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Dancing with a Wolf: A Reflection on Gambella Politics

By: Chuol R. Kompuok, PhD

December 5, 2014 (SSNA) -- This article tries to shed lights on historical perspective of the two ethnic groups relationship and their landholdings (the Nuer vis-à-vis the Anywaa). The paper also goes on to addresses factors contributing to the deep abyss between different ethnic groups in Gambella. It goes beyond reasonable doubt to examining the contributions of Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling party toward fueling problems in the region. It is importance to revisit the dynamics in the Nuer political discourse. The readers of this article will be able to understand how such problems came into being. From there, individual readers will have sufficient information to judge who should take the lion share of blame. Since time immemorial, Nuer and Anywaa live a long history of co-existence and will continue living together for the rest of their life. History tells us both ethnic groups migrated from the original homeland, South Sudan eastward to the present day Gambella, Southwest Ethiopia in 17th and 19th century respectively. The expansion of the ethnic group was fairly peaceful cum minor clashes but suddenly came to abrupt halt, as the conditions were unfavorable in the highlands of Bure part of Illubabur Administrative region and Shebel part of Wolega Administrative region. It is very clear that the two ethnic groups took a U turn to Gambella Administrative region, the lowland area of Ethiopia, which by then was under administration of Upper Nile Province. But not all the explorers came back; some insisted and are now descendants of Oromo people until of recent.

These communities appear not to have economic importance in the eyes of Ethiopian Kings and Arabs of the northern Sudan not until King Haile Selassie realized their strategic importance toward the end of 19th century. Considering the strategic economic significant importance, and resilient manpower, Emperor Haile Selassie involved them into the affairs of the Ethiopians before Arabs could grab them for slavery purposes. By that time preparations were underway as Italia champions to overrun Ethiopian territory before other European countries took over. Not very long enough, King Haile Selassie felt the heat and demand for manpower was on the top list of the agendas. The move made by the emperor put him in strategic position to fight back the Italian invaders with the gallant forces from the lowland areas of Gambella. Italia was by then so anxious to have roots in Ethiopia and declare war against Ethiopian territory from 1935—1936. After the defeat of the Italian invaders, chiefs from Gambella were nominated as tax collectors and recruiters in case the Italian invaders crops up. The emperor administers Gambella in a remote and no such interference into the affairs of Gambellians as of current.

Though provision of social services almost equal to nothing during the reign of the emperor Haile Selassie, peace prevalent has shown tremendous effect that continued until the downfall of the Derg regime. An acknowledgement was made as a result of dear leadership qualities of the emperor by cementing the ties between the Nuer, the Anywaa and other minorities (Majengir, Opo and Komo).

The continuation of unprecedented peace among different ethnic groups in Gambella during and after the reign of the emperor perhaps until the defunct regime was due to undisturbed systems of the governance. None interfered with the affairs of each ethnic group. For instance, in case of Gambella during the era of emperor land belongs to Anywaa Kings according to their setting. Distribution and redistribution of lands to communities vested into kings’ authorities. Nuer in other words, owns land communally but in the event disputes of the lands arise are presiding over by Kuar Kuach (Chief of Leopard Skin). Such arrangements made the relationship between the Nuer on both sides (Ethiopia and South Sudan) and Anywaa on both sides (Ethiopia and South Sudan) unquestionable. The customary laws rank number one in both the Anywaaland and Nuerland.

However, the Mengistu regime came up with its own arrangements after the overthrown of the imperial government of which the kingdoms were abolished. It came to be known that administrative states were established where Gambella became one of them. Within Gambella Administrative state, six administrative districts (Gog & Jor, Abobo, Gambella, Itang, Jiokow and Akobo) were established. As a matter of fact, some cultural barriers to development were discouraged. Social services were made available and living conditions improved. The main departure of Mengistu regime from the emperor Haile Selassie government was that holding of land by the landlords was abandoned. Thus, land belongs to the tillers became the slogan of the defunct regime.

The 1975 Ethiopian Constitution states that land belongs to public and no pieces or parts of it shall be use for commercial purposes. The socialist Derg regime that had overthrown the imperial regime of Haile Selassie profoundly altered the agrarian structure and the mechanism of access to land. The “Public Ownership of Rural Land Proclamation” nationalized all rural land and set out to redistribute it to its tillers and to organize farmers in cooperatives, thereby abolishing exploitative landlord-tenant relations so pertinent under the imperial regime. Even though, with the defeat of the military socialist Derg regime of Mengistu in 1991, the dissolution of farm collectives took place rapidly, there was limited change with regard to property rights to land – to the disappointment of many international donor agencies. In principle, the Transitional Government of Ethiopia did not question state ownership of land. All political regimes in Ethiopia, from imperial, Derg to EPRDF, are ‘control freak’. Perhaps where they differ is in the degree of success in their projects of total control over society (Dereje, 2006).

The clock turned around when the EPRDF took over Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia in May 1991. Ethnic tension grew to its peak and quest for self-rule became inevitable. Different nations and nationalities were said to have democratic rights as stipulated in the Transitional Constitutions; describing the rights to self-determination (Article 39). Article 39 happen to be more contentious ever as EPRDF reneged on its promises and continue to rule by proxies; the establishment of the Federal Affairs Ministry that sends its cadres to the less developed regions (Gambella, Benishangul Gumuz, Somalia and Afar) is a good indication of dancing with the Wolf. The cadres at their own will given the extra-powers vested in them removed and/or reinstated regional presidents up to the lowest echelon of constitutional post holders. Such practice has been there since 1991 when ERDF took over power from the defunct regime until of recent. The credibility of EPRDF in terms of wining the support of the majority as ways of promoting the democratic rights appears to be dwindling. The political rights of the Gambellians in exercising their powers embedded in the national constitution appears to have been grabbed by the federal government; a legitimate claims which had already put to test the credibility of late PM Meles Zenawi’s government policy.

The question one may ask is, where is the democracy in this situation? The presidents and other members of parliament elected through ballot box only to be removed by mere cadres without prior knowledge of the voters or constituencies. If such conditions happened to H.E. the late PM (Meles Zenawi) or his successor PM H/Mariam Desalegn, it would be an act of treasons tantamount to prison to the individual cadres. The below questions remained to be answered by the cadres or other readers around the globe. Did the democracy PM preach about meant giving powers to highland cadres to remove the elected leaders from the lowland area of Ethiopia? Did Meles Zenawi, the PM knew for sure the damage his men inflicted on the masses by removing their leaders without consensus? How sure could he (the PM) be whether his men were (not) bribed for one to retain his/her position as the case of Gambella?

