Science - March 23, 2006

In the news / Peacekeeping in Sudan

What can be done about the civil war in Darfur, a region in the west of Sudan? For the last year troops from the African Union have been trying to maintain peace. The United Nations now want to send a fully-fledged peacekeeping force to the African country, but the Sudanese government has rejected the idea. What does a Sudanese student think of foreign troops in her country?

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Hind Abrahim (40) grew up in the northern part of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, known as Bahri. She graduated in veterinary sciences and with fellow female students she started a private veterinary clinic. ‘I think we were the first ladies to do so. But we had to, as we were not allowed to work in the government sector because it was known that we hadn’t voted for the Islamic government party in the student council.’

She really liked her work. ‘Nomads came to collect us with cars to take us to their cattle. I liked being among the animals, I met many different people and every day was different.’ For personal reasons she left her country six years ago. She now lives in Wageningen with her three children and is taking classes to qualify for a master’s in Biotechnology.

Through her work and later jobs she had, she has seen much of her country, which is 65 times bigger than the Netherlands. ‘East and west Sudan for example are totally different. They have different cultures, different languages.’

Hind is not in favour of bringing in foreign troops to help solve the struggle in western Sudan. ‘The problem is an ancient problem. The nomadic people and the farmers compete for limited natural resources. Before, the tribal leaders solved problems between the groups. Now the situation has become more complicated. People act out of self-interest: they want to rule and have power. The outside world should give the government time to solve the problem.’

Instead of troops, Europe and other countries would do better to send people who can act as intermediaries in the negotiations between the government and the militia. ‘The question should be solved in a peaceful manner. Foreign troops will give people the feeling they are occupied.’ She also fears that with an international military presence Sudan will run into similar problems as Afghanistan and Iraq. ‘Sudan might become segregated. I’m also afraid that the foreign parties have a hidden agenda. Sudan is rich in natural and animal resources, and has fertile land.’

Hind stresses that it is not only the people in Darfur who are suffering. ‘In the whole of Sudan there are people living in misery. Thirty kilometres outside Khartoum people live in basic huts and maybe have two or three goats.’ She also thinks that religion is not at the base of the conflict, as sometimes is reported. In Sudan people of different religions have always lived peacefully together. ‘I’m Muslim but one of my best friends in school was Christian. It was never an issue.’

She comments that she has never liked politics. ‘When I was about fifteen, in junior high school, we learned about European history, about Napoleon and Bismarck. As they kept breaking pacts, these must have been based on lies. It made me hate politics.’
In her opinion, peace can only return in Sudan when people start to realise that the country is for all Sudanese. ‘One party should not dominate the other, and people should care for the prosperity of their country and not for their own benefits. But that will take time,’ she sighs.

Yvonne de Hilster

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