There’s a point in one of the interviews with a director of Darfur Diaries: Message From Home in the special features section of the DVD, where she mentions one of the bitter ironies of the crises in Darfur. A group of dignitaries from the international community had come together to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda and apologize for having allowed it to happen.
As they were all standing up there swearing that they would never let something like that happen again and how they would be super vigilant to prevent it, the government of Sudan was busy bombing and slaughtering its own people in the province of Darfur.
Darfur Diaries: Message From Home was shot in 2004 by three young film makers who traveled to Darfur on their own and spent time in both the Northern and Southern areas of the province, and in refugee camps in the neighbouring country of Chad. Here, they spent time interviewing the people who had been affected by the attacks. Burnt out houses stand as mute testimony to the bombing raids conducted by the government against its own citizens.
Even as they filmed, an Anatolov bomber flew overhead dropping bombs randomly on the countryside. Parents cried out to children “don’t run, sit down under the trees so they can’t see you.” The pilots of the bombers circle around and target movement and release their bombs killing indiscriminately. Livestock, humans, it doesn’t seem to matter as long as the people and their abilities to survive are destroyed.
Just like the genocides that have been conducted all over the world — from North America to Asia — the theory goes that to completely destroy a people is to destroy their means of survival. With the natives of North America, it was taking away their food supply by exterminating it. With the people of Darfur, the policy seems to be to destroy their villages and steal their livestock as well as killing them.
After the bombers, the strategy of the government was to send in both the Sudanese army and vigilante groups to kill, rape, and steal from the people. Families were exterminated and survivors were forced to flee, after watching their loved ones killed in front of them. The excuse the government continues to make for these attacks is the existence of the Sudanese Liberation Army.
They conveniently forget that the rebel army only formed in response to increasing discrimination against Africans in Sudan, and to the attacks upon their villages by the government forces. What little that the media reported on what was happening in Darfur was to ape what the government said — not bothering to find out for themselves what the real story was.
What’s wonderful about Darfur Diaries is that the only times politics is mentioned is in the interviews with the filmmakers in the special features. For the people on the ground, what matters is what has happened to them and being given opportunity to tell their stories. From the young boy who looks into the camera and talks of watching his brother being shot, to the mothers talking about their babies and their injuries.
The filmmakers interview children who draw pictures of men on camels and horses firing guns; of soldiers in jeeps firing guns; and planes dropping bombs on villages and setting them on fire. They draw pictures of people running away with their arms in the air — fleeing from men with guns and swords who are charging on horses. They draw pictures of dead people laid out on the ground.
Sudan has long been comprised of two distinct Muslim populations, Arab and African. According to the people interviewed here, it has a long history of the two races co-existing peacefully with intermarriages being commonplace. Only since the coup that brought the existing government into power have measures been taken against the majority African population to reduce their means of making a livelihood. There were occasional disputes about grazing rights but the people interviewed in this movie claim they were always settled amicably.
Now however, the government has created a racial war to keep a majority population in check. But not even within the minority Arab population is there unanimity for this war. It appears that aside from the government and it’s army – the only people who support the war are the crooks, rapists, and miserable excuses for human beings who raid the villages after the bombing raids.
The government started attacking the Africans by cutting funding to the village schools, until there was no money to pay for teachers and supplies. They also arrested all the teachers on charges of treason and tortured them. One man interviewed showed the scars where he had been beaten with bricks by his guards and told about other teachers still in jail.
What’s wondrous is the lack of anger displayed by the Africans towards the Arab population of Sudan in general. As one puts it, the government is using the Arab people like a weapon and doesn’t really care about them anymore than they care about us. In fact, according to the Sudanese Liberation Army, there is extensive intermingling between the two peoples in villages to the north. Just as many Arabs are dieing as Africans.
Nobody seems to want to venture as to why this has happened. But in some ways the why is not as important as the fact that it is happening. A government is systematically killing a segment of its own population without remorse or hesitation. They are destroying whole villages and forcing people to leave their homes for any shelter they can find elsewhere.
To me it seems obvious why the government is doing this – they want the land for the people they would prefer to have it. Just like everywhere else that indigenous people have been inconvenient enough to be living where the government wants to make use of the land, the quickest and easiest way of dealing with the matter is to kill or force them off the land.
Darfur Diaries: Message From Home is wonderful in its simplicity. The people tell their stories of what happened to them, tell you about themselves and their families, and are completely matter of fact. These are the faces of the people we never see in the news stories, and the voices we never hear.
Who better to tell the story of what is happening to them than the people themselves. This movie acts as a direct pipeline from them to whoever will listen.
Don’t you think you owe it to them to listen?