The 2012 evaluation and its subsequent follow up evaluation in Gambella appear to have so many flaws. The corrupt elements in the regional government went unpunished with the tangible evidence. This is an indication that the trusted cadres appear to have received chunk of money either from the Ethiopian highlanders or the then president of Gambella Omod Obang Olom as a way of removing charges labeled against him. Omod Obang in collaboration cum highlanders from the federal government would have remained credible threats to the political development and social liberty in Gambella if he had not exited from the country into exile. The paradigm shifts in Gambella politics embedded in it more economic interest. Experience teaches us that the like of Abay Tsay, the ex-minister of Federal Affairs Ministry and Girma Tsion in the EPRDF head office had done enough damage with the far-reaching implications in the Gambella politics. The two men ripped off Gambella naked without resources left to cater for its poor citizens in the name of advisory group while contributing nothing in efforts to develop the economic ravaged region. Given hard lesson learnt, a fair judgment on how affairs of the region were (are) run, be domestic driven solution rather than federal deal with full packages.  

Such damage never stops at one point. The claims highlanders and Omod Obang fabricated may seemed realistic to an outsiders but the argument does not hold any water at all. The presence of highlanders could be traced back to the time immemorial when Omod Obang was not born or God did not think of creating him either. Ostensibly, highlanders lived and will continue to live in Gambella in the absence of Omod Obang, who is considered the only savior to the highlanders. Believing me or not, Ethiopians from the highland areas are now residing in Gambella with no fear of anything in the absence of him, the former president of Gambella. The truth will still remain the same without fading. Evidently, Seid Negash, who was by then the lead mobilizer and fundraiser among business community made a lot of contribution in maintaining Omod Obang in power during evaluation period credible source revealed. The businessman took lead in convincing the then chief of evaluation team Mr. Alebachew not to remove him and a go home to Addis Ababa with fat pocket of taxpayers’ money became appropriate than exposing the real danger.

Genuinely enough though I am not sure of the necessary and sufficient conditions at which someone could be removed from the office or maintained in power; the corruption charges labeled against Omod Obang qualified him to be out of the office and file case against him to lay ground for his arrest. The following charges labeled against the then president Omod Olom were as follows:

1. Embezzlement of the government funds for his own gains,
2. One-month salaries for all the civil servants in Gambella went missing prior to 2012 evaluation by then,
3. The fertile land of Gambella was sold to briefcase investors from highland areas of Ethiopia and individuals from Saudi Arabia and far East Asia,
4. Always plays double standard between the locals and the highlanders,
5. Deployed and dismissed civil servants without the knowledge of Commission of Public Authority (CPA), which has the mandate of deploying, demoting and dismissing civil servants as their performance require,
6. Instigate inter and intra tribal conflict among different ethnic group inhabiting Gambella and beyond,
7. Master minded the killing of innocent Nuer in 2002, 2003 and 2004 in Ochom along the Baro River when he was head of Police Commission,
8. Participate directly in repatriation of Nuer who resided in Ochom village and other parts of Gambella areas for more than 15 years back to Jiokow and Akobo districts, a violation of the constitutional rights of Ethiopia citizens
9. Constructed villas in Addis Ababa and Gambella with public resources,
10. Initiated the conflict between highlanders and Majengir by giving out the Majengir lands to highlanders (light skin Ethiopians), the only assets Majengir own besides honey production; one of the conditions that force Majengir to write to the Federation Council opting to join Southern Nation and Nationalities rather than Gambella region.
11. The clearing of forest for timbers trade in Majengir land by the highlanders appeared to have a lion share in it.
12.   Participated and collaborated with EPRDF forces in 2003 Massacre of nywaa people in Gambella state.

If the above mentioned corruption charges appears to have been committed by the then president Omod Obang Olom and no proper action was taken against him, then evaluation bound to have lost its authentic meaning in the long-run and others will follow suit. Where is the democracy the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi used to preach about in any international or domestic forum for the last 20 years or so? A sound minded person would judge me right to have Omod Obang, the former president of Gambella removed and locked up for the rest of his life. But instead Omod Obang was rewarded with the position of state minister for Religious Affairs in the Federal Ministry; a position that would have been given to the trustworthy sons and daughters of Gambella. However, the position was used as exit root to Asian countries; a circumstance that surprised many Ethiopian people but not citizens of Gambella. If former president of Gambella region exited without being tried, then the essence of evaluation rendered no meaningful status. The only convincing reasons why EPRDF kept Omod Obang in power and made him to leave the country after the fall out without being arrested was due to the fact that Omod Obang collaborated with the EPRDF on the December 13, 2003 massacre of four hundred and twenty six (426) Anywaa most of whom were educated. Anywaa got butchered in a broad daylight by the highlanders both in uniform and civilian clothes in Gambella town and elsewhere in the region. Omod Obang who by then the Chief Security denied the incident flatly and account only for less than 10 people. The predecessor former president of Gambella Okello Akway who stood tall in defense of the massacre coupled with the lack of political maturity was almost netted out and narrowly escaped into exile. His vice president, Mr. Keat Tuach who tried to moderate between the warring parties was eventually dismissed toward the end of the fiasco. Indeed, Omod Obang shoots up the ladder to the top seat in the region as the president in return. In this scenario EPRDF as the ruling party did not do its homework to settle issues of concern instead fomenting crisis as a way of forging ahead in its poor governance of divide and rule.

Given all the concessions EPRDF received from Omod Obang to continue maintaining the power of the state, nonetheless the EPRDF realized the danger of maintaining him in Gambella rather he was brought to the federal government for close monitoring. Not too long enough Tesfaye Eresso the former minister of Finance and Economic Planning of Gambella state who was by then a strong ally of Omod Obang was brought aboard by the EPRDF cadres, a move that angered Omod Obang and subsequently cost Tesfaye Eresso his dear life. The intention was to get all the necessary information with regards to corruption charges against Omod Obang and by then the mandate was given to the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) of Ethiopia to follow up the case. Surprisingly enough the custodian of the charges labeled against Omod Obang in the person of Tesfaye Eresso who came to Addis Ababa to submit the documents to FEACC mysteriously died in June 2013 in Addis Ababa—the Ethiopian capital city. A day later, his body was taken to Gambella for burial without collecting any forensic evidence surrounding his death. Omod Obang allegedly believed to have a bigger hand in his death to destroy the evidence.

After a long nasty evaluation where good ground for level-playing field is non-existence, the only victims of unorganized January 2012 evaluation happened to be the ex-vice president Goaner Yer, who would always stand tall in favor of maintaining laws and orders. Goaner Yer made a peaceful transfer of power to his successor Gatluak Tut Koat as the vice president who later on succeeded Omod Obang in April 2013 as the current president of Gambella in an extraordinary session held. Goaner Yer had left his office as state manhood for there was no any claim of misappropriation of government funds while in the office for the last six years or so. EPRDF cadres came in heavy-handedly and removed him without proper charges but only overwhelmed by the bribes. I would differ with individual commentators suggesting the VP removal came as a result of lack of political commitment. The political discourse in Gambella has no defined equation where one could be judged to have failed unless one liaises with political Godfather in the federal government. If one is moved by the waves of propagandas of unprofessional cadres from the federal government and some helpless cadres in Gambella, then the credibility of a leader in the eyes of the voters would not stand the test of the day and immediately proven invalid.

