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Northern Africa, including Darfur

Update: January 2009

Two years ago we presented a series of articles describing the situation in Darfur. Since then, much has happened but sadly, so little has changed. Or as a recent editorial headline in The New York Times lamented, "Another Year Later." 50,000 more have died. An additional 500,000 have been displaced. Sudanese President Bashir has been charged with War Crimes but remains in power, with the continued support of China which benefits from its economic influence. Various factions within Bashir's own country prefer the order he provides to the possible unremitting chaos that might follow his departure. Humanitarian efforts have been insufficient and frequently obstructed. Agreed to United Nations peacekeeping operations have been thwarted at every turn. Two years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine things getting worse, but they have as the suffering extends over a wider geographic area.

January 2007

"No genocide has ever been publicly chronicled so extensively as this one." Thanks to journalists such as Nicholas Kristof, the tragedy of Darfur is unfolding before our eyes. I set out to understand both the WHAT and the WHY of Darfur, drawing on my training as an historian who specializes in ethnic groups and migration as well as my own travels in Africa.

My research over the last few months has provided a stimulating intellectual exercise but on a personal level, this topic haunts me. How do I make sense of what is clearly madness? How do I tell the story of Darfur? Does it begin with a land that dictates economic realities? How did successive colonial relationships with those in the Arab, Ottoman, and European world lay the foundation for this crisis? Should I begin with the promise of independence? Is it possible to separate Darfur's fate from Sudan, the greater political entity of which it is a part? To what extent has Darfur been lost in the concerns of its region, and the international community? Is it helpful to filter the present situation through the prism of ethnicity given the centuries of mixing by race, religion and tribe?

Even if one can understand what has led to this crisis, does knowledge provide for solution? What I now know is that Darfur is not one story but part of many stories, all of which help explain some of what has happened but as French journalist Gerard Prunier laments "...everything does not make sense."

Debra Block, Director of Education, NBLMC



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There has been armed conflict in the region resulting in the deaths of over 200,000 people and the displacement of up to two and a half million people. The fighting has been particularly brutal and the way of life seems irreparably damaged.


Darfur is a the western region of Sudan, a country in the eastern portion of Africa.


Rebel groups took up arms to protest their marginal status in the political and economic life of the country. The government used armed militias, the Janjaweed, to fight against these rebels.


The most recent conflict began in 2003.

Key Facts (as percent of total)

Literacy Rates: 61%

Arable Land: 6.8%

Population Under Age 14: 42%

Exports to China (2005): 72%

Labor Force in Agriculture: 80%

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center (