Darfur speaker gives Sudanese conflict a human face

Monday, October 22, 2007 | 9:58 p.m. CDT; updated 6:12 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008
Abu Asal tells personal encounters from the Darfur genocide to a crowd at Ellis Auditorium on Monday. Abu has lived in the U.S. for just over a year and teaches English as a second language course in Massachusetts.

COLUMBIA — For many, the ongoing genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region is little more than a tragedy happening in a faraway land. To some, it is little more important than tomorrow’s weather.

Sudanese genocide survivor Abu Asal came to MU on Monday to remind his audience otherwise.

“It’s a matter of lives (in Darfur),” Asal said. “People are dying there. People are being killed every day.”

Asal comes from the western Sudanese region, home to the conflict, where government-trained and government-equipped Arab militias are attacking the ethnic African farmers. The conflict is part of a campaign by the central government in the capital Khartoum to secure the power of the Sudan’s Arab Muslim population.

“Whether it’s a democracy or dictatorship in power, (the central government’s) philosophy is the same: All Sudanese are Arab Muslims,” Asal said. “In reality, 35 to 40 percent of the country are Arab Muslims.”

Asal spoke as part of the Voices From Darfur campaign. His visit was sponsored by the MU chapter of STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition.

A thin man with a meek voice, Asal expressed his frustration with the hesitation of some world leaders to officially label the conflict a genocide, despite the fact that recent estimates have put the number of people killed in the conflict at 400,000 and the number of people displaced at 2.5 million.

“It pains me to see people are still arguing,” Asal said.

Refusing to label the conflict a genocide has kept many governments from being forced to intervene in the conflict, he said.

Asal thinks this refusal is only part of the international community’s failure to act.

“I think it’s the responsibility of the Sudanese people, the African people and the international community to put real pressure on the Sudanese government,” Asal said. “In my opinion, the international community, including the U.S., is not taking any serious action.”

In addition, Asal pointed out how the Sudanese central government in Khartoum gets much of its funding by providing oil to China. Asal said Sudan supplies China with 15 percent of its oil.

Nadege Uwase, president of STAND Mizzou, expressed how important it is to have real genocide survivors such as Asal to share their experiences.

“(When I see real people speak about their experiences), I feel much more,” Uwase said.

In addition to Asal’s talk, a movie was shown in which other genocide survivors shared their stories and western news agencies gave statistics about the conflict.

Asal lives in Worcester, Mass., and is finishing two fiction books about the history of Sudan in the last 20 years.

Asal summed up his view of the conflict.

“Ultimately, the conflict is a matter of power,” Asal said.

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