Interview with Sudan’s Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs

13 Rabi Al-Thani 1425
(June 2, 2004)

Yesterday, I spoke with a friend and brother in the fold of Islam (Hodari Abdul Ali) concerning my intent to secure an interview with the appropriate official at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, DC, on the mounting reports of ethnic cleansing in Darfur (Sudan). My instincts suggested to me that much of what we were hearing (particularly comparisons between the crisis in Darfur and the unconscionable genocide in Rwanda 10 years ago) was political and religiously-orchestrated DISINFORMATION.

Nevertheless, media reports of planes and helicopter gunships allegedly being used against the people of Darfur, coupled with the responsibility that I have as a Muslim to “stand firmly for justice as a witness to Allah (God)” – even if it is against myself or those close to me -required that I look into the matter as carefully and objectively as possible.

While I still intend to pursue the interview (and will brief our readers, if and when the interview takes place), I do have a relevant interview that was forwarded to me. The interview was conducted last April with Sudan’s Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs, Abdelrahman Abu Doumon, on the crisis in Darfur. What makes the substance of this interview of particular note, is an interview that was aired last week over Public Radio International (PRI) with a European human rights advocate who had just returned from the Darfur region.

The essential message of this non-Sudanese, non-Muslim human rights advocate was that excesses were being committed by both sides in the conflict, and that it was hard to determine which side was worst (the government or the rebels). And further, that the crisis was solvable – with the appropriate assistance, not manipulation, from responsible members of the international community. (This advocate also appeared to reject comparisons with Rwanda.)

One additional tidbit of info: in the case of Darfur, both sides are BLACK, AFRICAN (although one side also identifies itself as Arab) and MUSLIM. And thus, the Christian Crusaders-Zionists are without one of their propaganda tools (for the moment) – the accusation that “Arab Muslims are persecuting Black African Christians.”

Darfur Humanitarian Crisis 4: Interview With Sudan’s Under-Secretary For Humanitarian Affairs


Since February 2003 there has been a military conflict between two armed groups and the Government of Sudan in Darfur, a region in western Sudan.These groups, the ‘Sudan Liberation Army’ and the ‘Justice and Equality Movement’, launched their first attacks on government garrisons in the region. Since these attacks the conflict escalated, seemingly out of control, and has resulted in many deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians within Sudan. Many others have fled into neighbouring Chad. A stark humanitarian crisis has ensued.

In a keynote interview with the United Nations information service in early April 2004, Mr Abdel Rahman Abu Doum, Sudan’s Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, answered several questions about the Darfur crisis. This interview is reproduced below:

(On 19 April 2004, the government and rebels signed a humanitarian ceasefire agreement as a first step towards a lasting peace).

Interview With Abdel Rahman Abu Doum

On 8 April, IRIN spoke with Abdel Rahman Abu Doum, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs of Sudan, on the humanitarian situation in Darfur following reports of massive displacement sparked by attacks blamed on “Arab” militias against villages populated by the Fur, Masalit and other “non-Arab” ethnic groups. Below are excerpts from that interview, which took place in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum:

Question: What is actually happening in Darfur? I mean, people tell stories about whole villages being burned and many hundreds of thousands of people having fled their homes, but it is not really clear, at least to me, what has been happening in Darfur? […] Can you tell us a little bit, specifically, about what has been happening? Who is burning the villages, who is chasing whom?

Answer: Let me tell you […] about a meeting that took place between the residents of Darfur, the so-called the Arabs and the Non-Arabs. It so happened that the representative of the Fur tribe was a fair-skinned person, while the representative of the so-called Arabs was black. So who is who? It is all invented. You cannot say where the demarcation line is. The Fur were known to be the native tribe in that part of the country, but since ages ago the so-called Arabs came and they lived together in peace. They had intermarriages. It is very difficult to say these are Arabs and these are non-Arabs. Now the Arabic culture, the Arabic language is the common medium of communication between the peoples in that part of the world. The religion between them is that they are all Muslims. But as I told you, when it came to the issue of resources … everybody claims his/her right.

I can’t deny intertribal problems break out here and there, but some people who are interested in different aspects – some want to rule and others feel that nobody should share these resources with them – have built up the conflict. I mean, as you start hitting and the others [hit you back], it builds up and flares, and if wisdom does not prevail, if nobody intervenes to bring people together, then this will continue.[…] I have never heard people talking about the looting of the animals of the pastoralists. People only talk about the villages which have been burned. They don’t talk about the killing and the loss of the herds of animals which belong to the other side. It took place. Nobody can deny this. Because this is how it started. But only one part of it is being magnified and the other part is not being magnified.

