Darfur conflict mired in complexity

Former Canadian lieutenant-general Romeo Dallaire blasted western governments, including Canada’s, last week, calling their response to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region “lame and obtuse.” Pablo Idahosa, director of African Studies, Division of Social Sciences in York’s Faculty of Arts, says that frustration is symptomatic of complex problems in the region that defy simple solutions.

Right: Pablo Idahosa

“It is not simply a matter of ‘Arab versus African’ nor is it just about ‘oil’,” said Idahosa. “Such simplistic analyses do not take account of the fact that there are many militias in Sudan, most funded and abetted by the Sudanese government; there always have been [the militias] in the more than 20 years of political history behind the conflict. The Darfur problem is the most recent manifestation of these problems, especially in the aftermath of the tenuous negotiated settlement of the civil war in the south.”

Idahosa points out that the size of the region alone – Darfur is an area roughly the size of France and much of it desert – works against a quick or easy solution to the humanitarian problem of more than one million internally displaced refugees who fled local militias accused of pursuing a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

With degrees in philosophy, economic history and political science, Idahosa is well versed on the region’s strife. He has written on development ethics, African political thought, the politics of ethnicity, globalization and development. He is author of The Populist Dimension to African Political Thought, co-editor of the Somali Diaspora, and co-author of the Compromised Modernity in Africa. He has also lived, worked and taught in western and northern Africa.

According to Idahosa, there are many countries that have interests in the future of Sudan, including, India, Malaysia and Sweden, as well as Algeria, China, Pakistan and Russia, who are members of the UN Security Council that is considering trade sanctions against the government in Khartoum.

“Everyone is involved there,” he said. “And even the Americans might not have given up on long-term designs for the region, despite their current problems in Iraq.”

As western governments consider issuing sanctions against Sudan, the country is negotiating a solution to the crisis with rebel groups at the same time as it maintains an uneasy truce with rebels in the country’s south. The debate over how to prevent another “Rwanda” is being carried out as the African Union tries to mediate a solution. The crisis requires intervention that major players in the region must agree to implement, said Idahosa.