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11.4.2021 : 17:25 : +0200


The Other War: Inter-Arab Conflict in Darfur


Sudan HSBA Working Paper No. 22

by Julie Flint

Inter-Arab conflict in Darfur has claimed almost 1,000 lives in 2010 yet remains largely unexamined by the international community. In fact, the killing of Arab by Arab is unfolding almost completely unremarked outside Sudan. Yet Arabs, considered together, constitute the largest fighting force in Darfur, with a military capability and spirit that the Sudanese government itself fears. Their quarrel — and their conviction that the government is attempting to ‘divide and destroy’ them — threatens a re-alignment of forces in Darfur that could breathe new life into a tired rebellion as it ‘re-strategizes’ for the expected partition of the country in 2011.

The Other War examines the background to and the development of the fighting between camel-herding Abbala and cattle-herding Baggara, the main players, and some of the possible repercussions. Key findings include the following:

  • Inter-Arab fighting has been the single largest cause of violent death in Darfur since the Darfur Peace Agreement of May 2006. The fighting attained new dimensions in 2010 as clashes between pastoralist tribes grew into pitched battles between camel-herding Abbala and cattle-herding Baggara. Both sides use government-supplied weapons with impunity. Both say the Sudanese government is not moving, in any serious way, to separate or restrain them.
  • Tensions are so high that relatively minor events can lead to waves of high mortality. Behind the immediate triggers, however, is a complex web of causality including competition over vacant land; imbalances and jealousies arising from government manipulation and militarization; and a rising tide of banditry and common criminality against a backdrop of weak governance and weakening traditional authority.
  • Traditional leaders involved in efforts to end the fighting prioritize government action to control arms and ammunition and improve security and governance, as well as poverty-mitigation projects for nomads and freedom of movement along their marahil (stock routes). For many Abbala, the conflict is not only a resource war; it is an identity war, fought to preserve a nomadic culture that conflict and government policies are destroying.
  • The marginalization of the Abbala continues, making them vulnerable to mobilization by the National Congress Party (NCP), the dominant party in government. Collectively demonized because of their role in the counter-insurgency, and facing ever greater inequalities in basic services because of the humanitarian focus on the displaced, they see their only ally, however self-serving, in the government and its security organs.
  • Arabs now form a substantial part of JEM’s soldiery, strengthening the insurgency and further accentuating Arab militarization and separation from tribal control.
  • Arab leaders believe that the agencies that armed their tribes want to see them weakened — including by killing each other—but will not attempt to disarm them while there is a chance of a new North–South war, especially one that may be sparked by disputes in Abyei or along the North–South border.
  • Darfur’s Arabs believe the NCP has outmanoeuvred the international community tactically and exhausted it diplomatically. They do not believe the government wants peace in Darfur, but rather simmering insecurity that will deny an independent Southern Sudan strategic depth on its northern border.
  • Despite lip service on the need to involve Arabs in the peace process for Darfur, they remain on the sidelines, still not seen as strategic partners in the search for peace. Continued failure to engage them in a meaningful way will guarantee increasingly complex conflict.

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