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Parallels drawn between South Sudan, Darfur wars

Daniela Caride | 10/8/2008, 4:53 a.m.
Mangok Bol, a survivor of the Southern Sudanese war, talks to an audience of Arlington residents at the...
David Chanoff, academic adviser to the Sudanese Education Fund and author of more than a dozen books, speaks at the South Sudanese Community Center in Arlington about the similarities between the Southern Sudanese War and the conflict in Darfur. Daniela Caride

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Mangok Bol, a survivor of the Southern Sudanese war, talks to an audience of Arlington residents at the South Sudanese Community Center about the recent history of his homeland and how he survived the war there. (Daniela Caride photo) 

ARLINGTON — “What’s happening in Darfur has been called a genocide, and actually is a genocide,” said David Chanoff, Ph.D., academic adviser to the Sudanese Education Fund (SEF).

But it’s “a relatively minor situation,” he added, “[compared] to the genocide that took place in South Sudan.”

With that, Chanoff began his lecture last Sunday on the history of Sudan, the first in a series of talks about the country promoted by the SEF, a Lincoln-based nonprofit organization committed to helping South Sudanese refugees resettled in the Greater Boston area.

The lectures are taking place in Arlington at the South Sudanese Community Center, a space developed to help Sudanese refugees in Greater Boston keep their culture alive, interact with the community at large, and attend workshops on computer and job skills. SEF opened the community center, a condo with six communal rooms and a large kitchen, last April.

Last Sunday’s lecture gave Arlington residents an overview on how the conflict in South Sudan began and the similarities it shares with the ongoing war in Darfur.

Sudan’s Second Civil War, which decimated the country’s southern region, “was an atrocity that lasted for two decades and that was relatively invisible to the West,” said Chanoff. The conflict has killed 2 million Southern Sudanese and displaced almost 5 million since 1983 — one of the longest-lasting and deadliest wars of the late 20th century.

If that conflict had received the same level of attention as the battle in Darfur, Chanoff said, the outcome there would likely have been a bit better.

“What stopped the conflict in [South Sudan] was that [the second civil war there] became an issue in the United States,” he explained.

The conflict officially ended in 2005 with the signing of a peace agreement, but fighting continues and hundreds of thousands of Sudanese remain displaced.

But even with the higher level of public awareness, several elements make the condition in Darfur more tenuous than that in Southern Sudan, according to Chanoff. The United States’ eroded moral stature in the global community has made it harder for external forces to stop the genocide, he said, and the fragmented rebel groups in Darfur are more difficult to root out than centralized forces.

In Southern Sudan, there was a cohesive rebel movement with a very powerful leader during the war.

“We’re going to see a continuation of the depredations [in Darfur]. There’s no question about that,” said Chanoff. “The only thing that might bring an end to it, really, is the kind of dawning recognition among the Arab tribes themselves that they too have been used and have been marginalized by the [local government].”

In South Sudan’s war, Chanoff noted, there were strong religious and racial elements. Arab Muslims from the north were fighting against black Christians from the south. In Darfur, both sides are Muslim. The victims of this genocide, he said, are black African tribes that have been Islamized over 200 years.