. The best I can manage are some photos:

Camels near the village of ....

We thought we could, but we couldn't.


Monday, August 20, 2007


Driving through this town, I often stumble upon refreshing scenes: a Wadi full of ebullient children playing soccer and volleyball, a truck of armed and savage-looking Chadian rebels whose intimidation melts away with my wave of greeting, a man sitting in the peace of a mango tree’s shade reading a Koran, a busy street market rushing through the day’s last sales in order to avoid the oncoming downpour that threatens in gusts from a darkened horizon. I have started bringing my camera wherever I go in the hopes of capturing another side of Darfur that has gone without mention in most of the popular media. Darfur is a very beautiful place, full of very kind people, and I wish writers would add some variety to their analysis of this world and stop advertising it as a place of only "hunger, violence, slaughter," and "chaos." Those words appear in almost every article I read of Sudan.

Two days ago it happened – something that has nothing to do with the crisis plopped down in front of me. On our return to the office we almost drove into a stunning Black Crowned Crane standing on the side of the dirt road. It remained calmly on its path and did not quail as a truck of soldiers drove by and as I approached with my camera. My colleague said that they are often seen here, slowly striding through the streets, and I noticed that people walked by as if the bird was simply part of the background. But for me it was of great interest - how often does one see a large exotic bird walking through these trash-strewn, eroded roads (something so beautifully natural in such an unnatural and human-dominated environment)?

The only reason some kids then stopped was to watch me take a picture of the bird and laugh at my interest in it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Kristof on Darfur

A response to Nicolas Kistof August 6 op-ed article in the NYT (unfortunately it wasn't published):

I live and work as a humanitarian aid worker in West Darfur. Nicolas Kristof’s “Plan for the Future for Darfur” was disturbing, and indeed some of his proposed solutions demonstrated a misunderstanding of the current humanitarian crisis.

The article refers to supposed ongoing mass “slaughter” (a sensationalistic word that was used four times), a military campaign against innocent civilians, and a pro-active government bent on the killing of black Africans.

But Kristof is reading from an outdated script. From my perspective – I visit IDP camps on a weekly basis, I read up-to-date security briefings daily from NGOs and UN personnel traveling throughout Darfur, and I work every day among Darfuris – what is happening now cannot be described as genocide.

It most probably was, though, back in 2003 and in the beginning of the rebellion, when the government armed the janjaweed and gave them free reign over a territory the size of France. Then, the government moved ahead of armed and mounted men, bombed any village that was suspected of supporting the new rebellion, and turned their backs as the (Arab) janjaweed moved in and killed or raped those who were left standing.

But it is a different crisis now. Most of the violence this year has been opportunistic banditry, against both villages and humanitarian actors. This is a natural corollary to the large amounts of arms now locally available, as well as the massive injection of humanitarian money that has occurred since this crisis began. Arab tribes are fighting other Arab tribes, armed groups are carjacking and robbing convoys of NGOs which they now identify as an easy source of cash, villages are being attacked by small groups of armed men, but large scale attacks like happened before have not occurred in a long time.

The fighting between the rebels and the government is now on the sidelines. New forces have developed from the old. The janjaweed have - like the rebels - broken up into different factions and may be acting beyond Khartoum’s control. Chadian rebels have infested Western Darfur and stage attacks against the government of Idriss Deby from the almost totally porous border, as the Sudanese opposition is doing from the opposite side.

Kristof’s first solution to bringing peace in Darfur – by supporting the peace negotiations that were recently completed in Arusha – will achieve little and indeed most people here on the ground have little faith in the discussions. Those representing the rebels in Arusha are viewed as puppets of the government and whose participation in the peace talks is meant to discredit the real representatives of the rebellion. Without Abdul Wahid, the leader of the SLM faction that is most popular and who is not represented at the talks, there will be little real coherence if any accord is achieved and it will therefore be a simple replay of Abuja.

Using satellites to monitor Darfur, as he recommends, in order to “reduce the chance that Sudan will slaughter” 130,000 residents of a certain “beleaguered” IDP camp is unnecessary and not feasible. There are tens of thousands of humanitarian workers throughout Darfur, and many of them are acting as a witness that could get through to the world on satellite phones and internet connections (yes, Darfur has DSL) if such an unlikely catastrophe occurred. The government already knows they are being watched.

There is also a technical problem that the UN faced when they came up that same idea years ago: from a satellite perspective, a recently destroyed village and one that was abandoned 20 years ago for unrelated reasons look the same. Just look on Google maps and you will see.

Using reductive and morally comfortable good guy/bad guy scenarios and then constructing military or political solutions from them will lead us into a similar situation as that in Iraq. And bringing a Darfuri refugee to the white house lawn for a photo-op, as Kristoff suggested, will only reinforce the image that Africa is full of evil aggressors and victims that should be “rescued” by the West.