The dynamic in Nuer politics lost its authentication as citizens who at one point in time emancipated the large innocent Nuer from the bewildered Gambella People’s Liberation Movement (GPLM) administration breast and groomed by EPRDF. The cheap politics of one driving a vehicle of a class increases the vulnerability of the Nuer politicians. But this should not have been the main goal, selling the interest of the people voted you into the office to deliver the most needed services: the health, education and economic empowerment in exchange of a seat one will never enjoys until the master takes it away is the cheap politics of going into bed with a wolf. EPRDF and its cadres maintained the post of the vice president for the Nuer and the president for the Anywaa to widen the gap and planted the seeds of hatred between the Nuer and the Anywaa, a scenario reversed of recent. Previous trends of monopoly of power by the Anywaa in the region for the last 22 years during the reign of late PM Meles Zenawi one would tended to believe that EPRDF had a secret pact with the GPLM while in the bush not to let Nuer into the presidency. If at all there were anything given to Nuer would be the lower position. Such a mathematical equation set by the EPRDF and the GPLM while in the bush would have been easily reversed not until of recent past. The numerical size of the Nuer as compare to Anywaa in the regional parliament on average account for 60 percent and 45 percent, respectively. Indeed, it was a possible chance for exploitations but the way the current president run the affairs of the state would possibly revert back the seat to the Anywaa and Anywaa will never be blame no more.

If we are to go back a little bit further in the history of EPRDF cum GPLM shortly after the downfall of the Derg regime in May 1991, it came to lights that Agwaa Alemu, an Anywaa, became the chief administrator for Gambella until his demise. The few Nuer whom you can count on were those who positioned themselves in the military wings of GPLM; the like of late Pvt. Thuok Lare, Pvt. Puol Ruach, etc…, but have no say in any action taken against their fellow Nuer along the Baro river by the GPLM. Most of the military wings stationed in Abol village, now the current headquarters of Gambella district. Such arrangements never lasted long; a cruel assassination of Agwaa Alemu with his family took place in Gambella town in a broad daylight. Afterward, formation of the new government in Gambella was inevitable and the following posts were allotted exclusively for Anywaa; the president, the vice president and the general secretary were as follows: Okello Oman, Ojulu Akwer and Oguta Adiw, respectively presiding over Gambella affairs without involvement of Nuer and other ethnic minorities. Nuer in this case appear to be at the periphery of the Gambella administration, but were required to pay taxes to GPLM government while in destitution without social services. On the contrary, the GPLM military wing is determined to eliminate Nuer in the entire Gambella by iron fist, an attempt badly contested by the Nuer though most of the Nuer elites lost their dear lives in the process.

As the GPLM nurtured the culture of cold blood murder and killing of the innocent educated Nuer in Gambella through red army stationed around Gambella town and Abol village along Baro river up to Itang district, a radical party called Gambella Peoples Democratic Unity Party (GPDUP) led by Chuol Khor Dak as the chairperson and late Gatkuoth Diw Nguntap as the Secretary emerged. This party was formed in Addis Ababa after EPRDF took control over Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia with the sole objective of defending and protecting the lives of Nuer from mercenary GPLM cadres. In light of this a wind of change blew through Gambella and the post of the vice president was given to late Chuol Pech Bol, the Nuer. Subsequently, the regional secretary general was given to Majengir, the third largest ethnic group next to Anywaa. The post of the vice president and the regional secretary general Anywaa relinquished to Nuer and Majengir was not on a golden plate but through struggle and sacrifices. Should the Nuer of today forget the rich history embedded in the struggle for the change in Gambella politics, it will be a systematic mistake in exchange of seat; a seat that will not recover the losses Nuer incurred in the process of climbing the top leadership in Gambella history and name recognition.

The series of changes in 2001, 2002 and 2003 for the equitable distribution of Gambella resources did not come about without heavy payment in terms of human and material losses. Nuer have made a profound contribution in terms of achieving peace in Gambella and this was extended to the minority groups (Majengir, Opo and Komo). The struggle of Nuer in shaping the Gambella political landscape sprang up inclusions of minority groups into the top leadership of Gambella. While the Nuer maintaining the post of the vice president, the following cabinet bureaus fell under their leadership: the Chief Security, the Bureau of Finance and Economic Development, the Water Resource, Mining and Energy Bureau, the Police Commission, deputy Bureau of Agriculture just to mention a few for the first time. The wind of aspiring for the top seat in the region began to blow throughout Gambella region and moderate Anywaa who saw GPLM as tool of intimidation supported the idea, should the Nuer prepare for it.

However, the political prostitution in Gambella among the self-claims few elites Nuer more or less depends on some keys fundamental principles. The first principle on one hand is going to bed with the former president Omod Obang and EPRDF cadres for one to be given lucrative job on condition of economic security and driving a vehicle of a class. The second principle on the other hand is to form strong ally with the Nuer with no backing from the center but mainly supported by the Nuer majority. The first principle took chunks of them.  The cliques according to different sources, their records indicated that they have gone with resources or their hands full of blood of the innocent Nuer. Most of them deserved to remain behind bars although appeared to be on the short-lived wining side. Those who pay allegiance to Nuer causes apparently are the victims of circumstances but can still move with their head upright straight unlike the traitors.

Political history in modern times can be characterized essentially as the struggle for freedom. Yet it is evident that different thinkers and writers have conceived of such freedom from very different theoretical positions, and have ascribed to freedom some quite different meanings. In this article, I approach the concept of Nuer freedom in Gambella from the perspective of liberalism, the political philosophy, which interprets freedom fundamentally, as individual and societal liberty. In liberalism, human beings are regarded as rational, autonomous agents who are able to decide for themselves what constitutes the good life, and who therefore ought to be granted the maximum freedom possible to pursue their own particular conceptions of the good, subject only to the equal freedom of other ethnic groups in Gambella. It is this understanding of the primacy of Nuer liberty in Gambella region EPRDF violated that forms the basis for universal human rights; for the rule of law and equality before the law; and for the establishment of the institutions of democratic society.

