"Issues of tribal political representation, collective ownership of the land, and the interplaying of economic, political, and ethnic factors in Darfur"
This writing is a personal contribution aimed at participating in the discussion initiated by (Fikra for Studies and Development) about the current crisis in Sudan. It aims mainly to participate in reaching a political vision that addresses the crisis at its core as a means to create a common ground among Sudanese on how to get out of the current war crisis by frankly reviewing issues and naming them by their names. This contribution comes in response to and comments on the writing of Mr. Abubakar Omar Dafallah published on June 10, under the title (An Urban Defense ofNomads).
To begin, I have to state that we cannot comprehend the current predicament using the tools used for analyzing the Darfur War, given that these instruments have lost their ability to analyze reality since 2003. During this time, the definition of alliances and rivals changed dozens of times, especially since Rapid Support Forces (RSF) emerged from the matrix of a solution, which comprised conflicting parties at the time, but are now allied in an alliance - considered by a large group - an existential one.
Framing what is happening today as just about nomads is a disastrous and detrimental simplification, as well as a light view of the problem. The current Darfur conflict began in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. And the most intense was in the metropolis, not in the outlying regions or in the scrubland. As Abubakar noted, the West Darfur fighting intersects with drought and pasture issues, but it also overlaps with other political projects involving various and numerous political actors.
Since 2019, we have been warning that the Hawakeer situation is disastrous, particularly because of its status as collective rather than individual property. The Hawakeer issue is an inherited legacy from a primitive feudal system that guarantees the owner of the monopolis, "who is the leader of the tribe" the privilege of collecting tithes and revenues, a system that is incompatible with the modern state structure and its tax and service systems.
We must remember that in September 1919, the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium government in Khartoum included Dar Masalit to Sudan, with a political agreement that guaranteed the region great administrative independence in issues of collection and taxation, in exchange for annual revenues paid by the Sultanate to Khartoum amounting to 500 pounds (Joachim Rizk Morcos, The Development of The Management System inSudan). This resulted in a delay in the implementation of new administrative systems and increased the region's backwardness. To make matters worse, El Geneina became the portal for West African immigrants to Sudan two decades later, and the city's percentage of foreigners reached 58% of its population by the end of the 1940s (G. AyoubBalamoan, Migration Policies in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan 1884-1956).
On the other hand, the Arab tribes' doom came after Zubair Rahma's invasion of their areas in 1886–1870 AD. Pressure was applied on their elites, who had been displaced to the Sultanate of Wadai (Dar Abshei) to change their political alliances. Skirmishes that took on the character of proxy wars emerged as the Chadian tribes rising against the (Sultanate of Wadai) allied with the Fur and Masalit. This resulted in the formation of a geographical engorgement strip, which grew wider as tens of thousands of people departed Darfur towards irrigated projects on the Nile and in eastern Sudan.
Following the defeat of Sheikh Sinin (Faki Sinin Hussein, the leader of Mahdia) in Kabkabiya in 1903, the rest of Mahdia's armies were scattered and returned to their tribes, further tightening the ethnic chord after 1906
This history is important for understanding the alliances that arose and changed the balance of power after independence. The Beni Halba created an alliance with the Al-Shaqirat, Awlad Zaid, Awlad Rashid, and the other clans of the Abbala Rizeigat. They made what looks like a circle of common interests across borders, with Awlad Rashid and Al-Shaqirat leading the Arabs in eastern Chad, and Abbala Rizeigat and Beni Halba leading the Arabs in western Sudan. This division was necessary to deal with the chaos of colonial rule.
These alliances went through phases of deterioration and expansion, during which they assumed an ethnic character in power disputes and a craft-based nature in land disputes. The Zaghawa allied with the Arabs of Darfur in the tribal war against the Fur, and supported their Libyan-backed allies in Dar Masalit. And the Arabs did the same with the Zaghawa, until their alliances collapsed due to the power struggle in Chad.
What must be understood is that the ethnic nature of the conflict exists due to the existence of underlying interests that underlie ethnic identity. In the sense that the continuation of dealing with land as a collective property by default and a monopoly of the ruling family of the tribe makes interpretations of ethnic identity themselves arbitrary and naive, dependent on kinship and lineage, and the current implicit alliances.
In the 1980s, the flow of arms throughout the 1970s to Gaddafi's allies in Darfur (the Zaghawa and the Arabs of Darfur) became a political disaster, prompting the Chadian president at the time (Hussein Habari) to arm the Masalit to repel the volcano army and the federal Fur army to weaken the Beni Halba. It was a massive armament for that time that reached over six thousand weapons for the Federal Fur Army (Collins, A History of ModernSudan; Collins and Burr, The African Thirty Years War).
Adding to the complexity, the former Sudanese President Jaafar Numeiri supported and armed the African tribes in Darfur in an attempt to undermine his Arab opponents, who were backed by Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi. This prompted Gaddafi to support Sadig al-Mahdi by financing the program to expand tribal armaments in Darfur following the April 1985 revolution. This increased militarization by both sides sparked two crises:
The proliferation of weapons among youths who are impoverished as a result of the drought that lasted from 1983 to 1987 A.D. and who can use the ethnic conflict as an excuse to earn a livelihood through war spoils and armed looting.
The native administration's inability to sustain its capacity to control internal and external conflicts. This prompted tribal leaders to embrace a new discourse that employs social incubators from outside the tribe to assist in armed conflicts. This is still the case regarding the two rival parties today.
Therefore, we cannot concur that the crisis is solely attributable to the Bedouin nomads. The other party also faces catastrophic political complications, and land disputes have introduced additional ethnic groups to the conflict. Similarly, to how the obvious social failure cannot be solely explained by the lack of development, but the urbanization project never started in that geography. The elites of Masalit, Fur, and numerous other tribes, including the Arabs of Darfur, profit from the lack of urbanization to expand their influence and invest it in the conflicts within and between their ruling houses.
The crisis in its entirety is in this word, "Dar" [House]. I personally belong to a native administration house, and I understand the context of this problem as a crisis of internal policy, and as the legacy of a feudal system that considers land as privileged property, and considers the tribe as family property, and can give the land to whomever it wants and dispossess it from whomever it wants.
I also understand that this circumstance has sparked a state of revivalism among the losers in the tribe system, who want to remove this privilege and distribute it among the "tribe" and expel any group whose interests are not aligned with theirs. This revivalism is fueled by the collective property and an alternative history that derives its legitimacy from the struggle between the winners and losers within the tribe, while directing its evil away from it.
The Summary of the Above: The tribe in Darfur is a political-clannish entity, and the existence of the tribe will always mean the presence of conflict unless the tribe is stripped of the privilege of collective ownership of land to turn it into an individual property that can be invested in and developed outside of the equations of ethnic land ownership conflicts. Until that happens, tribal fighting will continue, and the political system will fail, as it will deal with political actors using the logic of acquisition and attrition in the absence of citizenship discourse.
The Urban plea should first address the political failure instead of the nomads.