An outline of Darfur
If you thought the conflict in Western Sahara was wild, strap yourselves into this one. Welcome to Darfur! Darfur is a region of around 9.5m people, approximately the size of Spain in the western part of Sudan. The region is the meeting point of the dry Sahara desert and the dense grasslands of Central Africa, but it has an incredibly diverse range of geographical features. From low sandy plains to near 10,000ft volcanic ranges, Darfur really does have it all! If you’re looking to experience all different types of landscapes, except there’s a catch…the small issue of a 17-year long civil war!
The northern region of Sudan including the capital city of Khartoum is mostly Muslim, whilst the southern regions are made up of Christians and Animists. Although the Darfur region is mostly Muslim there are tribal and ethnic differences in the region which the Sudanese government wanted to rectify. In 2003 tensions boiled over when two armed groups waged war in Darfur against the Government of Sudan, over fears that the government under General Omar al-Bashir wished to create a more Islamic-based system for the whole country. The Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) began the war by attacking police stations, army outposts and government buildings leaving behind a trail of several hundred bodies! The Sudanese government was far too weak to mount any real response as they were still engaged in the second Sudanese civil war in South Sudan, leaving the SLA and JEM to take territory at will.
Eventually, the government responded with a brutal ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur by arming ethnic Arab militia groups, known as the “Janjaweed”, to attack the ethnic African groups. The government would attack from the air leaving the Janjaweed forces free to burn villages, poison wells and kill anyone at will. Nearly 500,000 people have been killed, women and children have been systematically raped and millions of people have been forced to seek refuge in camps located in nearby Chad. Numerous ceasefires have been signed over the years but the war still remains, with no signs of the conflict slowing down.
Darfur National Team
Football always brings people together in the face of adversity, and in Darfur, this is the case. The Darfur national football team, or Darfur United as they’re now called, were formed in 2012 as a joint effort between the refugee community, iACT and the UN Refugee Agency. The team originally consisted of players exclusively from the refugee camps located in Chad. These days the team is largely made up of refugees from Darfur who have moved to the United States and Sweden.
Darfur United has had a pretty rough start to life as an international team. Making their debut at the 2012 Viva World Cup which was hosted by Iraqi Kurdistan. Their first group game ended in a 15-0 loss to Northern Cyprus and then again losing heavily 18-0 to the French region of Provence. Darfur then entered the 2014 CONIFA Football World Cup but didn’t fare much better; losing 20-0 to Padania; 19-0 to South Ossetia; a 12-0 loss to Artsakh to cement themselves as the basement side of the tournament.
For the 2020 edition of the CONIFA Football World Cup in Skopje, North Macedonia, Darfur has arguably been drawn in the group of death, along with South Ossetia, United Koreans in Japan and Cascadia. They’ll be hoping to fare much better, although it will be an incredibly tough task getting out of that group!
Darfur is a difficult region to get to, but we offer private 6 day tours by plane and 10 days tours overland from Khartoum.