Portrait of Darfur

General Rokero commands Jebel Mara for the Abdul Wahid faction of the Sudan Liberation Army

Opheera McDoom, the Reuters correspondent in Khartoum, wrote recently of her frustration at the lack of progress towards peace in Darfur. “I have been writing on Darfur for 4 1/2 years. More than ever, I am wondering how much difference my reporting can make,” she says.
To be honest, I long ago gave up much of a notion that reporting from Africa would make a difference. Most of the time it’s enough to know that someone is actually reading the stuff.
So it was a great surprise to receive an email from an artist in Ireland, Marita Doherty, asking whether I minded if she used a photo of mine (published in The Irish Times) as the basis for a painting.
I had taken a snap of General Rokero, a senior commander in the Sudan Liberation Army, standing in the Jebel Mara mountains during a trip last year. He had been my host and guide in a tiny rebel-held town that could only be reached by a gruelling four-hour donkey ride. He was about my age and had trained as a petroleum engineer before being sucked into war. He understood the power of PR and had lined up a series of events for me. Organised demos of IDPs wasn’t quite what I wanted, but you had to admire his spin skills, honed hundreds of miles from the reach of the Internet.
I’ve been trying to reach him on his satphone for the past few weeks to see what he thinks of the painting but have failed. He may be caught up in the fighting in West Darfur, or holed up in Chad. Or worse.
For now, the thought that his portrait will soon be hanging in a Dublin art gallery means a few extra people will be thinking about Darfur. And that seems pretty cool to me. It has also been entered in an online art competition.