The Devils Janjaweed

Saleem Suzah

2013 / 5 / 10

In 2003, the world was shocked by a new genocide. This time it was in Sudan, one of the Arab nations at the northeast part of African Continent, underneath Egypt. Sudan is an African Country in which Muslims, Christians, Arabs, and non-Arabs have lived together for hundreds of years, but with obvious tension that increases or decreases according to a number of impulses. It was a British Colony until it’s independence in 1956. The majority of its population are Arab Muslims that dominate most of the state’s territories. Christians historically inherited the southern part of the country and they just got their independence and became a separate state in 2012, after a very long fight with the Sudanese Government for more than forty years. The story of genocide began when the government-backed militia, Janjaweed, committed a systematic killing against the non-Arab tribes in the Darfur area, west Sudan. More than 1.8 million of those Darfurian Africans were killed/displaced by the hands of both Sudanese authorities and Janjaweed members (Totten, 569). Almost 200,000 of them got into refugee camps in Chad Republic. (Totten, 569)

Sudan is mostly a desert where people are nomadic herders, except for some cities in the central and north. It had been under the British authorities until 1956 where the country got its independence and witnessed so many coups after that. In 1989, Sudan had its last coup by Colonel Omar al-Bashir who’s still controlling the country now. Al-Bashir and his ally Hassan al-Turabi, Sudanese Muslims Brotherhood Leader, had toppled the coalition government of Sadiq al-Mahdi, the previous president of Sudan 1986-1989. The state then went under the rule of the National Islamic Front (NIF), which was a coalition of two prominent parties, al-Bashir’s party and al-Turabi’s party. Al-Bashir led the Sudanese National Party while al-Turabi was considered the leading mind of the Sudanese Muslims Brotherhood Party. Both had formed a political coalition under the name “National Islamic Front” in which extreme nationalism and orthodox Islamism had been ideologically married and ruled the country since 1989. But it’s worth mentioning that this front no longer exists today due to a lot of issues that ruined the coalition ties between al-Bashir and al-Turabi. Now, al-Turabi is one of the strongest political opponents to al-Bashir’s Government; in fact, he was arrested many times in the last few years and accused of a number of issues including coup try.

Sudan is considered one of the poorest countries. However, president al-Bashir and the political class are the wealthier compared to other African countries’. It is a big country, but the majority of its population is controlled almost always by the aristocratic minority who are from the north. The “north” people are the most educated, urbanized, and the most dominant in the political life of Sudan, although they represent only 5% of the population. This minority had led several internal wars against Christian Sudanese in the south and the Darfurian Africans in the west. They were accused of crimes against humanity and even genocide against black Africans in Darfur, which is an ongoing issue.

In my opinion, the Darfur Genocide was a unique genocide since its first spark was released, I would say, because of the geographic nature of Sudan when the drought and desertification led the Arab nomads to crawl to the black Africans’ farms and villages. Honestly, it was what I call a “nature” genocide because nature played a major role in it, at least at the beginning and here is why. In the late eighties, extreme drought and desertification had affected most North African countries including Sudan, specifically, West Sudan. This had made Arabs of West Sudan, who were mostly nomadic herders, crawl down to the Darfurian villages and put hands on their water resources without even asking for permission. Day-by-day, the issue became more annoying and terrifying to the Darfurians, who were sedentary farmers for hundreds of years in Darfur. Thousands of complaints and messages had been sent to the government of Sudan by the Darfurian leaders addressing this issue and asking for help, but the GOS didn’t pay attention to them and never tried to solve the issue. There were many attacks from Arabs on the black Africans at that time. On the other side, Africans tried their best to protect their farms and resources by resisting Arabs and denying their trespassing. Some of those black Africans had to fence their farms for protection, but no way since Arabs were attacking everything to have these resources in hand by any price. So it was obviously a conflict over nature first until it changed eventually to be an issue of ethnic cleansing. That’s what gave this genocide its uniqueness compared to other genocides that occurred, due to political, ethnic, or national racism.

In this harsh environment, Darfur had fathered two armed groups of black Africans, the Sudanese Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). They were defending their rights in their lands from Arab Nomads expansionism. They also asked the GOS to equalize them with Arabs because they were always seen as second-class citizens in the eyes of their political leaders. Extreme nationalism and Arab supremacism that the GOS was characterized with had prevented the government from intervening and solving the problem between Arabs and Africans in Darfur. Instead, the GOS was pretty obviously backing up those nomads to carry out their territorial ambitions against Darfurians’ farms, just because they were Arabs. This is what made a major shift in the SLA and JEM resistance. Now, the two rebel groups started to fight the GOS directly and seek freedom. At the same time, the Sudanese Army was overstretched in its war with the Christian Freedom Fighters in the south. But there was a perfect choice to the GOS available, though. It was a growing armed militia from the Arab nomads that already formed itself and began attacking Africans in Darfur. This militia was called “Janjaweed”, knights on horses and camels. The GOS started to train and support this militia to do the dirty work on behalf of the army.

