"The American people have to know." This was how Daoud Hari, author of The Translator, a Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur, began his talk at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon last night. Following is my report, based on my notes of his speech.
More chairs were needed, and the seating capacity nearly doubled, before Daoud could begin speaking. He has been in the U.S. for one year, as a refugee. His talk was marked with frequent references to the deaths of people who also did the work he did, but who were killed. He clearly feels that his narrow escapes from death, and his opportunity to come to America, are for a purpose - so that he can tell people what is happening in Darfur.
The violence in Darfur has a long history, and Daoud spoke only on the most recent years. He said in 2005 there was peace, and when the government started bombing the villages in 2006, President Bush intervened, and there was peace - for a season. Now the violence is worse than in 2006, according to Mr. Hari.
He spoke of his village of 250 to 300 people, ruled by a sultan, the person who had final authority over decisions. He described his life growing up with his camel and his friends. They would stay out until 11:30 pm or midnight, playing games, and his camel would take him back home, knowing the way even if he was asleep. Daoud said that life in the desert is very different than our lives in the U.S., with a harsh climate and very few trees and plants.
Even so, there was enough to sustain the villagers, until the climate changes narrowed the margins of sustainability on the land, and brought back old problems between Arabs and Zaghawa. The government in Khartoum, the capital city, fanned the conflict with a plan to "cleanse" the desert of the indigenous tribes and give all the land to the Arabs, who arrived there about two hundred years ago.
As Mr. Hari described the recent history of his people, I was reminded of his comment near the end of his book, where he said that the problems of Darfur are not 'simple genocide', but that it is complicated. The result, he made clear in his book and in his talk, is still the threat of extinction of his people, but the complex human and political relationships make solutions difficult, make peace agreements quickly void, and create discouragement among those who intervene and try to help.
Daoud spoke of the network of tribal relationships that his people and the Arabs have among people in Chad, Kenya, the Congo and elsewhere in Africa, so that the conflict which began in Darfur has spread to other nearby countries, and threatens the stability of the entire region. The solution to peace in the region, he says, is to create peace in Darfur, and the way to do that is to restore the tribes to their ancestral lands with security.
One of the pieces to the puzzle that is Darfur, is that the Chinese government is providing weapons and hard currency to the government in Khartoum. Mr. Hari tied the Chinese to the killing of his people and the rest of the tribal people in Darfur.
I asked the first question after his talk, which was, "Should people boycott the Olympics, or write letters of protest to the government? What do you think would be most helpful in cutting off the support of Chinese weapons and cash?"
Daoud responded by saying, "Don't go. This is the Blood Olympics. This is not sport." He added that twelve thousand new refugees have fled into Chad and the government has bombed another five villages. Daoud Hari said Darfur is not under control for anybody, even the government. The government wants the aid workers out of the country, and the workers are helpless without security and transportation. He said, "Disarm Janjaweed! The war is the humanitarian crisis!" He pointed out that before the attacks of the Janjaweed (the Arab guerrilla fighters on horseback and in land cruisers) the people had access to food and water, shelter and crops. The Janjaweed, he said, poisoned the wells and killed the animals, so that even those who survived their attacks would have to leave their villages.
Daoud ended by asking everyone to add their voice to ask for help for Darfur. He pointed out that President Bush acted in 2006 after one million people petitioned him to do so. He said we need one million people again to ask for the killing to stop, to ask for the United Nations to send in all their peace keepers, to get President Bush to act. In his country, if he were to protest a government policy, their response would be to have him killed. We have the freedom to petition our government, and Daoud's mission is to convince us to take action.
"Let me get another voice" - this was the hope of Daoud Hari last night at Powell's Books, speaking on the need for One Million Voices to stop the killing in Darfur.
Here is the link to the organization, Save Darfur, where you can get information on how to help the tribal people of Darfur regain their place on our earth. There are over 200,000 refugees living Chad, which is a country too poor to help them. The Janjaweed come over the border from Darfur and kill the men and rape the women when they go out to gather firewood. This can stop and will stop if enough people lend their voice. Will you lend yours?
I made an effort to check this report but as Daoud says, the history and situation in Darfur is complicated. He is a very intelligent man with an excellent understanding of Darfur. Any mistakes in this post are mine, and mine alone.