Since January 2007, according to many estimates, there have been less than a dozen people killed by offensive Sudanese military flights. What good then will be an enforcement of a no-fly zone over Darfur, as Kristof and others such like Hillary Clinton recommend?

Lastly, there is a likelihood that the war with the South will begin anew, as the government in Khartoum has shown little progress in implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the 22-year long civil war in 2005. But does Kristof honestly think that arming the South is part of the solution, when Sudan has only had a decade of peace since World War II and so recently ended a war that killed millions of its people? The answer must lie elsewhere.

I don’t pretend to know what would bring peace to this region. But there are some solutions that might be more likely to lead us towards peace. They are all more complicated than the simple list of suggestions that are supplied by Kristof, and none of them are likely be followed under the current regime in Khartoum, no matter how much international pressure is put on it.

Nomadic corridors must once again be reopened to allow the movement of cattle and Arab tribes to and from their traditional grazing grounds. There are approximately 12 million head of cattle in Darfur – that is more than twice the population of humans – and the cattle trade has been an important aspect of both the local and national economy. Without the migration nothing will return to normal, and neither nomads nor farmers will be able to rebuild their livelihoods.

All non-state armed groups must be convinced to disarm. This might be accomplished with the presence of the 26,000 UN peacekeepers that are set to arrive in October, though it is not guaranteed.

IDPs and refugees, once the security situation is improved, must be given a real incentive to return to their villages. Maternal health, infant mortality, access to potable water and free health care have all been dramatically improved through the intervention of humanitarian actors. But few journalists are brave enough to note that this improvement is from pre-conflict conditions, and in many areas the level of life of displaced people has been dramatically increased as a result of being in the camp itself. Conditions here are much better than they are in South Sudan, or in some other regions of Africa. Although I am not disregarding the horror that many displaced people have lived through, in the long-term, this means that few will want to return to their villages where none of these services are available. Who will make such an enormous investment?

What will bring ultimate peace to this area is not a cease fire or the presence of UN troops, but electricity, roads, education and enough investment to make those in Darfur feel that they are Sudanese. That, after all, is what started this crisis. It is the only thing the divided rebel movements unanimously agree on.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The UN is coming to Darfur

The UN is coming to Darfur en masse. Over 26,000 peacekeeping soldiers and observers.

Strange - that would seem to be enormous news. In the past two days I've had three meetings with UN organizations, a few others with NGOs, and no one has mentioned the UN resolution and the peace keeping soldiers that are supposed to arrive here by October. Why?

Here is what I posted on another site:

Every morning I read about the supposed violence that plagues this area, but much of what the media says is exaggerated. IDPs continue to arrive in the camps, coordinated attacks by both janjaweed and government forces against villages are happening in remote areas, and humanitarian workers are being targeted by carjackers (though no one's person has been targeted recently). This place is the size of France, though, and many areas have been calm for quite some time.

I cannot believe that it is the "greatest humanitarian disaster the world faces today," as Gordon Brown and other diplomats repeat. Take into consideration that all relevant humanitarian indicators are higher in Darfur than they were before the violence began: maternal health and nutrition is better, infant mortality is down, and most areas have much better access to clean water and nearby health care. This is happening due to the massive influx of aid that is being concentrated on Darfur - to the detriment of other more important areas nearby.

Despite the recent peace in South Sudan, life expectancy is much lower than it is in Darfur. The South recently ended a 22-year long civil war with the North that killed 2 million people and a left in its wake a lost generation to rebuild a destroyed region the size of Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, and Rwanda combined. It is becoming more and more likely that the peace with the North will be broken, as Khartoum has repeatedly failed to implement its side of the CPA, the agreement that ended the war two years ago.

Why is the Government of Sudan allowing UN peacekeepers in the first place? Are they encouraging the world to focus on Darfur so that they can sabotage peace with the South and prevent ultimate secession (and the loss of the cherished oil fields)?


Julie Flint, an independent journalist and the co-author of "Darfur: A Short History of a Long War," has the most lucid understanding of Darfur that I have found. Her most recent article.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Many organizations are working in water and sanitation activities in the IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps of Darfur. The list of projects is varied: drilling boreholes and fitting hand pumps, digging wells, installing huge elevated steel water tanks, laying a system of reticulated water distribution points, building latrines…

Doing such a project is relatively uncomplicated. Funding is easy to come by, as the justification to bring water into a "sere, desolate environment" is apparent to most donours.

I visited an IDP camp a few weeks ago to set up a new project and get a feel for the ongoing humanitarian work there. It was one of the largest camps of Darfur, with a population of almost 100,000 IDPs, and it took us most of the day to tour the place by car. As we explored later on foot it was impossible not to notice the rivers of water that were streaming through many roads, turning them into mud and causing a bottleneck of pedestrians on the remaining piece of dry walkway. We followed one stream for three blocks, approximately 200 meters, until we found the source: smiling children bathing under a running tap, playing in the puddles, and wasting most of the water as it missed the UNICEF jug entirely and fell onto the ground.

