Darfur: the Economics Behind a Humanitarian Crisis

Part 1

From 2003 the Darfur conflict has created one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, long before the fallout of Yemen, Syria, and South Sudan. In 2004, Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General of the UN for Humanitarian Affairs, described the situation as “ethnic cleansing.” The conflict that arose from between rebels and government-backed Janjaweed militias over the treatment of non-Arabic ethnic groups in Darfur has displaced up to 2.7 million people and pushed 300,000 Sudanese refugees into the neighboring Chad.

Recent estimates during the Syrian refugee crisis put the average cost to host one refugee to be roughly $3700 a year. Adjusted for inflation, the cost that Chad had to bear each year would reach $900 million dollars, around 20% of the state’s total GDP. While the reality of Chad dedicating a fifth of its production to refugees seems far-fetched, two implications stand out. First, no matter the actual cost that Chad spent on the Darfur refugees, the amount of financial strain on its economy would be substantial. Second, Sudanese refugees are also likely to be living in poor conditions with significant impact on sanitary and health among many others.

The question now is what the international community could do to alleviate this crisis. The US, EU, and the African Union started the diplomatic processes in 2005 that culminated in the Darfur Peace Agreement. Despite the provisions for the sharing power and a referendum, they proved not to be enough for some rebels. The lack of control over arms meant that conflict resumed. In 2008, the ICC proceeded to accuse al-Bashir of war crimes in Darfur among many others. However, prosecution would prove to be futile as Sudan did not recognize the ICC.

In 2011, an even more elaborate attempt for the West, the African Union, and Sudan’s Arab allies came together with the Doha Agreement. With more concrete cooperation between the government and the rebels, things seemed to turn to the better. Once again, the resolutions surrounded power-sharing and level of Darfur autonomy with the issue of arms resting on good faith. Unfortunately, by 2014, the Sudanese government has reinstated the Janjaweed militias into the region. By 2016, Amnesty International released compelling reports of the use of chemical weapons. Darfur was once again a battlefield.

One point stood out in these agreements were the lack of commitment of aid to Sudan and Chad for that matter. While Western states have been eager to ensure that diplomatic processes took place, there has been surprisingly little cooperation in terms of foreign aid by the international community. While the US, EU, and UN have separate programs to support the area in conflict, the lack of cooperation could limit the scales that aid could have achieved.

One must ask the relevance of the role of aid in conflict resolution. While the political logic of ensuring peace before granting aid has sound reasoning, the possibility of using aid as a tool to alleviate the conflict might be equally compelling, given the poverty in the region, as well as the dependence on arms trade.