Having engaged in extensive research and written frequently about Sudan generally for the past sixteen years, and Darfur for the past twelve years, I feel as though I have an especially good perspective on the remarkable achievement of Radio Dabanga over the past six years. I also may claim some distinction by way of having been the first to see in the accumulated evidence of 2003 clear signs that genocide was underway in Darfur, a conclusion I published in The Washington Post (February 25, 2004). The unfortunately accurate title given the piece was “Unnoticed Genocide.” Shortly thereafter, however, a groundswell of attention—from the print and broadcast news media, from human rights groups, and from activist organizations rendered that title inaccurate.
The Jebel Marra massif
But as remarkably quickly as Darfur achieved international attention, and to some extent international action, that attention began to fade in 2008 – 2009. There are many reasons for this, including the sheer length of the conflict and its growing complexity, as well as Khartoum’s increasing restrictions on human rights and news media presence in Darfur. The UN was coerced into silence on many of the most pressing humanitarian and security issues, and the INGOs working in Darfur were forced to follow suit for fear of expulsion. As a result, we have no useful figures for global mortality, morbidity, or malnutrition in the region. Nor does the UN/African Union hybrid peacekeeping force (UNAMID) provide information that is useful and timely; most of its time seems spent on defending itself and its “achievements.
Khartoum had almost entirely succeeded in turning Darfur into a “black box,” from which no detailed information emerged on a regular basis.
Remarkably, it was at precisely this moment that Radio Dabanga emerged as a source of the most compelling news from the region. Over the past six years it has grown into one of the most extraordinary news reporting enterprises in the age of “electronic communication.” The world would not know, and certainly I would not know, what is occurring in Darfur without Radio Dabanga—either on matters of security or humanitarian need. Aerial bombing attacks by Khartoum’s Antonovs and MiG military jet aircraft—nominally prohibited by UN Security Council Resolution 1591—are reported in authoritative detail by Radio Dabanga, with information about the location, the victims, the date and time, and other circumstances that establish their accounts as simply irrefutable. The epidemic of rape that continues unabated is ignored by UNAMID and the UN Secretary-General, deferring to Khartoum’s sensibilities on the issue; Radio Dabanga reports continually on this most brutal of crimes, which often takes the form of gang-rape and raping of girls and women before their families.
Even in regions as remote as East Jebel Marra, which has now for years been cut off from humanitarian access, Radio Dabanga has found the means to gather reports of humanitarian conditions, bombing attacks, and other information that can be found nowhere—simply nowhere—else.
To provide all this Radio Dabanga has established a truly extraordinary network of contacts inside Darfur, who manage to communicate by what I assume are a range of means with Radio Dabanga—a name that must be familiar to all who suffer in Darfur.
My own work on Darfur would be impossible without an immense reliance on Radio Dabanga. Following the publication of my 2007 book on Darfur (A Long Day’s Dying: Critical Moments in the Darfur Genocide), I despaired of having sufficient information or reports to continue my effort to provide an archival account of the genocidal destruction occurring in Darfur (A Long Day’s Dying comprises numerous analyses of issues and developments in Darfur from 2003 – late 2006).
But then came Radio Dabanga. And only with information gleaned from the innumerable dispatches of Radio Dabanga was I able to compile a monograph and data spreadsheet (“They Bombed Everything that Moved“) that recorded all confirmed bombing attacks on civilians and humanitarians in greater Sudan from 1999 – 2011, including Darfur. The monograph and data spreadsheet were updated most recently in September 2013 and include primarily the reporting of Radio Dabanga.
My second book on Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of Greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012) is devoted for about half its length—some 250,000 words—to Darfur, and here again Radio Dabanga was absolutely indispensible. I simply could not have written the sections on Darfur without the authoritative accounts provided by Radio Dabanga. For a news organization that publishes out of The Netherlands to be so extraordinarily well-informed, so detailed and undeniably accurate, about a region as remote as Darfur seems almost incomprehensible—and yet it exists. I read it in its entirety on a daily basis—and virtually nothing else because there is virtually nothing else to read. Occasional reports from UN OCHA are helpful, but it is clear they will say nothing to offend Khartoum. UNAMID and the UN Secretariat are quite worthless in their reporting, at least in giving anything appropriately detailed or comprehensive.
It should also be noted that Radio Dabanga provides context for events so significant that even the wider news world takes notice. For example, the attack on a robust UN investigative convoy attempting to reach Hashaba North in North Darfur has never been rendered in a way that makes clear—as Radio Dabanga did—just how conspicuous the evidence is that those attacking the UN convoy were Khartoum-allied militia attempting to forestall any witnesses of the massacres reported at Hashaba North (October 2012). And when in February 2012 the New York Times reported from Nyuru, West Darfur that peace was in the offing in Darfur (“A Taste of Hope Sends Refugees Back to Darfur”), and that refugees and IDPs were returning because of improved security and various reconciliation efforts, it was Radio Dabanga that provided a stunning journalistic rebuttal of this perverse and dangerous nonsense. In dispatch after dispatch, Radio Dabanga reported on the views of the head of the UN High Commission for Refugees in Chad, with the Omda from Murnei, and other sources in the region; all made clear that the New York Times account—the only international news dateline outside the capital cities of el-Fasher, Nyala, and el-Geneina in several years—was completely misguided, as events of the time demonstrated, and have done so with increasing ferocity in the interim. Few have ever taken the New York Times to task so authoritatively and comprehensively.
And that is what Radio Dabanga has become: a comprehensive and authoritative daily chronicle of what I refer to as “genocide by attrition” in Darfur. Coverage has expanded to include other regions of conflict in Sudan, but it is for Darfur that Radio Dabanga remains the indispensible source of news. They alone have prevented Darfur from becoming the “black box” Khartoum so clearly intended.