The SPHERE standard for minimum water requirements is 15 liters a day per person, or approximately one and a half metal buckets. However, one water engineer that worked at this same camp in 2005 estimated that each person the camp used much more than that, and that 15-20% of it was wasted as it leaked or was carelessly left to stream down roads.

One of my friends, a camp manager, told me that she assumed “[the camp residents] are used to conserving water and are averse to any type of waste.” She said that because many IDPs fled an area where water was scarce. Children walked for hours every day to fetch water from a safe source, or the village drank from nearby but shallow, contaminated wells that were often shared with herds of cows and donkeys.

It is off course a good thing that IDPs have access to potable water. But we should not stick to a preconception that resource management will happen by itself just because the IDPs are from a desert and therefore used to water management.

What are the consequences of this system of water management for the IDPs? For one, it might mean that they will not return to their homes until they are offered this water in their villages (as has happened in Northern Uganda). Inside the camps there are health services, unlimited amounts of purified water only a short walk away, free food from WFP, and soon there will be schools for their children – none of which they had before. They stay in the camps because it is still too dangerous for them to return – but they will also stay because what they are offered there is too good to leave.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sudan must pay victims of USS Cole

A US Court has ordered Sudan to pay 8 M USD to the families of the victims in the USS Cole bombing in Yemen in 2000: "there was enough evidence that Sudan had helped al Qaeda," the terrorist group blamed with the bombing, said the US judge. link

Sunday, July 22, 2007


We recently visited the pyramids of Meroe - it was the first time since my arrival here that I had visited an official tourist site. Despite what the guidebook stated, we did not have the grounds to ourselves and we shared the experience with some visiting Chinese businessmen. They pyramids are said to be the most visited site in all of Sudan – we saw a half dozen people, all of them Chinese. The touts that lined up outside the derelict entrance gates had only a half-dozen trinkets each displayed on the sand before them. Besides the miniature pyramids and Darfuri knives, the remaining baubles – cheap elastic and fake silver jewelry – I assume also came from China. It was strange to see a Chinese person bargain over them.

The ruins are the graves of ancient Meroe royalty, and date from around 0 AD. Most have been destroyed over the years - either through the effects of time or through pillaging by treasure hunters like the Italian Giuseppi Ferlini, who disassembled many of them piece by piece in search of gold and found nothing more than one necklace. In any case, not enough about them is known, and the bits and pieces that have been picked up over the years have left Sudan and now lie in European museums. What is left of interest are 2000-year old hieroglyphics alongside modern 20th century graffiti: "Osman Mahd, 1946"; "Alman, 1950"; "Latio, 1950."

It is remarkable what Sudan has to offer to visitors: the best diving in the world along the Red Sea Coast, a history as ancient as that of Egypt’s, the mountains and waterfalls of Jebel Mara in West Darfur (which used to be a popular R&R destination), a total geographical area almost five times as large as Kenya including an environment in the south that once supported the same populations of wild animals that brings Kenya over half of a billion USD every year in tourism revenue, and a hospitality of a people that is legendary among even well-traveled backpackers.

Instead, Sudan decides to throw this away, and instead spend much of its time destroying itself through everlasting war.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Looking Up

I am an aid worker in Sudan; I am based in West Darfur. I cannot write more than that – if I identify the organization for which I work, my name, or that of any of my friends, I face an almost certain expulsion from this country and serious consequences for my colleagues. So I’ll leave it at that.

In the first three months I moved frequently between the towns of Western Bahr el Ghazal and Juba (South Sudan), Khartoum, and West Darfur. I was overwhelmed with work and with an overdose of information, but my agitation was not just due to the normal feelings that accompany exposure to a new culture. Sudan has experienced only a decade of peace since World War II and remains beset by a different conflict on four of its borders. The government in Khartoum is set on obstructing humanitarian involvement and has been contributing to the crimes against humanity that are occurring in Darfur. The tension between South Sudan and North is so strong that many fear a resumption of the war, the war that lasted 22 years, killed millions of Sudanese, and left a lost generation in its wake. I am overwhelmed by the responses to my questions - a chaotic miscellany of motivations and hidden truths - and I don't know what to think.

Little that I have read in the press is forthcoming about events in Sudan. Many questions are left unanswered, or the explanations are overly simplistic. How are the conflicts in South Sudan and Darfur related? Why does Mohammed el-Bashir, the Sudanese president, not cooperate with the West? Why is the continuation of the war in Darfur simplistically explained as a conflict between Arab pastoralists and Black African farmers, when so may other factors – the influence of events in Chad, the destruction of the environment, events in South Sudan, or the role of humanitarian actors, among others – are also contributing to the conflict or preventing a peace.

My perspective is that of a humanitarian worker. They are the conclusions that I have made from my experiences here in Sudan.

Dinka Boy