In conclusion, EPRDF as the ruling party in Ethiopia would have sorted out problems befalling Gambella amicably in a manner indiscriminating anyone by creed, race, color or sex. Hopefully the current PM H/Mariam Desalegn would do more to make it a reality. The dynamic in the political discourse in Gambella plunged so many people into ad hoc with the self-claim Godfather, the EPRDF that appears to have lost the direction. The political deadlock in Gambella more or less emanate from exogenous factors. Without exogenous involvement, Gambella has potential leaders to resolves their differences in a fair while maintaining everlasting peace. The traditional methods of problem solving in the past can still be revitalized, appreciated and applied without questions by the Gambella people. Should EPRDF cadres distance themselves from interfering with the Gambella affairs, Gambella would be one of the safest place ever on Ethiopia land for one to live without prejudices of any kind. The presence of highlanders in the affairs of Gambella people will not solve any problem rather widen the gap and fuel more mistrust among leaders of Gambella thereby opening a window of hatred to develop to the fullest capacity. A fair reading of the national constitution is of paramount importance on the eyes of the federal government, which claims to have all the rights to man the region belongs to other ethnic group. Federalism in the eyes of Gambellians bound to have lost its meaning and far from remote. Federal advisors with no domestic background would rather foment the hostilities than narrow down the gap the EPRDF government created after it took over power. Gambella people are equally endowed with traditional methods of problem solving which would be the only way forwards to set in motion everlasting solution with out external forces in question. The gods of Gambella and its ancestors will spearhead the mission of inculcating the wisdom of fixing rift created within the region by the enemy of peace through peaceful coexistence and move the region forwards to the promise land; a land of peace, freedom, equality, liberty and prosperity in cognizant of undisputed harmony bestowed to its offspring to manage its affairs without fears of any kind. Finally, Gambella people applauded the current PM H/Mariam Desalegn for his relentless effort to set his feet into Gambella soil in May 2014 for the first time that culminated into the opening of the long awaited University of Gambella.

Dr. Chuol R. Kompuok holds a PhD (Economics) from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Tanzania, and can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

What UNAMID Really Said About Their Investigation of Mass Sexual Assaults on Tabit: The internal report on what investigators found

By Eric Reeves

November 20, 2014 (SSNA) -- On November 12, 2014 Agence France-Presse reported exclusively on the real findings of the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) investigation of mass sexual violence at Tabit town, North Darfur.  This must be distinguished from the publicly released document of November 10 that concludes by saying of Tabit:

Village community leaders reiterated to UNAMID that they coexist peacefully with local military authorities in the area. The team also interviewed the local Sudanese Armed Forces Commander.

None of those interviewed confirmed that any incident of rape took place in Tabit on the day of that media report. The team neither found any evidence nor received any information regarding the media allegations during the period in question. (UNAMID press release, 10 November 2014)

Agence France-Presse did not release the entire document; it did, however, reach the appropriate conclusions: 

The report by the joint UN-AU mission in Darfur suggests that a visit by a team of monitors to the village of Tabit was carefully prepared by the Sudanese military to prevent witnesses from coming forward. During the team visit, there was a heavy presence of Sudanese soldiers who followed the monitors and recorded interviews with the villagers, according to the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) report obtained by AFP.

"The behavior and responses of interviewees indicated an environment of fear and intimidation," said the report on the Sunday visit. "Some of the sub-teams had to ask the military personnel to stop following them and also asked them to allow the conduction of interviews in some privacy," it added. The report quoted a villager in Tabit who said the soldiers had told the community "not to provide information to UNAMID" and that "reportedly a committee was formed to interact" with the fact-finding mission. (AFP, 12 November 2014 |

The document, in its entirety, has been leaked further and appears below.  Khartoum is reportedly furious at the leak from within UNAMID and understandably so.  The disparity between what was said publicly seemed to end the "Tabit issue" and obviate any further investigation; what is reported privately in the document below makes clear this is not so.  The document should also give considerable pause to anyone who has credited the report commissioned by Ban Ki-moon that exonerates UNAMID's cover-ups and failures to notify appropriate personnel of evidence of atrocity crimes.  Even so the report found at least five instances in which UNAMID did not report or report adequately on such crimes.  To which the Secretary General found it sufficient to issue a statement through his spokesman declaring:

A review, initiated by the Secretary-General, was conducted into recent allegations that the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) intentionally sought to cover up crimes against civilians and peacekeepers. The Review Team examined all the material related to 16 incidents, which were the basis of these allegations. It also interviewed former and current staff in UNAMID and at UN Headquarters. The Review Team did not find any evidence to support these allegations.  (Statement attributable to the spokesman for the Secretary-General, 29 October 2014)

But in fact what was released shows that UNAMID, on a number of occasions, deliberately withheld critical information from the UN and UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations. This recent UN report on UNAMID's performance—coming in the waking of authoritative accusations of malfeasance, negligence, and mendacity by Aicha Elbasri, former UNAMID spokeswoman—has not been released publicly, but Colum Lynch of Foreign Policy has posted the text in connection with his current analysis of the findings; Lynch broke the original story in Foreign Policy in which Ms. Elbasri's account of UNAMID's deliberate under-reporting and non-reporting of serious crimes was presented in very considerable and persuasive detail.

The UNAMID press release concerning Tabit also does not comport well with what Radio Dabanga reported the following day:

A delegation of five members of the Coordination Committee of Refugees and Displaced Persons in Darfur had also visited the village: “We just returned from Tabit on Friday [November 7] with a delegation, after two days of investigation. There we met 60 women and girls, we looked into their eyes while they told us they were raped by soldiers from 8 pm [on Friday, October 31] until 5:00am [on Saturday, November 1]. (Radio Dabanga [Tabit] 11 November 2014; full text of this crucial dispatch appears at

More importantly, the public press release by UNAMID gives no sense of what investigators actually encountered at Tabit—that was clearly to have remained an internal matter.  This in itself is merely an extension of the Mission's reflexive defensiveness in the face of continuing failures to protect civilians or to investigate atrocity crimes targeting civilians.

Here is the internal UNAMID document in its entirety as I have received it today (20 November 2014):

African Union                                                                                  United Nations


 Tabit Integrated Field Mission


I. Introduction

On 3 November 2014, Radio Dabanga reported that “More than 200 women and girls were collectively raped in their village on Friday 31 October 2014 evening, reportedly by Sudanese soldiers belonging to a military garrison south of El Fasher in North Darfur. 80 of the victims were schoolgirls, 105 were unmarried girls. The other victims were married women. The residents of Tabit have not been able yet to transfer the wounded to other towns or medical centers.

The number of women allegedly raped in Tabit was quite high. Sexual violence in Darfur, since the start of conflict (2003), is a key issue. However, it can be said that since the early days of conflict, allegation of such massive rapes were not received. This allegation was a serious cause of concern for UNAMID as well as for international community because even during the intense fighting between GoS forces and SLA/MM and JEM in December 2010 and January 2011, such violations were not reported. The Rapid Support Force (RSF) activities in South and North Darfur created a lot of concerns and allegations of violations were raised. However, even during RSF actions, such heinous and massive allegations were not received.

These concerns led to a UNAMID verification attempt via Shangil Tobaya team-site on 4 November 2014. This verification field mission was denied access outside Tabit by GoS military on the pretext of not obtaining permission from GoS authorities.

On 05 November 2014, SN organized a joint visit to Zam Zam IDPs camp including HRS, RoL, Humanitarian Section, Child Protection Unit, CAS and UNPoL. The purpose of the visit was to verify the information received that there were new arrivals in the camp from Tabit area, following an alleged mass rape of about 200 girls which may have occurred in that area. The team interacted with the Omda of Tabit Mr. ADAM and the Chief of Omdas of Zam Zam Mr. ALI ISHAG. According to them, there is no new arrivals in the camp and the situation is normal.

