Reports from Abeche

What I Learned

So, by now, you know that we weren’t able to visit any refugee camps. To echo the chorus, obviously it’s extremely disappointing. Colin and I were both looking forward to meeting the people that we, and thousands of students, had been working for, and bringing their stories back to inspire and inform our activism. But, I will be back. This cause means to much to me to abandon the people.

It would be a mistake, however, to cast the entire experience as a failure. Despite the fact that a large majority of our time was spent in a fitness center, I do feel like I learned a few lessons that can help inform our actions in the future.

The first is one that Colin touched on his last post. When I first got involved in this conflict, it was all about Darfur. All we talked about were the dreadful statistics coming out of Darfur, and analyzed what we could do to improve the situation for the Darfurians. We can’t continue to think of the conflict like that. The rebellion and unstable situation in Chad directly impacts the situation in Darfur, just like the problems in South Sudan. The Central African Republic is similarly unstable. In order to successfully improve the lives of millions of Darfurians in the long-term, we must also seek to address the conflict in Chad. The Sudanese government funds the Chadian rebels, and hundreds of thousands of Darfurians are stranded in Chad. They’re tied together at the hip.

I think it’s also important to recognize the importance in dealing with the structural problems that have formed this conflict. Humanitarian aid is extremely important to immediate refugee survival. Protection will allow many to return home in peace, but similarly, is a band-aid solution. In order to secure long-term peace, we need to recognize the rift between the Sudanese and the Darfurians, the Chadian rebels and the Chadian government, and the Chadians and the Sudanese. There are a lot of unhappy, conflicting parties at the table, and we need to recognize the importance of all of their needs, or this conflict won’t go away anytime soon.

This trip also demonstrated the difficulties in working in this region. While we were in Abeche, most humanitarian flights stopped, and a lot of UNHCR staff was pulled back from the camps. Thus, the refugees weren’t getting the care they deserved because of the conflict in Chad. Additionally, the rebels looted several camps, destroying rations and supplies, putting the refugees in peril as the rainy season approaches. The rebel movement greatly impedes the work of humanitarians, which in turn, makes the job of helping refugees even harder.

Again, the fact that we didn’t meet any refugees is disappointing. But the trip, in a way, strengthened my resolve to fight on during this conflict. I do so, however, knowing that my efforts must encompass the entire region. I also do so knowing that change will not occur quickly. We must appreciate the small steps along the way; money appropriated towards humanitarian aid, protection officers on the ground, peace talks amongst the rebel groups. Solving this multi-country conflict won’t be easy, and it won’t happen tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day. But if we keep up our efforts, we can achieve peace for Sudan, Chad, and the rest of the region. It just will take time, energy, and a little bit of patience. After all, this is Africa.

3 replies on “What I Learned”

I think your comment about having patience and appreciating the small steps along the way is very interesting in the context of the US and global anti-genocide movement. People are dying every day and we must continue to remember that to give energy and direction to long term advocacy work…. but perhaps like you are suggesting, thinking that one single effort or action such as an i-action or a trip to the refugee camps is not going to solve the complicated conflict in the region and stop the Sudanese government from perpetrating genocide today. Thinking that it will could lead to disappointments and a drop in activism and energy after an action hasn’t achieved that. Yet a sense of urgency is important because the situation is urgent. Perhaps successful advocacy work is somehow combining patience, time, and energy with that sense of urgency. How to do that-
Well thanks for your insightful reflections and I am glad you have not let the experience discourage your work. When do you think you will return to the camps?

“After all, this is Africa.” Don’t pathologize the continent like that. You’re just fueling stereotypes and building the case that American activists are motivated by a misguided notion of what “Africa” is. Very disappointing.

It is great that the ICC is doing something about the problem by arresting Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. It’s a start and there is still a long way from peace but we’re getting there. Keep up the great work and you guys really made a difference in the world and I hope to someday.


Jessica Mafi Hala
Norwalk, CA

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