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At the market in the center of Al-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, in western Sudan, Kalashnikov is now sold for more than $ 800. Six times more expensive than two years ago. Inflation, which is explained by the fall in the Sudanese pound, but also by the rise in demand.
At Al-Geneina, one does not walk 100 meters without encountering an armed man. This city of more than 200,000 inhabitants, on the border with Chad, has been the scene of incessant violence since 2019. The fall of Omar Al-Bashir’s regime, which was prosecuted for genocide in Darfur by the International Criminal Court (ICC), did so. do not dampen the weapons. What is worse, the region is experiencing an unprecedented increase in conflicts for ten years.
In early June, fighting killed more than 135 people about a hundred kilometers to the north, at the Kulbus site. About twenty villages of the Gimir tribe were razed and burned by Arab militias, nicknamed “janjaweed”. More than 50,000 people had to flee. In April, following the massacre of more than 179 people in the village of Kreinik, the clashes had spread to Al-Geneina, where armed factions killed themselves even in the hospitals in the center of the city.
Since then, the wounded from each camp have been treated separately, in private clinics guarded by militiamen, grenade launchers as evidence behind pick-ups. With each new outbreak of violence, the various Arab and non-Arab communities in Al-Geneina are at odds. Stories of the abuses circulate word of mouth, and hate speech spreads like wildfire on social media.
At the onset of darkness, checkpoints are across the roads, without it always being possible to identify which force is controlling the vehicles. The police are predominantly Masalit, a majority non-Arab tribe in West Darfur. The paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (FSR), placed under the command of General Mohammed Hamdane Daglo, alias Hemetti, number 2 of the Sudanese junta, are mainly from the Arab rizeigat tribes. There are also the rebel groups, Fur or Zaghawa, who signed the Juba peace agreements with the government in 2020.
At the slightest problem, all defend their tribe, regardless of uniform and national flag sewn on the fabric. The regular army, it seems unable to intervene.
“We live in constant threat”
“Everyone is on edge since the Kirinding attacks”, explains Omer Ogal, a comedian living in Al-Geneina. Twice, on December 30, 2019 and January 16, 2021, an armada of armed vehicles, motorcycles and camels swept across this camp for displaced people on the outskirts of the city. These attacks led by Arab militias caused more than 200 casualties, mainly Masalit. Half of the camp was burned down and dozens of women were raped.
Downtown Al-Geneina is now occupied by nearly 100,000 displaced people who survive huddled under rags in schools, ministries or on sports fields. All public buildings in the city have been converted into reception centers, largely flooded by the rain that falls this season.
“We live in constant threat. Those who try to rebuild their homes are being attacked by Arabs. It is not to live.”laments Sheikh Ibrahim, a religious leader, and points to the hundreds of tents scattered around the farm by the Ministry of Education. “Omar Al-Bashir’s regime never left. Here is war seven days a week. We were promised peace, we were brought to death. “he smokes.
Historically, Al-Geneina belonged to Dar Masalit, the sultanate of the eponymous tribe, who until the beginning of the XX.e century spanned the current borders of Chad and Sudan. The Masalites proudly claim that they were never colonized and even held back French troops during the Battle of Dorote in 1910.
Since the last episodes of violence, more and more Masalites have been asking for their independence from Sudan. Under the terms of an agreement signed in 1919 by Sultan Bahr Eddine with the British Crown, which incorporated the region into Sudan, a referendum on self-determination should have been organized seventy-five years later to allow Masalit to choose between staying in Sudan. Chad or become independent. It never happened.
No more common souk, no more mixed marriages
Today, Al-Geneina lives segmented. Faced with permanent insecurity, everyone prefers to stay with their own, according to their tribe. “Here in the customs district, if an Arab passes after sunset, it’s over for him”, explains Hawa Al-Naji from the premises of an association working for peaceful coexistence. In the Al-Jabal district where she lives, there are now two markets: one for the Arabs, the other for the Masalites. No more common souk, no more mixed marriages. “We would like to return, but today cohabitation is impossible”recognizes Nabawia Issa, a 25-year-old official who lost her husband killed in clashes.
In January 2021, activists claimed “Arab nomads” held a rally on the main road and cut off Al-Geneina from the rest of the country for two weeks. They demanded the departure of the Masalit governor and the dismantling of all camps for the displaced in the city. “These are caves of drug smugglers, but also markets for weapons and training for armed movements”justifies Taher Mohammed Kadadi, a member of the Nomads’ Children’s Committee, who believes the massacres against the Kirinding camps were “legitimate”.
The sit-in was partially funded by RSF paramilitary forces, which systematically participate along with Arab militiamen in all attacks in the region. These young people from Arab tribes are trying to reverse the rhetoric that presents the war in Darfur as an operation of ethnic cleansing against the Fur, Zaghawa or Masalit tribes. Since the fall of Bashir, they have presented themselves as victims to non-Arab people who wish “turn the table” and “disappear from the region”.
Many of them are now targeting humanitarian organizations that are working hard to help the displaced. “They are only working with one side. We will prevent them from working here if this continues.threatens Mohammed Musa Hamdan, another member of the collective, and criticizes the role of certain foreign countries – especially France – in neighboring Chad.
As evidenced by the graffiti on the walls reminiscent of the dates of major popular demonstrations, the revolution that ousted Omar Al-Bashir in April 2019 also went through Al-Geneina. But the hope for change was quickly shattered. Hard to hear in the sound of armed violence, a handful of activists are trying to reconnect in a fragmented city.
Actor killed with multiple stab wounds
In his little white car, Omer Ogal drives with the window open. People stop him to shake his hand, tell him they saw the latest video from the squad, sometimes it’s just a horn, a smile or a wink. The 40-year-old actor has built a reputation without ever revealing where he was born or what tribe he is from.
He and his troupe arrange performances throughout the region without distinguishing between the neighborhoods. Their Facebook page has more than 230,000 subscribers, and on YouTube, some of their videos have exceeded 2 million views. “We get access to areas where the state cannot go. Art exceeds these limits, it is one of our only assets “, he says without emphasis. During some shows, the men lay down their arms for a few moments of entertainment.
The Al-Ajawid collective arrives with fanfare to a large wilderness on the outskirts of the Ardamata camp north of the city. In front of hordes of excited children, the team unpacks keyboards and speakers that spit “zinik”popular music all over the country. “Everyday violence has changed children’s behavior, the way they talk”notes Omer Ogal.
On the sidelines of the show, young people crane their heels against the walls of earthen houses. Faez, 20, casts a dubious glance at the comedian miming in his polka dot shirt. He came to escape the boredom, the theater does not interest him. “My childhood never started. We have always been good”, he insists. He wants to work in a factory, “Build things with [ses] hands “. But there is no factory in Al-Geneina. In this district, as everywhere in the city, the horizons are blocked. For those lucky enough to study, the university is forced to close its doors to every new wave of violence.
Omer Ogal dreams of establishing an African film production studio in Al-Geneina. He could have decided, like many others, to break through in Khartoum, but he decided to stay. “We need to change the image of Darfur. News of the massacres travels much faster than news of art and peace. But know that we are not in a hurry.”, he assures. The messages of coexistence that these artists recommend do not appeal to everyone. On May 17, another comedian, Mohamed Yousef, alias Endokai, a street theater pioneer in Al-Geneina, was stabbed to death several times in his home in the Al-Jabal neighborhood.