The New World Order in Darfur

A Darfur Village Bears Up Under Janjaweed Yoke By Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post Foreign Service

The story of Kuteri is in many ways emblematic of a conflict that is slipping from crisis into a more chronic state of dysfunction.

Now in its fifth year, a military campaign by the Sudanese government to crush a rebel movement in Darfur has almost completely reordered the region’s demographics. The conflict is complex but comes down to one in which the government has armed and supported certain nomadic Arab tribesmen against the region’s farming villagers, who are predominantly black Africans.

At least 450,000 people have died from disease and violence in the conflict, and more than 2.5 million — around half the area’s entire population — have fled to vast displacement camps whose numbers continue to swell. …

Since the Janjaweed came in early 2003, some families have fled Kuteri for what seemed like the relative safety of the camps, but others could not or did not want to leave. …

Even as humanitarian organizations remain focused on helping the millions of displaced people, there is growing concern that some of the vast camps encircling towns in Darfur are becoming semi-permanent settlements of people dependent on aid and increasingly alienated from village life.

In many camps, people have begun to build mud-brick homes, fences, gardens and other structures in a sign that they are settling in for a long stay. There have also been reports of youth gangs forming in the camps and other quasi-urban problems developing, aid workers said.

In that context, a few relief groups are attempting to help people who have expressed a desire to stay in their villages. …

So far, about 50 families from Kuteri … have packed their bags, loaded their donkeys and headed for a camp near Zalingei. And one day last week, another few families — totaling about 30 people — decided they had finally had enough of making nice with militiamen and wondering whether they would have enough food tomorrow.

In a scene repeated perhaps millions of times across Darfur, the families went house to house in the early morning, saying goodbye to their friends and relatives, who gave them cooking oil, soap and food to help them get through the first few days in the camp.

“All the families leaving are feeling sad,” Ismail said. “We tell them to go stay in the camp, and if you don’t like it, then you can come back.”

But not one family has returned, except for occasional visits, he said, and the village’s population is dwindling.