Essay Title: Race, Climate, History, and a Deeper Understanding of Darfur
Research Question: What historical roles have race and climate played in the construction of a crisis in Darfur?
Outline begins here:
Thesis Paragraph: The conflict in Darfur has historically involved a complex confluence of regional and global factors that have not only contributed to the violence, but have also prevented many in the United States and other Western countries from truly understanding the conflict. Thus, it has been labeled, inaccurately, a genocide committed by Arabs against Africans. Rather than understand Darfur in this simplistic way, a focus on the historical creation of racial identities in British-ruled Sudan and the near forty-year Sahelian drought that has displaced countless tribes challenges the misperception of this conflict as a racially motivated genocide.
I. British colonial rule in Sudan (1899-1956) served as the first introduction of race-based identities to the region – identities that Westerners and indeed some Sudanese involved in the conflict continue to use to understand the civil war there.
A. Early colonial writers tended to describe Sudan and much of sub-Saharan Africa as devoid of internal stimuli and instead reliant on outside forces for change. In particular, British writers characterized Africa as comprised of a native African race and non-African settlers, including Arabs.
i. In the late-nineteenth century, Winston Churchill wrote of Arab-ruled Sudan: “The bravery of the aboriginals is outweighed by the intelligence of the invaders,” by which he meant Arabs. Yet Churchill meant this less as a compliment toward Arabs but rather as a justification for what he considered an even more superior form of (British) colonial rule.
ii. Though Harold MacMichael’s methods of genealogical data gathering proved less crude that the claims of Churchill, MacMichael nevertheless used the responses to assume that anyone who claimed an Arab identity in Darfur must be a settler and not a native. MacMichael assumed that the Arab presence in Darfur was part of a relatively recent series of migrations into the region, which ignored a much longer Arab presence in the region.
iii. What both Churchill and MacMichael missed, or refused to acknowledge, was that the identity of “Arab” was a cultural identity, not a racial one. One hundred years later, the Bush administration continued this strain of thinking.
B. When the British defeated the Mahdiyya (1885-1898), an indigenous resistance movement to Anglo-Egyptian rule in Sudan, colonial authorities implemented new strategies for organizing and rule the population. In particular, the British employed race as the primary identity marker through which to administer the colony, and they employed three modern techniques to realize this reorganization of Sudanese political life. The result was the retribalization of Sudan for the purposes of erasing all trans-ethnic governance so successful under the Mahdiyya.
i. First, British rulers sought to shape the present through the gathering of census data.
a. MacMichael’s 1929 survey of “tribes” in Sudan produced 450 different tribal identities. Authorities then organized these tribes into “groups of tribes” not for the purposes of understanding their culture and history, but to administer colonial rule.
b. Each “group of tribes” was then classified by the British as have an identity of “Negroid” or “Arab,” decidedly racial identities that in context of colonial rule, were highly political because it determined claims to land, access to courts, and other matters of property, law, and political participation.
c. Out of these two constructed racial identities, one was assumed to be either “native” (Negroid or African) or “settler” (Arab). In essence, certain tribes were ascribed the status of outsider, foreign to the land that their family may have inhabited for centuries. In this context, those that the British claimed to possess Arab racial identity were marginalized from political life.
ii. Second, after an attempt to rule Sudan through direct military control was met with staunch and broad political and religious resistance, British authorities, led by MacMichael turned to a strategy of rule that set up a “government of natives through their own institutions,” followed by a policy of indirect rule. The result was a new system of laws to protect the future interests of the British in Sudan.
a. MacMichael favored secular chiefs to counterbalance the authority of religious authority figures.
b. MacMichael’s reasoning was primarily based on the experience of religiously fueled uprisings against British colonial rule in Darfur. He sought to cultivate ties with secular leaders he believed could be relied on to repress such rebellions.
c. As British authorities turned to strategies of indirect rule, they implemented preliminary census reports to grant authority to certain kinds of tribes, and Darfur served as the laboratory for this type of rule.
