It's true that Darfur, Sudan, gave me one of the most fantastic professional experiences I've ever had as a photojournalist. But it's frustrating to have witnessed five years of an immovable conflict, which is burying a big community into oblivion. This region of extraordinary personalities and proud characters, innate survival and transparent honesty, is suffering an indifference that hurts.
Shangel Tubaya: Around 3.000 new Internal Displaced People (IDP) came two months ago from 30 different towns (between North and South Darfur) to settle down in Shangel Tubaya. Most of them are women and children and their men are fighting in their villages. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran
Hollywood actor George Clooney wrote an article on Darfur in The New York Times to report the silence in a civil war that has been unsolved for more than 12 years and left hundreds of thousands of deaths and two million displaced persons confined in camps. The US newspaper editors decided to title the article as follows: “George Clooney on Darfur of Sudan’s rape.”
This is a small sample of what is happening in that region of Africa: If we don't put an appealing and popular film star in front, if we don't write his name in the headline, if we don't use that “hook”, very few people will be attracted to read even the first paragraph of this report. Finding Darfur on the map is not an easy job, not many know what is happening and almost no one shows a great concern.
Darfur is one of the forgotten and silenced conflicts.
And this is the product of a complex combination of reasons. First, there is the Sudanese government, armed in a long dispute against some of the tribes in Darfur and even accused of being behind the bombing, looting and raping civilians. This government, whose president Omar Al Bashir is still under an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, boycotted many attempts by the UN to restore peace. Bashir has repeatedly vetoed the access of humanitarian organizations and has expelled many of its representatives, some of them in highly relevant positions.
The international journalists have also just a closed access to Darfur. The government does not give them permission. Obviously the authorities don't want the public opinion talking about much. And media no longer invest in risky campaigns, as they used to do at the beginning of the conflict. There are other fronts in the world that are “harder news”.
The United Nations Security Council, after spending billions of dollars in the peacekeeping mission in Darfur, has realized that it was inefficient and it has been drastically reducing its funding. The United States, the United Kingdom and France are pushing for the UN presence to be more effective. But it seems that it clashes with the interests of Russia and China, which are not aimed to strangle the government of Khartoum. Certainly their reasons are in the commercial relations with Sudan, some of them linked to arms trade. The arms culture and, above all, the arms markets are very much alive in Darfur, from which few get profits and many suffer the consequences.
The UN peacekeepers deployed in Darfur are from countries with the worst prepared armies in Africa, such as Gambia, Senegal, Tanzania and Burkina Faso, or even from countries accused of violating human rights in their own territory, such as Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh and China. These chosen countries are not arbitrary.
Darfur is not a geo-strategic place of interest by any member of the world power, neither it has attractive natural resources. It just has small gold mines that are under military control. But it is obvious that in Darfur we see human beings (over six million), who express their disappointment due to the lack of solutions to their problems of safety and many basic needs.
A Sudanese friend once told me that people from Darfur are special. Every time someone makes them fall, Darfuris get back up. And so every time they suffer a setback, again they stand with pride and perseverance. Men, women, elderly and children, all with dignity reappear from the rubble in order to resist. And so once again, and again, indefinitely. They are tough and resilient people, like stones of the land they walk.
The same Sudanese friend told me that people of Darfur just need to be left in peace at once. They are not stupid. They know how to survive in their own land. The problem is that there is someone who seems determined to make them fall many times as rise.
Editor’s Note: Albert is a professional photojournalist and multimedia producer with 16 years experience and extensive specialization in projects about migrations. He was the photographer in UNAMID, the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan, for nearly five years (2009-2014). One short look onto his pictures should reveal, why I invited him for presenting his powerful and enlightening works on The Travel Stories. I am happy and proud he contributes and exhibits his thought-provoking pictures from the time in Sudan, a country none of us is likely going to visit soon. Please don’t miss out on his other works: www.albertgonzalez.net
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