[…] We are working and our president has issued a call for groups to come together to solve it the traditional way.

Question: Who is involved in the fighting? Who is fighting against whom?

Answer: Well, the area used to have so-called armed robbery groups. And these are the leaders of the problem, because such greedy people, such anti-social people, they were the seed of the problem. From there it went into tribal conflict because some of these people are from a certain tribe – and then they started to rob other tribes. When the other tribes started to take revenge it got magnified and still these armed robbery groups are there, then came the so-called rebels, and then the government came in. […] The government, I feel, the army, succeeded in bringing many parts of the Darfur area under control. Had there not been security, UNICEF and WFP would not have reached [these areas]. This is almost 80 percent of the land.

Question: Why did the Sudanese air force do the bombing in Darfur? What was the objective of that?

Answer: Well, I am here to look after the humanitarian aspects.

Question: Going back to the humanitarian aspects, how many people do we have now within Darfur who are displaced away from their homes?

Answer: According to the assessment missions and the head-to-head count, we have fewer than 700 000 people; yet this figure is not stable, because […] people are going back to their villages. […]. I witnessed this. The people of Kapkarabie already returned to their
homes. The people of Kutum have returned to their village. The people of Boram, in spite of the very recent attack on them, they are still there in Boram. The people of Kornoy are back at their place. The people of Ombaro. I have been there. I have seen the people there, and I have seen life coming back.

Question: So you think the worst of the problem is over?

Answer: If the people come down to talks, I believe it is still going to take time [but] it will never extend the way it did in Naivasha. Just days will be enough to bring people together because the common grounds are there, and these people used to live together and they used to solve their problems. Had the international community left us alone to come
together, I think we would do it in a very short period.

We need the international community to witness; we need the international community to help us to bridge the gap, to help those who have been affected by the situation, and I do admit they rather appreciate the role of WFP, UNICEF and the other UN agencies.

Question: Some people think that the situation in Darfur should be included in the negotiations which are taking place in Naivasha [Kenya] between the government and the SPLM/A [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, a southern Sudanese rebel group].

Answer: I am only responsible for humanitarian affairs.

Question: So, with regard to the people who are displaced in Darfur -you told us that you visited this place – what did you see with regard to the situation of the people there? What are their needs? What are their shortages? What do the government and the international community need to do to help these people?

Answer: It is worth saying that […] the health situation is quite good. No record of any epidemics or abnormal prevalence of diseases. This is very important to mention and I have to say that the Ministry of Health has procured quite a good number of health teams plus medicines worth a hundred million Sudanese dinars, which have been dispatched and
made available to all these camps, which I have just told you about. And in addition to this, the nutrition situation is under control, in some of the camps it’s quite good, in some of the camps there is need to send some more food.

Luckily enough now, the winter season is over, the need for blankets is over, naturally shelter-wise we do not need tents because the people use local materials even in their villages, so the same are being used within the camps. We call them ‘dura’ – dry stems.

They are getting them from their fields and they are building their small huts, which is the natural way they live. I look forward to support from the international community in order to help us build our local capacities to have emergency means for shelter by promoting and
developing these local means. Dura is available.

[In] the other area will be the need for some medicines which have not been made available, in case they are needed, as we are approaching summer, and the summer diseases are well known. The real need is to bring peace and to arrange for the agricultural season: there is need for seeds and agricultural tools. This will be a priority for us.

Question: Again, I am just drawing on your experience of having been to Darfur. When, for example, the UN resident coordinator compared the situation in Darfur with the situation in Rwanda 10 years ago, how did you feel?

Answer: Definitely there is no place for that. No place at all. No place.

Question: Because?

Answer: I stop here.

Question: No, but what I mean is, according to what you have seen, you say that there is no way you can compare the two: that it’s much worse in Rwanda than in Darfur.

Answer: I told you regarding humanitarian assistance. I have no experience of what has happened in Rwanda. It is all based on what I have heard. But according to what I have seen in Darfur, definitely there is no comparison between what I heard and what I have seen in Darfur. […] There are peace initiatives from the ground. People are coming towards each other. People are helping each other. The so-called Arabs are providing camels in order to take the goods of the displaced people back home. I have this in a video film. I can show you because I witnessed it. This can never be the Rwandan experience, never at all.

The so-called people who, according to the international media, are behind these atrocities, are the ones providing their camels for the displaced to take whatever goods they have in their displaced camp back to their villages and help them build their own villages. This is there. I can show you. I have it in a video film.

