“Changing the Demography”: Violent Expropriation and Destruction of Farmlands in Darfur, November 2014 – November 2015
The purpose of this spreadsheet (below) is to organize data that reflect the continuing and extremely threatening violent expropriation of African farmlands by Arab groups, whether Rapid Support Forces (RSF), or the various other militia and paramilitary forces that have seized land, destroyed land by loosing their livestock on planted fields, setting fires, or violently denying access to farmlands. There are more than 500 entries for the period November 1, 2014 – November 24, 2015. A tremendous amount of the violence occurred in “East Jebel Marra,” the area of North Darfur between El Fasher to the east and the Jebel Marra massif to the west. The area has been so relentlessly attacked over the past year that for many spreadsheet entries, the only location give is East Jebel Marra. It is technically part of North Darfur, but has a strong sense of regional identity.
[The spreadsheet has few entries for dispatches on the critical and deteriorating humanitarian situation throughout Darfur; for a record of such dispatches going back to February 2015, see
Farmlands have also for years been under constant assault by the air force of Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), which has dropped huge numbers of bombs on an annual basis over the past 12 years—killing and wounding a great many farmers, and destroying countless thousands of head of livestock. Villages near farms have also been relentlessly targeted by the SAF, both from the air and on the ground; they are amply assisted by various incarnations of Arab militia forces or organizations (the Janjaweed, the Border Intelligence Guard, the Central Reserve Police (Abu Tira), the Popular Defense Forces, and others. For a sense of scale, we should recall that on January 24, 2015 the UN Panel of Experts on Darfur reported: “The effects of this [indiscriminate bombing campaign] have resulted in 3,324 villages being destroyed in Darfur over the five-month period surveyed by the Darfur Regional Authority, from December 2013 to April 2014.” And this is far from a complete survey, and does not represent any of the time period covered in this report (November 1, 2014 – November 2015).
Categorizing the data that appear in the spreadsheet has been enormously difficult in many cases; insofar as possible, distinctions between the two major categories of data have, in particular instances, been made in the context of dispatches by Radio Dabanga; very few entries from other sources are included here, but there are some (e.g., France24, Human Rights Watch). Details of the context are often determinative.
Always included with RED BACKGROUND: incident entailing the bombing of farmland, the loosing of livestock on farmlands, and the violent occupation of farmlands;
Usually included with RED BACKGROUND: rapes preventing tending of farms/violence preventing tending of farms/violent disruption of markets in various locations, further crippling the agricultural economy of Darfur;
Often appearing with RED BACKGROUND: efforts to compensate for inability to reach farmlands, particularly violence and rapes preventing gathering of firewood, straw, and water;
Appearing with ORANGE BACKGROUND: other forms of violence reflecting growing pressures arising from displacement from farms and villages;
Appearing in BLUE-GREY: events of particular importance not included in the previous categories, e.g., the August 2, 2015 report on the determination by the UN High Commission for Refugees that food rations would be cut for Darfuri refugees in eastern Chad beginning in 2016.
The vast majority of more than 500 entries—which represent only a fraction of Radio Dabanga dispatches on news from Darfur and Sudan more broadly—are in the red category. In aggregate, this should suggest just how critical the assault on African farmlands and agricultural livelihoods has become; it may “change the demography” of Darfur, but will do so in a way that no real peace can be achieved.
Judgments are often simple: the chilling effect of boys killed by UXO dropped by the SAF on farmland, a target that even the notoriously inaccurate Antonovs can hit most of the time. Farming has been rendered hazardous in an unprecedented way in Darfur. In other cases, however, judgments have been difficult; when uncertain, I have opted to put events in the red category. How, for example, to categorize the intercepting or hijacking of trucks carrying food, much of it locally grown? Certainly the effect of many of the “toll” (extortion) gates that have proliferated wildly is to increase significantly the cost of food, and ultimately to diminish the value of working farmland.
Sometimes connections are difficult to specify with respect to farming activities; here again, if uncertain, I have opted to put events in the red category. This is particularly true of the crimes of rape, including gang rape and the raping of children. Rape serves as such a powerful deterrent, is so deeply shaming in Darfur culture, that the extensive dissemination of stories of girls and women raped or gang-raped for hours—and then beaten or killed—has pervasive effects on agricultural activities by women even if the are extremely difficult to specify.