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USF Libraries Exhibits

Catalysts for the 2003 Darfur Conflict

Air attack on a village in Darfur.

Source: Waging Peace Darfuri Children's Drawing     Homes burning after an attack.

The different tribes in Darfur coexisted in relative peace for a long time. However, disagreements over grazing land sparked conflict between some predominantly nomadic tribes (often referred to as the Arab tribes) and the predominatly sedentary tribes (called non-Arab or Black-African tribes). One cannot easily tell from the color of the skin, dressing or religion whether someone is Arab or non-Arab; after all, people from the Arab and non-Arab tribes intermarried for a very long time and most of them are predominantly muslims. The only difference between these two groups is that one is nomadic while the other is sedentary and engages in peasant farming.

The main catalysts to the conflict emanated from fights over natural resources, grazing lands, access to water, propagation of racist ideology, underdevelopment and external political influence. This led to the pronouncement of ethnic identities, as tribes boldly classified themselves as either Arabs or black Africans.

As desertification began to spread rapidly to most parts of Northern Darfur in the 1970s, and on account of the great famine of 1984, most nomadic tribes from Northern Sudan migrated south in search of pasture. At the same time, there was an influx of arms from militias in Chad. In addition, there was armed conflict between the government of Sudan and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement--a rebel group from Southern Sudan. The government of Sudan armed the nomadic tribes of Northern Darfur, and some of these nomads formed a militia group, infamously known as the Janjaweed. Many members of the non-Arab tribes felt they had been marginalized in all spheres of society ranging from political power to jobs. Inequality in terms of infrastructure angered the non-Arab tribes, and they felt that matters concerning how the country was run were tilted in favor of the Arab tribes. The government and political parties also manipulated these ethnic identities in order to rally support.