August 8, 2015

Darfur? So what?

Insights into a region none of us is likely going to visit in this lifetime


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”.

El Fasher: A man works on the production of tombac (chewing tobacco) at the market in El Fasher, North Darfur. Tombac, one of North Darfur’s major cash crops, has very prejudicial effects on the health of the workers. The traditional markets for tombac include South Sudan, Blue Nile and South Kordofan states. Farmers assure four million people in Darfur are dependent on the cultivation and sale of tobacco. They claim that tobacco had been produced in the region since 1850. Originally, the production of tombac started in Tombouctou (Mali) and later it was imported to Egypt and Darfur. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

Nyala: A man is sheltered under his cart in Kalma camp for Internally Displaced Persons, South Darfur. Thousands of people have been recently displaced following the looting and destruction of a number of villages in the areas of Um Gunya and Hajeer, South Darfur. About 20,000 of them have settled in the Kalma and Al Salam camps for internally displaced people (IDP), located on the outskirts of Nyala. The new IDPs, mainly women and children, report of the lack of food, water and shelter. While they are waiting for assistance from the humanitarian community, many have found refuge under trees, carts or furniture. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

A woman makes bricks for her new house in Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced people (IDP), in North Darfur. Kaltoum, originally from Jebel Seet (North Darfur), lost her left hand and part of the other was seriously bounded when her village was attacked and her house burnt ten years ago. It was when her family fled to Abu Shouk and was helped by International Rescue Committee (IRC) to get an artificial hand. However, during the last years, her parents moved away and she is now alone with one sister in the IDP camp, and struggling with her already useless prosthesis to build her own house. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

Rounyn: A child collects bullets from the ground in Rounyn, a village located about 15 km north of Shangil Tobaya, North Darfur. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

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.

Abu Shouk: A 50 year old woman from Jebel Saiey, North Darfur, gives water to drink to her relative (2) in the shelter in the Abu Shouk camp for internally displaced persons (IDP). Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

El Fasher: Two men set up trays with food in Al Tijane School in El Fasher to celebrate the “Iftar”, the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

Tawilla: A child eats lentils in a food distribution center in the Rwanda camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Tawila, North Darfur. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

Labado: Children in a classroom of a basic school in Labado village, East Darfur, which has been recently reopened after nearly seven months inoperative. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

Abu Shouk: The “Fakih” (master on traditional medicine), prepares a treatment against mental illnesses. The client has to smell the smoke that comes up from a piece of paper (with Koran sentences written on it) fired with charcoal, roots from Sudan and species from India. This treatment usually costs between 100-200 Sudanese pounds (20-40 US dollars), depending on the level of the sickness. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

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.

El Fasher: Sudanese muslims from El Fasher, North Darfur, attend the morning prayer at the outskirts of the city to celebrate the Eid ul-Fitr, the feast marking the end of the fast of Ramadan. One of the main bridges that gives access to El Fasher broke down yesterday due to the heavy rain and many people living in the West part of the city couldn’t attend the religious celebration at the main mosque. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

El Fasher: Football players celebrate the first prize at the closing ceremony of the community football competition in Zam Zam camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), near El Fasher town, in North Darfur. The community football competition organized by the youth union with support from UNAMID’s Communication and Public Information Division began on 16 June and eight teams from the IDP camp took part of it. The closing ceremony included cultural and music performances and the distribution of prizes to the winning teams and best players. Picture: UNAMID – Albert Gonzalez Farran

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:

Thank you for reading. If you like this story, feel free to leave a comment and share it. We are happy for any feedback.

Albert Gonzalez Farran (Barcelona, 1975) is an independent photojournalist and multimedia producer with 16 years experience and extensive specialization in projects about migrations. He is currently working on a multimedia documentary about refugees and asylum seekers in Barcelona with the Catalan Commission for Refugee Aid (CCAR). Albert's last assignment was the publication of a documentary website for the International Organization for Migrations (IOM) in Egypt. He was also the photographer in UNAMID, the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan, for nearly five years (2009-2014). Previously, he worked for media outlets in Spain, Peru, Ireland and Northern Ireland and conducted personal photo projects in Bosnia and Ethiopia.

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  2. Bethe Hagens August 13, 2015

    Your words and respectfully, beautiful photos say everything. I will not forget the truth that the Darfuris will keep standing up. Thank you so much for this, Albert.

  3. M. ROTOLO August 14, 2015

    WOW! These pictures are absolutely stunning!! Will there be another story from Sudan??

  4. Margaret April 6, 2016

    Great photos. I am planning on travelling to Sudan later in the year and, no doubt, like you, will meet some wonderful people.

  5. Anna Yeoman- McMurray July 24, 2017

    I am about to leave for Dafur and your presentation has been a delight as well as reinforcing the most profound of issues there. Thanks! ANNA

  6. Matthew March 25, 2018

    I am humbled by the work you have done and the images you posted are beyond powerful. I would love to get in contact with you and find a way I might be able to travel to some of these locations you are posting about.

    God Bless you,


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