UNAMID SN then intensified its engagement with GoS authorities in El-Fasher to gain access to Tabit via El-Fasher route. The access was achieved on 9 November 2014.

II.   Particulars

Date: 9 November 2014Coordinates of Tabit: (N 13018’00” E 25005’00”)

Distance: About 48/50 km (Vehicle speedometer reading, end and start: 77679 – 77622 = 57. The vehicle was used for moving inside the town; also came to town after departure to conduct interview with SAF commander).

Time: The field mission arrived in Tabit at 1316 hours, left at 1618 hours 

Population: The number of population is not certain. Different estimates provided by different interlocutors. The maximum was about 7/8 thousands individuals.

Tribes: Not exact numbers or figures. But it was mentioned that Fur (Basinga), Tama and Tunjur are the main tribes. 

III.  Methodology of information collection

The UNAMID field mission was an integrated type; 18 representatives from different sections/units participated in the mission; most of the team was from Sector North with some from HQ.

Due to shortage of time, as well as the issue of GoS curfew after 1600 hours, the team was divided into sub-teams to facilitate wide reach and to obtain higher quantity of interviews. It was decided to seek out and conduct interviews with citizens, students, native administrators, females, persons present in Tabit market, students and other groups. It was also decided to attempt to trace the family, which was allegedly detained by SAF and also to meet with the SAF commander in the end of field interviews.

The interviews were conducted in group as well as isolation format. Attempts were made to conduct the interview in confidential setting but it was not always possible. The sub-teams introduced themselves and the explained the purpose and objective of the mission; consent were sought before the interviews and the interviewees were given time to ask question or pose comments.

Beside access issue, significant challenges were faced on the ground during verification exercise. The SAF personnel were present in sizable numbers – in uniform and civil clothing – in Tabit. They followed the sub-teams during the verification exercise. Some of the sub-teams reported the interviews being captured on recording devices (mobile phone) by the SAF members. The behavior and responses of interviewees indicated an environment of fear and intimidation. Some of the sub-teams had to ask the military personnel to stop following them and also asked them to allow the conduction of interviews in some privacy.

The integrated mission was launched suddenly. A short debriefing was done but the lack of time to properly organize created logistical and substantive challenges. The format or types of interviewing tools were not finalized. An agreed set of questions were not developed and deployed. Each sub-team had to rely on their own previous experience and expertise to find the information required.

The issue of GoS curfew after 1600 hours on the movement of UNAMID convoys also limited the time available at the verification site.

IV.  Consolidated Assessment

The sub-teams attempted verification in different parts of Tabit town. A consolidated assessment of the situation, issues and events are as follows:


            • The overall security situation was observed to be okay.

            • The area is under robust control of GoS military forces.

Environment during mission


            • During the verification exercise, there were a high number of military personnel, in civil clothing and in uniform present in the Tabit village.

             • The sub-teams also observed a small number of adult population (male and females) available in the town. It was informed that a lot of people go out to farms in the morning but compared to the SAF personnel numbers present, the low number of town people was quite conspicuous.

            • The public was shy to openly discuss the allegation of mass rape in Tabit. An environment of fear and silence prevailed. A number of interviewees refused to interact or responded that they were unaware of the incident.

            • One of the professional (teacher) in Tabit informed UNAMID that SAF had previously informed community not to provide information to UNAMID forthcoming field mission. Reportedly a committee was formed to interact with UNAMID field mission.

• The military personnel attempted to follow each sub-team and to remain present during interviews. There were complaints of recording and picture taking of the sub-teams during interviews by military personnel.

            • One sub-team observed that local population consider SAF to be the lesser evil as compared to SLA forces. The improved economic conditions in Tabit (good fertile land, Qatar developmental projects, etc.) may also influence locals not cooperate frankly with UNAMID field mission.

      Mass rape 

Most of the persons interviewed denied the allegation of mass rape. However, one sub- team was informed about 15 illegitimate pregnancies in the town.The incident of an affair between a local girl and a military solider was widely reported with some discrepancies.

The disappearance of SAF soldier was also widely reported.The detention and interrogation by SAF of the family of the girl including the girl was generally reported. Though there are important discrepancies about the number of people detained as well as the length and location of this detention.

V. Recommendations

Integrated Field Mission

            • In the future to avoid delays in the reaching areas that need verification, UNAMID flight as means of transport is highly recommended to ensure timely protection of civilians.

            • Delay of UNAMID fact finding mission to Tabit is due to the late government permission for UNAMID to access the area a trend that resulted in disappearing of material evidence. Thus, it is highly recommended that UNAMID should be able to move freely and as soon as possible to the affected areas without hindrance from the government authorities as SOFA stated.

              [The document as I received it was a text with numbers indicating footnotes; there were no footnotes, however, and so the numbers have been removed.  Nothing else in format or content has been altered in any way—ER.]

Appendix One: Below are the five instances cited in the publicly released report on UNAMID commissioned by Ban Ki-moon after serious allegations of failures to report on atrocity crimes.  Ban Ki-moon in reaching his preposterous conclusion ("The Review Team did not find any evidence to support these allegations") evidently sees a distinction between "covering up" and deliberately "not reporting."  UN-speak at its worst…

[1]  Tawilla (North Darfur): UNAMID failed to share with DPKO a copy of the verification report on the attacks, rapes and looting at four villages in Tawilla by pro-Government forces. As a consequence and while the initial incident was brought to the attention of the Security Council, the verified findings were neither brought to the attention of Council members nor included in the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council. [all emphases have been added—ER]

[2]  Kushina (North Darfur): In reporting an aggressive overflight by two Government attack helicopters, UNAMID did not report to UNHQ the verbal threat by the Government to bomb/attack the convoy from the air or mention that it was carrying an arms expert from the Panel of Experts on the Sudan. Full disclosure of the incident only came to the knowledge of the Security Council through an incident report from the Panel of Experts.

[3]  Hashaba (North Darfur): There was reasonable evidence, including as reported internally within UNAMID, that members of the Border Guards were involved in this attack and went on to commit crimes and human rights abuses. This was not reported by UNAMID to UNHQ nor was there ever a public statement issued condemning the criminal action.

[4]  Sigili (North Darfur)UNAMID chose not to report to UNHQ the threat by PDF members to identify and kill Zaghawas travelling in a UNAMID convoy carrying two Zaghawa villagers. The patrol returned to base only after the PDF searched the UN vehicles and began aggressive questioning of Sudanese national staff of UNAMID. The Mission reported the patrol as being aborted due to time lost at a check point, making it unable to fulfill its mission.

[5]  Muhajeria Team Sit (South Darfur)There was considerable evidence and reason to believe that the fatal attack on this Team Site was carried out by pro-Government forces. A military investigation, the report of an integrated mission and the report by the Panel of Experts on the Sudan all confirm this. Although there were two attacks that night, only the second and fatal attack was ever reported publicly. DPKO described the attackers as “unidentified assailants” due to lack of certainty in the identity and affiliation of the assailants. The Government agreed to investigate, but after more than a year justice has still not been done.