Question: So you say that the people who, the international media say, are responsible for this are in fact, according to what you have witnessed yourself, helping the displaced people. So who is responsible?

Answer: I said that people are coming together, I didn’t deny a conflict. The conflict is there. But the people are coming together. The people, they are doing it their own way. There is no comparison between what I have heard happened in Rwanda and what is going on now. These people need to have a conducive environment to help them come together.
These, you know, statements and media broadcasting do not help people to come together. They rather deepen the problem between the people.

Question: What is the government doing, I do not think anybody can deny that there are plenty weapons in Darfur?

Answer: I am not responsible for that and I do not know about it.

Question: So, some people have said that the government has been giving weapons to people in Darfur. Is that not true?

Answer: I don’t know and I don’t believe it.

Question: So how do you describe the role of the government?

Answer: When you talk about the government, who are the government? Look at this government. How many Darfurians are represented in this government? How come? […] Count for yourself the number of Darfurians who are holding very senior offices in this government. [..] not in the Darfur government, in the central government. Count them for yourself and let the world know about it. Why are people not talking about all these
things. When I talk about Darfurians, I’m referring to […] representation of all the tribes of Darfurians. They are very close to the President.

Question: So, in your mind, there is no question. If somebody says to you that the government is trying to finish the Black Africans…

Answer: Impossible! If the government wants to finish the black Africans why should they want to come to an agreement in Naivasha? Aren’t they [the Southerners] equally Africans? Why in Darfur? Another addition to this: one of the leaders of the Darfur rebellion was one the leaders of the government militia fighting the rebels in the south. Was he, as an
African, trying to kill the Africans in the south? Unbelievable. And, by the way, he is a friend of mine, and a colleague.

Question: When people talk about ethnic cleansing, is it appropriate to use that description in Darfur?

Answer: I hate it and it’s really hurting to me. I describe myself as a real Sudanese with Arab blood, with African blood, with Egyptian blood and I find this word very hurting … very hurting.

Question: Why?

Answer: Because Sudan is unique, and Sudanese people have something very special: the way they live together, the way they coexist with each other. The other day, I was attending a conference at Addis Ababa. It was a summit. Lam Akol, who was a leader of the Sudan rebels, came late and I was sitting just at the beginning of the room. When he saw me, he embraced me the Sudanese way […]. And there was a Westerner sitting next to me. He asked me: “Are you a member of the SPLA?” I said “that’s something you don’t know, and you cannot perceive. It is very difficult for you to digest.” Anyway, the man is a friend of mine and we used to fish when we were teenagers together. And at the end of the meeting he asked me to take care of his mother, who is in Khartoum, at a time when
he was with the rebels. These are the Sudanese people.

Question: So what is your message? Obviously there is a lot of confusion, people having the wrong idea, according to what you’ve been telling me. What do you want to say to these people when they use words like “ethnic cleansing” or “it’s like Rwanda 10 years ago”? What do you want to say to them?

Answer: I want to say that there is a problem and that the problem is solvable. And we have a tradition. Let us have the chance to do it our own way, with the support and witness of the international community. Give the people at N’Djamena [venue of talks between the government and Darfur rebels] a chance. Why pass all these statements, these things,
while people are trying to solve it? Why shouldn’t they allow us to do it? If we fail, then let them come up and say we have failed. But before [we] do it? Before we finish? It’s too early. I think these statements are immature.

Question: So you need time?

Answer: Yes, these statements are immature. In Naivasha we are coming to an end. In N’Djamena, I told you that the initiative has been passed from our side.[…] Still before the end of the cooking, people want to eat. Let it finish. Then the table will be laid and everybody would be invited to see for themselves and to taste.

Question: When you – I’m not asking you this in your position as a humanitarian affairs official, I am asking you this in your position as a member of the government, and as a Sudanese national – when you hear that today we’re very close to an agreement in Naivasha, how does that make you feel?

Answer: I have been brought up in this house and I have Southern blood – although far away, yet it is there – so you can imagine how my feelings will be.[…] I told you just now that Lam Akol was a classmate […] and I look forward to seeing my home city, Malakal, as it used to be, with the people living together. You know, when the tribal conflicts used to take place between some of the southern tribes, some of them used to find refuge in my house. I will never forget those days. Those childhood dreams and unshakeable childhood memories will never be forgotten. I look forward to going back to Malakal and living there.

This will only take place in a peaceful environment.