Darfur Diaries is actually more famous as a documentary film than as a book. Three twenty-somethings venture into Sudan at the height of the violence there to interview refugees and get a clear, non-governmental picture as to what’s going on there. This book was written after the success of the movie, and while some of the material overlaps, it’s much more of a personal narrative than the movie’s interview format.
The book paints a very different picture than most Westerners get from the news. All of those interviewed unequivocally blame Omar Bashir (the current president of Sudan, who took power in a 1989 coup d’état) for everything, claiming that he cynically uses religion as a wedge in order to drive tribal peoples from the land and populate it with loyal Arabs.
Sudan is in many ways an extremely odd country. It’s one of very few African states that are predominantly Muslim (the rest is tribal animism and perhaps 5% Christianity), and it is so despite having an almost entirely black population. It has over 40 million people, lots of different tribes, and people speak either Arabic or a tribal language. From 1983 until just relatively recently, it was mired in the longest civil war in African history, so it’s no stranger to conflict, but the last violence is a different beast entirely.
One would think, after the disaster than Rwanda became in 19941, that the United States would be quicker to act in what is a clear case of genocide, but there are two problems: China and Russia. The former does a lot of business buying oil from the Sudanese government, and are happy as long as it keeps flowing, regardless of Bashir’s other actions. The latter continues to make money by selling crappy Soviet-era military equipment to the Sudanese government, which then arms the Janjaweed militia and uses planes called Antonovs to bomb Darfurian villages.
It’s a real shame. I’m not sure that this book really offers much that the film can’t, but if you’re the certain who prefers a bit more backstory (the film gives virtually none), the book might be a better choice. On general principle, I think it’s about as close as we’re going to get to an in-depth look at what life is really like among the repressed population of Darfur.
- Paul Rusesabagina contributes the preface to this book[↩]