Eric Reeves' book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012;; review commentary at:

Mortality in South Sudan…and Darfur: Why Is No One Counting?

By Eric Reeves A startling title from an Agence France-Presse dispatch tells us too much about attitudes and capacity in South Sudan: "50,000 and not counting; South Sudan's war dead" (15 November 2014):

November 16, 2014 (SSNA) -- Missing from the conflict is a clear death toll, as nobody—not even United Nations peacekeepers—has been keeping count. The International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict think-tank, estimates at least 50,000 people have already died but it admits the true figure could even be double that. It also says the failure to count the dead is a scandal—both as a dishonour to the victims and as something that has kept the country's suffering off the international radar. [The entire text appears below as Appendix One; all emphases in all quoted text has been addedER]

This "failure to count the dead" is indeed a scandal, and for precisely the reasons ICG indicates: this failure "dishonours the victims" and "has kept the country's suffering off the international radar." If in fact some 100,000 South Sudanese have died, we should know this—and it should make a difference in shaking the conscience of the international community. This is especially true given how tenuous the humanitarian situation remains, how close to famine the country remains, and how an upsurge in fighting this dry season could bring catastrophic mortality.

Mortality in Darfur

But Darfur represents an even more egregious failure to count the dead. And this failure ultimately bespeaks a kind of contempt, not merely a dishonoring of the dead. The last official UN figure on mortality in Darfur was offered in April 2008 by John Holmes, then UN Under-secretary for Humanitarian Affairs: 300,000 dead. But this was not the result of a mortality analysis, new data, or new studies; a BBC account of the press interview in which Holmes announced the figure is revealing:

Mr. Holmes gave the revised total to a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York. Sudan disputes the figure, saying 10,000 are now known to have died. The previous figure of 200,000 came from a 2006 study by the World Health Organisation. It included those killed in the fighting itself as well as people who died from disease and malnutrition because of the conflict. The 2006 figure "must be much higher now—perhaps as much as half again," Mr. Holmes said. He said the new total was an extrapolation from the previous figure and was not based on a new study. ("Darfur deaths 'could be 300,000," 23 April 2008)

Shortly after the WHO report was released in 2006, I asked a senior UN official deeply involved with preparation of the report when he expected another mortality study would be conducted. His response? "Never!" The hostility of the Khartoum regime to the WHO efforts of 2005 and 2006 had been so great, so threatening that it would be impossible to imagine conducting any further studies, he informed me. And so there have been none. As Holmes stresses in his crude estimate: "the new total was an extrapolation from the previous figure and was not based on a new study."


Darfuris in eastern Chad attempt crude calculations of number of dead, type of violence, location; they are doing more than the UN appears willing to do.

In other words, there has been no statistical or epidemiological effort by the UN to estimate the number of casualties in the Darfur conflict since 2006eight years ago. And the most "recent" estimate—constantly cited by news organizations of all sorts—is six years old and represents nothing more than a crude extrapolation: "The 2006 figure 'must be much higher now—perhaps as much as half again.'"

How many have died in the past six years? How accurate was the UN's 2006 estimate, which lacked a great deal of the data sought? Is Holmes' crude extrapolation—simply increasing the old figure by fifty percent because two years had passed since it was published—reasonable when we are speaking of hundreds of thousands of lives? What the International Crisis Group says about mortality in South Sudan is even more true of Darfur: "the failure to count the dead is a scandal—both as a dishonour to the victims and as something that has kept the country's [Darfur's] suffering off the international radar."

Driven by this sense of our "dishonoring" the victims of the Darfur genocide, I made repeated attempts through August 2010 to gather more data, more reports, more anecdotal evidence, and to devise a more adequate methodology in a situation that resisted all traditional epidemiological mortality techniques. This required at various points making assumptions—always in my view conservative, given what we knew at the time—collating all the data at hand and devising a straightforward methodology that could accommodate all these data. Thus while I was able to incorporate important data from the only other significant mortality study since 2008—that of the Center for Research on the Epidemiology (CRED) in Leuven, Belgium (January 2010). Just as importantly, I was able to incorporate extremely significant data collected and meticulously analyzed by specialists for "Darfurian Voices" in Eastern Chad, July 2010.

[Bibliographic information for the CRED study: Olivier Degomme and Debarati Guha-Sapir, “Patterns of mortality rates in Darfur conflict,” The Lancet, January 23, 2010 (pages 294-300)]

In the course of using data from the report by "Darfurian Voices," I was also able to offer a correction to CRED's gross misrepresentation of violent mortality in the first year of the genocide (particularly February 2003 to August 2003, this on the basis of a widely discredited U.S. State Department document that has been withdrawn from the department's website). While persuasive in its use of very considerable data about death from malnutrition and disease, CRED offers a preposterous figure of 1,000 – 4,500 deaths for the period February 2003 through August 2003. The simple truth is that CRED has no mortality data of any sort in its database for 2003—for any Darfur state—during this, the most violent year of the genocide to date. Other critical weaknesses are outlined in my August 2010 mortality study, a key section of which appears below as Appendix Two). Lacking data for 2003, the authors play fast and loose with their timeline and whether 2003 appears in the language of the study (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't). They wanted the period covered to run from 2003 – 2008; but without data for 2003, this is nonsense.

[When I questioned author Guha-Sapir at a conference on Darfur (Rockefeller Institute, Bellagio, April 2012), she was unable to explain the critical dating problems I pointed out.]

My own study was the culmination of a dozen previous efforts addressing the question of human mortality in Darfur and eastern Chad (omitted entirely by the CRED study). In my view, based on all extant research and data, the number of dead in August 2010 was very approximately 500,000 (as likely to be higher as lower). I have been unable to find any but anecdotal reporting subsequently, and nothing that would allow me to update the August 2010 finding in a significant way. We do know, however, from many reports by Radio Dabanga and Sudan Tribune, that casualties of war have been enormous, not only from violence—military assaults, murder, continuing displacement, and brutal rapes that are too often fatal, especially for younger girls—but as in the early years of the genocide, from mortality that is the consequence of that violence and violent displacement, including malnutrition, dehydration, and disease (from the very beginning of the Darfur conflict, displacement and violence have correlated extremely highly).

Where is the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations?

Over the past four years tens of thousands of Darfuris have died as a consequence of what has become "genocide by attrition." But we have no idea about how many tens of thousands have died. For the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has proved itself hopelessly inadequate in reporting on rape, mortality, aerial bombardment of civilian targets, and many others forms of violence that have made Darfur today more insecure than at any time since the early yeas of the violence that began over a decade ago. And while the African Union, particularly the leaders of UNAMID and the African Union Peace and Security Council, is most culpable on the ground, it is the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations that must bear primary responsibility in allowing the international community to view UNAMID as somehow a functioning peacekeeping force. It is not—and Hervé Ladsous, head of UN DPKO, deserves a great deal of the blame for not frankly acknowledging the fact. He has not made clear enough, to either the Secretariat or the Security Council, the scale of UNAMID's failures, even as UNAMID will go down in UN peacekeeping history as the largest, most expensive, and least effective operation to date.