The Janjaweed had committed serious massacres against the black Africans in Darfur. The most dominant tribes of the Darfurian Africans that got massacred were Fur, Massalit, and Zaghawa. Janjaweed destroyed a lot of villages, farms, homes, and other properties of the black Africans and killed many innocents since they had no fear of punishment. Arab attacks became more frequent. In August 1995, Arabs attacked and burned the Darfurian village of Mejmeri, stealing 40,000 cattle and massacring twenty-three civilians (Totten, 567). By late 1998, more than 100,000 of Massalit had escaped to the Chad Republic (Totten, 567). Things went even worst for Darfurians when SLA attacked the government Air-Force base in Darfur and captured the commander in 2003. This gave the government a good excuse to officially attack the black Africans from the air. The government aircrafts were attacking and bombing the black African villages while the Janjaweed was raiding and burning their farms and harvest so brutally. Besides the ambitions and greed, the Libyan version of Pan-Arabism had provided the immediate ideological underpinnings of Janjaweed movement (Suliman, 157), which explained why Janjaweed was so brutal in their attacks. This is because the Libyan Arabism under al-Gadhafi’s Rule was so fundamentalist and influenced some other Arab parties including Janjaweed militia at that time. It’s also important to mention that the other driving force for the Janjaweed to do so was looting and stealing what the black Africans had. Indeed, the Janjaweed were not paid from the GOS for what they did, but they were allowed to keep what they looted, including cattle, household possession and even women and children (Kelly, 206).

The dirty war that the GOS announced on the non-Arabs of Darfur and the brutal attacks of the Janjaweed had both included non-direct killing by imposing an extreme siege to prevent food and medical supplies from the black Africans. They also prevented the global humanitarian organizations from entering the Darfur area and providing aid to survivors. Al-Bashir Government tried its best to hide what was happening in Darfur by preventing any international efforts from entering the combat zone. In addition, the GOS with the Janjaweed also poisoned the water wells and killed many black Africans along with their cattle. The systematic attacks against non-Arab villages included a brutal mutilation, not only to the African combatants, but also to the unarmed civilians. According to many eyewitness accounts, black Africans were tortured until death, if they were captured by the Janjaweed and the latter was frequently able to track them even inside the Chad Republic Territories and kill them. Darfurian Africans were not safe from the Janjaweed even where they were deported. It was a matter of destroying a whole ethnicity, not a conflict over nature anymore.

As a measure imposed to prevent birth, the Janjaweed had committed a systematic rape against black Africans’ women. The rape wasn’t a coincidence by barbarian Janjaweed members or undisciplined GOS soldiers; it was intentionally programmed to cause serious harm to Darfurians first and at the same time to prevent those women from giving birth anymore. In the Darfurian tradition, people consider a raped woman as a “damaged good”. It means that she would not be allowed to get married and have children any more. If the raped woman were already married, she would not be allowed to have children more than what she already had. She would stay with whatever children she had. That’s what “damaged good” means in the Darfurian tradition (Totten, 583). A report from the U.S State Department showed in 2004 that sixteen percent of the Darfurian respondents witnessed or experienced rape. It suggested that this rape percentage was probably underreported because of the social stigma that’s usually attached to acknowledging such kind of crimes against females (Totten, 572).

As with any other genocide, there are unfortunately some scholars that still don’t describe what happened in Darfur as genocide. They are content with categorizing it as crimes against humanity or war crimes. United Nations hasn’t also categorized it as genocide yet since politics became the scale that determines such kind of crimes, NOT the reality as it’s supposed to be. John Hagan, the president of the American Society of Criminology stated in his book Darfur and the Crime of Genocide, “Even Kofi Annan didn’t want to call it genocide.” (Hagan, 31). I guess this is because some politicians still believe that it was a war between the GOS and the Darfurian rebels. There was always a debate on who started that war first, SLA/JEM or the GOS. For me, I believe that even if the Darfurian rebels started that guerilla war, it shouldn’t justify killing such numbers of innocent civilians. It’s the civilians that matter, not the armed groups themselves. In fact, I don’t think that this huge number of casualties has fallen coincidentally during wartime. It was a systematic killing from the Arab Janjaweed Militia that was clearly backed by the Government of Sudan. Briefly, it was a premeditated genocide without a doubt; I believe.


Hagan, John and Rymond-Richmond Wenona. Darfur and the Crime of Genocide. Cambridge University Press, New York, 2009.

Kelly, Michael J. The Debate over Genocide in Darfur, Sudan. 18 U.C. Davis J. Int’l L. and Pol’y, 2011-2012.

Suliman, Osman. The Darfur Conflict: Geography or Institutions? Taylor & Francis, 2011.

Totten, Samuel and Parsons, William. Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. Third Edition. Routledge, 2009.
Modern Discussion