The ongoing conflict in the western Sudanese region of Darfur has received an unprecedented amount of attention as the international media, along with human rights organizations, have captured the hearts and attention of millions of ordinary global citizens. What is often left out of the equation, however, are the voices of the Sudanese, especially those directly affected by the war.
The primary goal of a recent major international conference that Cornell and the Africana Studies and Research Center co-sponsored was to create a space in which Sudanese voices could be heard and reckoned with. Convened at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia on February 21 and 22, “Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan,” brought together Sudanese citizens, leading scholars, civil society members and activists involved in addressing the situation in Darfur and Sudan.
The conference was co-organized by ASRC Director and Prof. Salah Hassan, art history; Carina Ray Ph.D. ’07, assistant professor of African history at Fordham University; and Elizabeth Giorgis, director of the Institute of Ethiopian Studies at Addis Ababa University and who is a Cornell doctoral candidate.
The conference organizers recognized the need to encourage a comprehensive understanding of the root causes, current situation and future implications of the ongoing conflict in Darfur.
According to Ray, much of the information currently being put out by governmental bodies and non-governmental organizations that appears in the media can be very problematic.
“Existing literature often tends to be either journalistic or aid-oriented — and rarely takes into consideration the multiplicity of historical, political, economic and environmental factors that led to the [crisis],” Ray said.
“Most reportage has relied on the oversimplified and misleading racialized notion of Arab versus Black African to explain the conflict, but this does not adequately speak to the roots of the violence, to the complexity of the situation or to the reality of ethnic identity in Darfur,” Ray said.
While the most recent scholarship on the conflict has sought to include more Sudanese voices, those who are directly affected by the war and Sudanese women in particular have not been adequately heard. The conference was successful in its inclusion of both groups.
According to Hassan, the decision to hold the conference at Addis Ababa University was ideal for facilitating Sudanese participation as it is difficult for Sudanese citizens to obtain visas to the United States.
“It was a privilege to be able to bring together such an informed group of scholars and activists who so generously shared their insight and knowledge,” said Ray. “One of the striking features of the conference was that despite the diversity of perspectives, almost everyone agreed that while there are many contributing factors to the war, its root lies at the doorstep of the Sudanese government and its policy of marginalization.”
The ultimate goal of the conference is to help generate more informed prospects for a just and comprehensive resolution of the conflict.
Amongst many others, Ray, Hassan, and Prof. Grant Farred, Africana Studies, presented talks along with Fahima Hashim, Director of the Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre. Mansour Khalid, Former Sudan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Member of the Political Bureau, Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Mahmood Mamdani, Herbert Lehman Professor of Government, Department of Anthropology, Columbia University gave the two keynote addresses.
In conjunction with the conference participants discussed the forthcoming edited volume of Darfur and the Crisis of Governance in Sudan: A Critical Reader, which will be published in late spring. Conference participants who are contributing papers to the volume will have the advantage of incorporating feedback they received during their panels into their essays.
The desired outcome of both the conference and the book is to foster a comprehensive, yet nuanced understanding of the root causes, manifestations, and implications of the ongoing conflict, and help generate more informed prospects for a just and comprehensive resolution of the conflict.
With an upcoming student-organized Darfur Week at the end of this month, Cornellians will also have a opportunity to understand the complexities and implications of this ongoing conflict.