What the hell do we do about Darfur?

This is the question that has most been preoccupying my mind during the last couple of weeks – and two weeks is simply not long enough to find a satisfactiry solution. In fact, I doubt that two centuries would be.

I have spoken to a senior SPLM politician about this. I have chatted to the undersecretary of the Sudanese foreign ministry on the subject. I have probed the brains at AMIS. I have debated the question with a senior general at the new UNAMID force, which should be up and running by the end of the year. I have talked to IOM, UNMIS, the WFP and scores of other institutions that no one really what they do here. And each opinion I hear is quite different.

Perhaps the most interesting interviews that I had was with the SPLM politician and the Sudanese foreign ministry, for they said things that have not been reported elsewhere. I am tempted to put them up her, side by side, seeing as they both contain opposing views, but I don’t have the transcripts with me right now. Maybe later.

My reason for being quite so preoccupied with the question is a brief that I was given by IPS News, to present a 1000-word summary of Darfur’s conflict and what 2008 might hold. Possibly the hardest piece I have ever attempted to write! You can read the final version of my story here.

As to quite what needs to be done about Darfur, I’m sure that there are others who could offer a far more learned opinion than I. I’ll make just two observations.

The first is pretty self-evident, though often overlooked by reporters. Darfur is an inherently complex conflict, and should not just be seen as Arab versus non-Arab. I hope this point comes out in my article.

The second point is that, whenever Western journalists write about Darfur, the Sudanese government almost always emerges as the baddie. In my article, I tried to take a rather different approach – largely because I managed to get quite a good interview with Mustafa Sidiq, the undersecretary of the foreign ministry. And guess what, these guys actually really do want to talk – and they have some very interesting points to make about the whole situation, which invariably go unreported.

I see that 35 Western charities have just put out a statement, condemning Sudan for deliberately delaying the UNAMID peacekeeping force. A lot of the comments that the statement makes are in direct contradiction to what Sidiq told me. Therefore, the first thing that I plan to do in the New Year is to set up an interview with a senior NGO figure, who signed the statement, and hit him with all the points that have been made to me. I’d like to see how he responds, because I don’t think I’ve seen other journalists take this tack.

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