d. In particular, British authorities sought to isolate anti-imperial elements by dividing the colony into sectors, to cut off North from South, and Darfur (in the West) from the populations along the Nile River in the center of the colony.
e. The result for Darfur was both retribalization, with certain tribes granted more autonomy and authority than others, and its isolation from the imperial urban center in Khartoum, along the Nile.
f. The 1922 Closed Districts Ordinance targeted both wandering (Islamic) preachers and West African migrants (said to be anti-colonial).
iii. In Darfur, retribalization officially disenfranchised and dispossessed tribes that the British arbitrarily identified as “settler” tribes, with no historical, and thus rightful or traditional claims to the land and governance. Thus, the British sought to rewrite the history of Sudan and in particular Darfur for the purposes of colonial rule. This discrimination later wrought havoc in post-colonial Darfur, when “native” tribes attempted to preserve power, and marginalized “settler” tribes sought inclusion in the political governance of the state.
a. The most disenfranchised were the pastoralist tribes (nomadic and semi-nomadic camel (Abaga) and cattle (Baggara) herders).
b. According to colonial law, based on British legal notions of land and property, these groups had no dar, or historical homeland, with which to claim political and legal rights.
c. Moreover, dar became a narrowly defined term meaning “an ethnic territory in which the dominant group had legal jurisdiction.”
iv. Essentially, British colonial rule had turned tribal identity into a racial identity, and used this new formulation as the basis for official discrimination against “settler” or Arab tribes, many of which were Abaga and Baggara nomads lacking any official claim to dar. This arrangement would be replicated in the post-colonial era.
II. While the race-based political arrangements of the British era subsided but did not disappear when Sudan won its independence in 1956, new struggles, including Soviet and American struggles for East African allies during the late Cold War (1975-1989) continued to complicate prospects for a peaceful, inclusive Sudan. Moreover, ongoing climate change placed intense pressure on Darfur residents, both settled and pastoral. The result has been a dire situation in which the necessities of food, grazing land, and governance so affected by race-making have become intensified by climate change.
A. In the 1960s, the Sahel, the transitional climatic zone between the southern edge of the Sahara desert and the lush grasslands of the African savannah, experienced what would become a forty-year process of drought and desertification.
B. The intensification of the Sahelian ecological crisis, a process by which the Sahara desert literally grew southward and eastward, accelerated an already emergent political crisis.
i. Desertification forced many pastoralists to migrate south in search of fertile grazing lands for camel and cattle alike, and it has brought them into conflict other tribes competing for increasingly scarce resources.
ii. Most notably though, desertification and the intensification of a civil war across the border in Chad produced a flood of climate/political refugees.
iii. By the early 1990s, there were already half a million refugees from Chad in Darfur.
iv. It was the Chadian refugees who spoke a language of “Arabization” and who provided, via their suppliers on both sides of the Cold War conflict (Soviet and American) flooded Darfur with light arms. As Mamdani argues, a region without a drop of water was awash with guns.
C. The intensification of conflict coincided with the high point of the 1980s drought, primarily fought between settled and nomadic tribes.
i. This was not, as many Westerners observed, a racial conflict, as both culturally defined Arab and Zaghawa (non-Arab) nomads united in a coalition against settled tribes who possessed dar in a legal, political sense.
ii. Above all others, the camel nomads, identified as darless Arabs by the perpetuated colonial system had little recourse within the system of native administration that continued to produce localized conflicts between tribes in Sudan more broadly.
Conclusion: Without a deeper colonial legacy of race-based identification for the purposes of administering power coupled with a climatic and political crisis extending across the Sahel, the Darfur conflict would likely have proceeded quite differently in terms of its intensity and the prolonged nature of the fighting.
 Quoted in Mahmood Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 79.
 Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors, 145-146.
 Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors, 150-151.
 Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors, 156.
 Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors, 164.
 Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors, 168.
 Mamdani, Saviors and Survivors, 222.