By Mary Alice Miller
Rev. Herbert Daughtry led a delegation representing the National Religious Leaders of African Ancestry Concerned about Darfur, Sudan. Accompanying Daughtry was Darfurian Yahya Osman, Secretary General of the Darfurian Rehabilitation Project.
.Osman, whose family has suffered greatly due to the conflict, was instrumental in personally introducing Rev. Daughtry to leaders of various factions in southern Darfur. Keeping the ultimate goal in mind, Osman promised the people in the refugee camps that the delegation would speak out for them.
The timing of their trip happened to coincide with a meeting of the leaders of southern Darfur, who met to come to a resolution to the ongoing conflict. The central Sudanese government claims it also wants a solution, but says the Darfurian leadership is ‘fragmented,’ therefore thwarting resolution.
With Sudan’s border touching nine countries, there is a threat of spillover into other nations. Spillover has already begun. Rev. Daughtry visited Abeche, a city in eastern Chad that houses 17,000 Darfurian refugees and displaced people.
According to Daughtry, the crisis is as bad as, or worse than, reported.
Daughtry saw women fight over water due to insufficient underground water supply. The 4-gallon per family per day is not nearly enough. He says the displaced can make a house from mud and straw, but the lack of water leaves these homes in a state of incompleteness.
Daughtry also saw naked children-without clothes or shoes. They had sores and blisters, and some were deformed.
Daughtry says medical service is inadequate-a donkey-driven cot served as an ambulance. Old canvases are used to construct housing.
Daughtry reports scores of refugees continuing to pour into the camps, increasing stress upon the villages and towns of Darfur.
Daughtry and Osman report that currently there are approximately 400,000 displaced persons in 81 refugee camps-12 camps are in Chad, 69 are in Sudan.
Daughtry heard ‘stories of cruelty that would disgrace a nation of savages.’
Daughtry heard stories of children being crushed and thrown into fire.
He met young girls in the bush who were fighting with rifles. When Daughtry asked them why, they said they had nothing else to do. One’s sister was raped; another’s parents were killed.
Story after story had consistent elements: First airplanes dropped bombs, then, military machines came through firing large guns. Finally the horseback riders-they call them “jejuin-evil on horseback”-came through burning, killing, stealing, raping, and confiscating property.
Daughtry was told that some managed to escape and found their way to the camps, where the young find conditions unsafe. If the young men stay in camp, they are beaten, and sometimes they ‘disappear.’ If the young women stay in camp, they are beaten, raped, and also can ‘disappear,’ so they go into the bush.
Through interpreters, Daughtry asked rebel leaders why they were fighting. They said they would lay down their arms if a solution were found tomorrow.
Yet with all the suffering, Daughtry saw signs of humanity.
Through dazed looks, the children laughed and smiled. Children will be children, finding imaginative ways to play. One 7-year-old gave Daughtry three pieces of ‘money’ he had made. All he asked for in return were books.
Osman believes one strategy of Arab cultural domination is to keep the indigenous Darfurian Africans in camps for 5-10 years while the Arab children are being educated and getting their Masters degrees. Even if people eventually come out of the camps, they will be unskilled and unprepared, and therefore, essentially unemployable.
Through conversations with refugees in camp and the bush, Daughtry was told that, overall, the displaced had ‘high praise’ for the U.S. role in providing assistance. Although they wished the USA would do more, they fondly remembered that Colin Powell called the situation ‘genocide.’ They are grateful for religious Christians and Jews, but wish religious Muslims would do more. In fact, the displaced are disappointed that Muslims have abandoned them, leaving them feeling alone.
In addition, Daughtry was told that the displaced believe the root of the problem is Arab expansionism. Those whose lands were destroyed and taken are Christian and Muslim Africans. The displaced also believe there is a ‘master plan’ by some Arab leaders to expand Islam and Arabism, and are sad that Muslims of African ancestry cannot see the problem.
According to Daughtry, Darfurians did not choose to go to refugee camps because they love refugee camps. They were forced to leave their lands. The displaced believe someone must pay; their lives need to be restored.
Daughtry and Osman report that the central Sudan government put forward a plan that was rejected by most of the Darfurian leadership groups because there was nothing on the table to redress wrongs, recoup lands, and establish power sharing. One Darfurian group, the Sudan Liberation Army, was forced to sign the agreement with the central Sudan government. They subsequently became part of the Sudanese government, and many were later killed in a questionable incident.
Daughtry explained further: “Yes, the root of the problem is British colonialism, but Arabs are as vicious as anybody. For too long, Arabs got a free pass because we blame Europeans.”
One of Daughtry’s immediate goals is to have heart-to-heart talks with Imams of African ancestry.
Daughtry states the more difficult problem is that black Muslims have not challenged Arab Muslims on the ‘authenticity’ of Islam the way black Christians had to challenge European Christianity. Daughtry asks: “Why have they not taken a stand?”
When asked what role slavery played in this situation, both Daughtry and Osman admit there are conflicting reports.
Osman stated that there are undeniable kidnappings, people are loaned out to work, and the children are being ‘pawned’ to rich people. Daughtry said there is a question regarding slavery as we know it. Osman added that people may not be chained, but if their resources are controlled, if people are forced to beg to be able to eat and are required to do a job for free, that equals slavery.
Having laid out the facts, Rev. Daughtry asks, “Whose side are you on-the baby or the buzzard?”