As if being the victims of the Sudanese government’s genocidal onslaught – which killed over 480,000 people and displaced 2.8 million – from 2003 onwards were not enough, the peoples of the country’s Darfur province are now suffering yet again, in what looks like tribal warfare. Since January, ferocious fighting between rebel tribes and government-backed forces has killed 800 people and displaced 460,000. In central Darfur, the joint African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has mediated between the Salamat and Misseriya tribes; international NGOs continue to work in the area, but UNAMID has expressed grave concern about civilians’ safety, and 12 of its own troops have been killed since July 13. Secondly, in the El Sereif area of northern Darfur, the Rizeigat tribe has been battling another Arab tribe, Beni Hussein, around Jebel Amir. According to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the death toll is twice that for all fighting in Darfur in the whole of 2012; Sudan’s Defence Minister Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein says tribal violence has replaced rebellion as the main threat to national security.
That, however, is only part of the story. The genocide was in part driven by the Omar al Bashir regime’s racist hatred of the non-Arab Fur and Zaghawa peoples, and the current fighting is not primarily tribal. The Beni Hussein sultan had earlier granted over 3,000 licences for artisanal gold-mining in less than three square kilometres around Jebel Amir, but a quarter of the 70 kg annual output was being smuggled westwards into Chad and on to international markets, with India and China among the eventual destinations. Khartoum seems to have disregarded this until the secession of South Sudan in July 2011 deprived the regime of control over oil, its single most valuable export. With gold being the obvious replacement, the government has clearly decided to end losses estimated at $700 million a year and to take control of the gold fields by force. Following a blockade and attacks by the Abbala tribe on the Bani Hussein, the Rizeigat launched their offensive, using army-issued weapons and laying landmines; many are wearing border-guard uniforms after being inducted into serving the state. The Rizeigat, as proxies for the regime, are repeating their conduct from the time of the genocide, and a major problem is that traditional tribal peacemaking methods have broken down. Meanwhile Mr. al Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, remains in office. The U.N. Security Council, which failed utterly to prevent the genocide, must now seriously consider tougher intervention under any available legal instrument.