Who’s Who of Darfuri Rebels

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Keeping track of Darfur’s armed movements is an impossible task. Allegiances shift, factions break away and then re-merge often before anyone has even noticed. It creates difficulties for mediators and humanitarian workers. Who from all the different groups gets a seat at the negotiating table? Who really represents anyone? If I want to deliver sacks of food, who do I need to ask to guarantee safe passage if there are different commanders in charge each day. Any peace deal is going to have to ensure that all the parties to the multi-layered Darfur conflict are ready to stop fighting. Not easy if we aren’t even sure who they all are.

This week one contact told me there were 32 rebel groups. Someone else told me nine. International correspondents based here in Khartoum told me not to bother working out who’s who – there are only three groups to worry about. 

Fear no more. A friend has given me her cut-out-and-keep guide to the Darfuri rebels. It would be clearer in colour she tells me, as each branch is colour-coded. I was going to add a note on what it all means – but I think the diagram is pretty self-explanatory.


  1. It is interesting that lots of people talk about the Darfur rebels and how many factions they are now without bothering to name these factions and see whether they are 32, 50, 5, or any other number. In a time when barriers between people are broken by the advent of technology, anybody can claim to be anything they want as long as they have a Thuraya phone and they can write a page or two in cyberspace and call themselves a “rebel group” from darfur even if they are from Nepal. The onus is on those who are seriously interested in finding the truth and who separate fact from fiction.
    My colleague Maggie Fick and I wrote a paper on the Darfur rebels (http://www.enoughproject.org/publications/darfur-rebels-101)hoping to put to rest some of the myth and start a serious debate about who should be part of the coming peace talks (if and when the world is serious enough to start one)and who shouldn’t. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel on deciding the “legitimate” participant in any future talks. All we need to look at is the Geneva convention that offers guidelines on who should be treated as a rebel group and apply that to the Darfur case. The international community had the “will” to negotiate the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)between Khartoum and the SPLM, the largest rebel group in the south at the time, in spite of the existence of “other” rebel groups. The CPA itself recognized these “factions” in both the Power Sharing and the Security Arrangements.
    There is no doubt that the factionalism of the rebel groups has hurt the cause of the Darfurians, and gave a fig leaf to the Government of Sudan to avoid a peaceful settlement, and to pursue its agenda of military solution in Darfur, those of us who are interested in a peaceful settlement to the crisis should not be fooled by the number of “trees” and miss the whole forest.

  2. Thank you for your comment and you are certainly right that the fragmentation of the rebel movements has hurt the cause of peace. I read your paper when it was published and think it is an interesting contribution to the debate.
    However, I also have serious reservations about some of your assumptions and conclusions. While it is true that several of the rebel factions agree on their main aims I think you underestimate the importance of ethnic and personal divisions. Was it not the personal rivalry between Minni Minawi and Abdul Wahid that led one to sign the DPA and the other to refuse as they continued their own battle over the SLA?
    Also, your discussion of possible peace processes focuses only on the rebels. The absence of Arab groups from the DPA negotiations was another key factor in their failure. Furthermore you continue the myth that it is only the people represented by the rebels who are victims in this conflict. I have spent the past month interviewing Arab communities in Darfur and met people who have lost livestock, husbands and livelihoods at the hands of rebels or other tribes during the conflict.
    Your talk of finding justice for Darfuris appears to have a very narrow definition of who the Darfuris actually are, and continues the very dangerous myth that somehow the Arabs are outsiders and the only guilty parties in the war.
    This sort of skewed analysis has set the cause of peace back and played into Khartoum’s hands.

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