The War at
I went to Al Fashir, Darfur, to visit my family in Sudan.
It was my third trip home since I came to Penn in 1987, when
I began my doctoral studies in folklore and folklife. I spent
11 years without being able to see my family due to the political
situation in my home country.
In the past, whenever there was
news of casualties in the civil war in southern Sudan, my
American friends would ask about
my family. I assured them my family was just fine and that
the war was “far away” from
home. This assurance changed suddenly in April 2003, when
an opposition group attacked the army installation in my
hometown. I experienced this in real time while speaking
members over the phone with the sound of bullets and explosions
My trip to Darfur came days after visits
to the region by the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and
Colin Powell. It was a time when news about Darfur began
to dominate reports on Africa. This was also a time of chaos
confusion, not only for the outside world trying to understand
the Darfur crisis but also for the people caught in the middle
of a struggle between a military insurgency and the Sudanese
This war started in February 2003 when a newly formed Darfurian
opposition group rose up against what it sees as the region’s
lack of economic development, political participation and
wealth sharing. The insurgents also objected
to the non-neutrality of the government in local conflicts.
The main misconception that I have tried to correct is the
depiction of the crisis as an ethnic or racial conflict.
This war is government-sponsored violence committed by the
army and ethnically based conscripts from some Arab militias,
the Janjaweed. The targets of the violence are non-Arab inhabitants
of Darfur, who are being forced to flee their homes. The
government has used this strategy for many years to fight
Sudan without criticism from the international community.
is now doing the same in Darfur, but this time the world
During my visit, I witnessed the global response
to the humanitarian disaster. Al Fashir airport received
an average of 18 airplanes a day during July and August.
We should not forget the reasons for the international community’s
engagement as compared to the response to the Rwanda genocide.
Early reports of atrocities by U.N. officials and NGO representatives
in Darfur have mobilized governments and organizations to
help those in distress. This has also helped people move
the portrayal of the conflict as one of Arabs against Africans.
While I was in Al Fashir, there was sporadic fighting in
the countryside. Since I have returned to campus, the deserted
villages of the displaced were occupied briefly by the opposition
forces, which were later expelled by the government army.
I still call my family regularly. Amid the
entire crisis, they tell me – philosophically –
that they are just fine.
- Ali B. Ali-Dinar
Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Gr’95, obtained his bachelor’s
and master’s degrees from the University of Khartoum.
Since 1994, he has worked as outreach director for Penn’s
African Studies Center. For more information on the Darfur
situation, visit http://www.darfurinfo.org/.