Ladsous is of course aware of the failures that have been regularly reported. He is aware that the recent UN report on UNAMID's failings—prompted by the shocking disclosures of reporting failures by former UNAMID spokeswoman Aicha Elbasri—is a whitewash, that finds no serious culpability in the reporting by UNAMID. And Ladsous is also aware that the whitewash was necessary to protect him and UN DPKO generally, since UNAMID is a "hybrid" UN and AU effort, with personnel wearing the symbolic UN blue helmets and all vehicles and aircraft marked "UN."

The senior UN official who told me years ago that the UN would not feel safe conducting further studies of mortality in Darfur has certainly been vindicated by the performance of UNAMID, which cannot protect itself, let alone the people of Darfur who live in an environment of terrifying insecurity—or even report honestly, as the recent account of the Tabit rapes reveals. The UNAMID press release [November 10] declares, evidently without shame or hesitation:

None of those interviewed confirmed that any incident of rape took place in Tabit on the day of that media report. The team neither found any evidence nor received any information regarding the media allegations during the period in question. [Incredibly, no mention is made in the press release of the extraordinarily heavy military and security presence during the UNAMID investigation, or the obvious intimidation that had preceded the investigators' arrival a week after they first sought entry—or the fact that this was ample time in which to sanitize the crime scene and ensure that all necessary intimidation had occurred—ER]

But why is UNAMID allowed to continue in its present disastrous ways? Here the answer lies in New York, not el-Fasher. UN DPKO simply refuses to speak honestly about the failings of the mission, its immensely consequential lack of reporting, and its refusal to intervene to protect civilians—and the vanishingly small likelihood that things will improve. The solution offered by Ladsous in late April 2012 was to declare that UNAMID could be drawn down because security in Darfur had improvedhe made this claim even as violence was sharply escalating, and has continued to do so. His was apparently a desperately expedient and disingenuous attempt to reduce the cost of UNAMID to UN DPKO, tacit recognition of the mission's failing. His assessment of "conditions on the ground" (Ladsous' phrase) could not possibly have been so ill-informed. A year later Ladsous again simply lied again, declaring that UNAMID "has the inherent robustness to deal with the situation" in Darfur" (Agence France-Presse [Khartoum], July 2013). Everything we knew then and now about UNAMID contradicts this claim, and yet because it is made by the head of UN Peacekeeping Operations it stands unchallenged in the Security Council and the Secretariat. This is appalling deception and makes real improvement in the security conditions in Darfur impossible.

If UNAMID won't report or speak honestly, if UN DPKO is more interested in reducing costs and deflecting blame, where does that leave us in addressing the question of mortality in Darfur?   Given the gross and mutually self-serving expediency of UNAMID and UN DPKO, it is unlikely that the world will see any time soon—if ever—the counting of the hundreds of thousands of Darfuris "dishonored" in their deaths.

APPENDIX ONE: 50,000 and not counting: South Sudan's war dead

(Agence France-Presse [Nairobi] 15 November 2014)

When gunfire shattered the silence of a December evening last year in South Sudan's capital Juba, initial reports pointed to several dozen rival soldiers dead. In the following days, gunfire and explosions continued to shake the city, as troops loyal to President Salva Kiir fought it out with those allied to his ousted deputy, Riek Machar, and terrified residents cowered in their homes and independent observers kept indoors under curfew.  Witnesses reported soldiers going door-to-door, as members of Kiir's Dinka tribe hunted down ethnic Nuer, the people of Machar. At night, bodies were discreetly trucked out of the city and burned or buried, witnesses and human rights groups say.

"We estimate as many as 5,000 people died in Juba during that first week alone. After that, it's been the same kind of thing over and over again in other towns. In some places, people have been there to count, in others, not at all," said one Western aid worker, who asked that his name nor that of his organization be published due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Eleven months on and South Sudan is still locked in civil war, with the killings in Juba having set off a cycle of retaliatory killings across large swathes of the country. Both Kiir's forces and rebels loyal to Machar have been accused of widespread atrocities — massacres, gang rapes and child soldier recruitment—that have seen the country teeter on the brink of genocide. But missing from the conflict is a clear death toll, as nobody—not even United Nations peacekeepers—has been keeping count.

The International Crisis Group (ICG), a conflict think-tank, estimates at least 50,000 people have already died but it admits the true figure could even be double that. It also says the failure to count the dead is a scandal — both as a dishonour to the victims and as something that has kept the country's suffering off the international radar. 

"It's shocking that in 2014, in a country with one of the largest UN peacekeeping missions in the world, tens of thousands of people can be killed and no one can even begin to confirm the death toll," ICG researcher Casie Copeland told AFP.  "Surely more can be done to understand whether the figure is closer to 50,000 or 1,00,000?"  Instead, she argues, the South Sudanese are victims of a process of "appalling dehumanization"—the result being a lack of "concerted action to end the war."

"Counting the dead goes beyond understanding the scale of this devastating war, it honours those who have been lost and is a minimum form of respect to the tens of thousands of South Sudanese who have been killed." Akshaya Kumar of the Enough Project, a genocide prevention campaign group, stressed the need to create accountability with clear numbers in order to "counter the widespread belief that combatants have immunity in South Sudan."  "It's an imperfect science but in other countries, such as Syria, the UN has done a much better job of tracking the numbers of civilians killed than in South Sudan," added Skye Wheeler from Human Rights Watch.

"Alongside more vigorous reporting on human rights abuses, public estimates would have shed light on the violence and the extent of abuse, and helped put pressure on both sides to end abusive tactics." The reality in South Sudan, however, has been the polar opposite: without any apparent fear of the consequences, armed groups have shot and gang raped patients in their hospital beds, massacred civilians in churches, machine-gunned fleeing civilians in swamps — leaving their bodies to rot, be carried away by the Nile river or be consumed by its crocodiles.

Tens of thousands more are feared to have died from hunger and disease in isolated villages, swamps and bush beyond the reach of aid agencies.  The UN peacekeeping mission to South Sudan, UNMISS, says they are unable to provide "a reasonably precise estimate of the casualty toll", saying only that "thousands" have been killed.  The 14,000-strong peacekeeping mission said in a statement that it "doesn't have a presence in every single county in South Sudan, so it is impossible to provide a comprehensive and independently verifiable number."

The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs also admits it has "unfortunately ... not been collecting information on the number of deaths since the crisis broke out" — although it does track those still alive, notably the 3.8 million people in need of aid and the 1.91 million people displaced. "If the UN is able to estimate with such precision the number of displaced, it is inexplicable that they cannot similarly monitor those killed," the ICG's Copeland said.

