For years now, we have been letting the genocide in Darfur slip from crisis into a state of permanent chaos, we have waited as the camps for the displaced settle silently into the sand and transform into villages, and we have allowed children to be born, raised, and sometimes die in states of malnourishment and fear.
For some of us who have been talking about the Darfur genocide for 5 years now, it is almost as if this has become normal.
Personally, I can even admit desensitization. After 5 years of reading article after article on atrocity after atrocity, report after report of rape after rape, going to sleep saturated with the statistics of suffering, it got to the point where I could write up a Weekly News Brief on all the displacements and deaths and barely blink.
It happens to all of us, and it happened to the world. In fact, as activists we were so good at pushing the destruction into the public’s eye that Darfur became synonymous with destruction.
But this shouldn’t be seen as normal. Because death and disease and displacement are not normal.
In Southern Sudan, life is rebuilding to what may be normal after 4 decades of civil war. And as positive as the reconstruction is, it is times like these that you understand how easily destruction becomes normal. And it makes you realize how fragile everything is: disabled war veterans threatening to shoot in the middle of town today sent children running home from the school I was working at – days worth of valuable education erased in a flash of firearms. It made me try to imagine what this beautiful bustling town was like during the war, when days like this one were normal. And in the time it took for the international community to respond here, decades had passed and the destruction became daily, almost accepted.
And yet again, somehow the world acts as if Darfur has always been burning.
And if the international community does not act swiftly and strongly, this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy – Darfur will suffer the same drawn-out destruction the South suffered, until no one remembers what life was like before the villages started burning…
And it may be that the expulsion of the aid groups from Darfur will remind the international community of how fragile life is in Darfur. It may shake them out of the dullness that the years of conflict have gradually worn them into. It may remind them that no, the displaced Darfuris don’t survive on media soundbites issues on their behalf but that they live on food aid being provided by aid organizations, that they are not protected by the words issued by UN Resolutions but by true human force, and that their children don’t get cured of meningitis by waves of sympathy but by medicine being trucked in on dusty LandCruisers.
And yet today, there were reports that “The UN Security Council will not likely vote on any resolution this week regarding the expulsion of 16 aid organizations from Darfur”.
I ask: if not this week, then when?
If not after the announcement of the expulsion of life-saving aid groups from providing a people already just barely clinging onto life, then when? What in fact is the international community waiting for? For all the aid workers to be expelled? For food aid to be burned on international television? For genocidal violence with the pace and ferocity of Rwanda? Or for the genocidal war to last four decades as it was with the war Southern Sudan? Is that what we are waiting for before the Security Council even bothers to vote on another resolution?
And so I am here in Southern Sudan, standing on soil that displaced families had to wait for decades to come home to, asking:
If not now, then when?
And what in God’s name are you waiting for?