As the body counters opt out of South Sudan's civil war, a group of South Sudanese civil society activists are trying to step in — launching the "Naming Those We Lost" project to try and name the dead. But they have a long way to go — having so far confirmed around a thousand names.  "It's a vital step to recognizing the collective loss," said project organizer Anyieth D'Awol. "The lack of justice, accountability and acknowledgement of losses suffered by people has fuelled the current conflict."


A response to the findings of CRED researchers Olivier Degomme and Debarati Guha-Sapir, “Patterns of mortality rates in Darfur conflict,” The Lancet, January 23, 2010 (pages 294-300,

From: QUANTIFYING GENOCIDE: Darfur Mortality Update, 6 August 2010 |

Very usefully, many of…smaller-scale mortality reports have been extracted, collected, and analyzed by Olivier Degomme and Debarati Guha-Sapir… Their account draws in particular on the “Complex Emergency Database” ( ) of the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED). While excluding from its estimates of violent mortality any consideration of the [Coalition for International Justice study commissioned by the US State Department, August – September 2004] their study offers important conclusions about deaths from disease and malnutrition that are likely to be approximately right, though excluding mortality in eastern Chad as well as mortality from the period February 2003 to “early 2004″ (see below for discussion of this critical lacuna).

This highly technical paper, statistically of enormous potential richness, offers some very clear conclusions: the authors “estimate the excess number of deaths in Darfur to be 298,271 (95% Confidence Interval, 178,258 - 461,520 [i.e., the high-end mortality figure that must be included to achieve their 95% confidence interval—ER, 16 November 2014] in the time period “from early 2004 to the end of 2008″ (N.B. the terminus a quo and the terminus ad quem). Of these approximately 300,000 excess deaths, they argue that “more than 80% of the excess deaths were not as a result of the violence” but from “diseases such as diarrhoea,” at least on the basis of the numerous studies archived at CRED’s “Complex Emergency Database.” This yields a figure of roughly 240,000 deaths from disease (which presumably includes the effects of malnutrition, which has in various times and places in Darfur been extremely high), and a corresponding figure of roughly 60,000 deaths from violence in the period “from early 2004 to the end of 2008."

Unfortunately, Degomme and Guha-Sapir seem incapable of recognizing the direct connection between deaths from disease and malnutrition and the antecedent violence that was responsible for these deaths—this is so even as they speak abstractly of “excess deaths.” Indeed, they seem to have only a very superficial knowledge of Darfur and the nature of the conflict, as well as key date markers. But of course the deaths they speak of are “excessive” because of the genocidal violence that created the conditions in which people died of malnutrition and disease. And there is nothing abstract about this brutal violence. For the moment, however, we may ignore this peculiar myopia.

In the course of their study, the authors explain their limitations. They have not included mortality in Chad (again, 57,250 people killed according to data from “Darfurian Voices,” in addition to victims of disease and malnutrition). They have not included mortality from December 2008 to the present. But even more tellingly they confess that, “Another constraint was that we could not identify any survey that included the first few months of the conflict before the deterioration in September, 2003.” [Their suggestion that the conflict "deteriorated" in September 2003 seriously misrepresents the escalation of violence following the successful raid on el-Fasher air base in April 2003, the precipitating event in launching the Janjaweed militia forces in a campaign of wholesale civilian destruction, targeting non-Arab or African villages—ER, 16 November 2014]

In fact, there are no mortality studies at all for Darfur for the year 2003 in CRED’s “Complex Emergency Database”: entering this year and any of the three Darfur states into the site’s search engine yields only the message, “No entries found, please try broaden your search parameters.” This is why Degomme and Guha-Sapir’s narrative indicates that the period actually represented by their conclusions is January or February 2004 to December 2008, not February 2003, when conflict actually begins in earnest: “298,271 (95% Confidence Interval, 178,258 - 461,520)” excess deaths in the time period “from early 2004 to the end of 2008.” (Tellingly, the authors do not specify precisely what is meant by “early 2004.”)

This delimitation of time period is highly significant. In excluding the period from February 2003 to “early 2004″—an approximately yearlong period of extraordinary violent mortality, as well as highly significant mortality from other causes—the authors leave out an essential part of the global mortality picture with almost no acknowledgement. Of the half-year period from February 2003 to August 2003 (“phase 1 in their Panel 1) they say only: “not included in any retrospective survey, and mortality data should therefore be estimated by other techniques.”

The truth is that they have not identified any Darfur mortality study for any months in 2003. Even so, Degomme and Guha-Sapir push on to offer what is a transparently untenable figure from the US State Department for this critically omitted period of time (“February [2003] to August 2003″): “between 1,000 4,500 deaths” (from all causes).

In fact, this figure is an erroneous citation by the authors: the State Department “fact sheet” (“Sudan: Death Toll in Darfur,” March 25, 2005)—as originally promulgated on the State Department website—found that “4,100 - 8,800 excess deaths are estimated to have occurred primarily in North and West Darfur [during the period March September 2003].” Notably, though unsurprisingly, Degomme and Guha-Sapir do not cite the URL for this State Department estimate; rather they cite the tendentious U.S. Government Accounting Office report on mortality studies that cites this four-page “fact sheet.” The inability to cite the URL for the document in question derives from the fact that the State Department removed this statistical travesty from its website ( is now a dead link). But at the time of its initial distribution I analyzed in detail ( the “fact sheet’s” numerous methodological problems, its highly consequential factual errors, the lack of citation or statistical analysis, and a consistent disingenuousness (I accessed the document from the State Department website on April 23, 2005 at the now defunct URL).

Critically for present purposes, Degomme and Guha-Sapir leave ambiguous whether there are relevant mortality studies or considerations for the period between September 2003 and January 2004, this despite their subsequent parceling out of various “phases of the Darfur conflict,” including “September 2003 to March 2004" (“phase 2″ of Panel 1—again, N.B. the terminus ad quem for this “phase”). In their statistical analysis for this period they indicate “excess deaths” of “45,137 (95% Confidence Interval, 27,320 to 73,380).” But it remains unclear what data were used for September 2003 through the end of December 2003: again, there is nothing in CRED’s “Complex Emergency Database.” Nor is it clear what data was used to calculate violent mortality for the period January 2004 to their “March 2004″ endpoint for “phase 2…”

Let us be clear about the significance of the figure “1,000 4,500″ deaths—from all causes—in the period February 2003 through August 2003 (by which time Khartoum had substantially deployed its Janjaweed militias, as well as its regular military forces, in genocidal destruction). It is simply preposterous and has no justification in fact or data. Degomme and Guha-Sapir conclude that total excess mortality in Darfur is 298,271 “from early 2004 to the end of 2008.” But by a tawdry statistical sleight-of-hand, this time-frame is disingenuously expanded by almost a year to become “about 300,00″ “between March 2003 and December 2008.” A year that includes some of the greatest violent mortality in the Darfur genocide (February 2003 to “early 2004) is brought within their final estimate and time-frame on the basis of a completely vitiated State Department “fact sheet,” which purportedly supports an estimate of “between 1,000 - 4,500 deaths” in this time period.

Eric Reeves' book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 - 2012;; review commentary at:

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