War-weary Darfuris dance to rare music beat

More used to the sound of gunfire, the residents of Darfur’s main town el-Fasher tapped their feet to a rare beat as musicians from all over Sudan performed in a festival for reconciliation.

For 10 days, puppet shows for children, street theatre and concerts provided welcome distraction for Darfuris who for more than three-and-a-half years have been terrorised by rebels, the government and militias fighting a bitter conflict in Sudan’s west.

The festival, which took place in North and South Darfur, was aimed at informing the population about a peace deal signed in May between one rebel faction and the government.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and 2,5-million forced from their homes during a campaign of rape, murder and pillage which the United States has labelled genocide.

Just one rebel faction has signed the peace deal brokered by the African Union (AU) and thousands of Darfuris have demonstrated against it, saying it does not give them enough compensation or political representation.

The festival was organised by a British consultancy hired to help the struggling AU peacekeeping force which is trying to preserve what is left of a tattered ceasefire.

About 10 000 people packed el-Fasher’s stadium for Tuesday night’s concert, the festival’s finale, cheering, dancing and lighting fireworks as artists urged them on.

“This is the biggest concert we’ve seen since the beginning of the war,” said 27-year-old Ahmed Abdallah Ahmed.

But the festival also highlighted just how tense the region is. It was unable to reach some camps for the displaced in the north.

Since the peace deal, the camps have become a hotbed of unrest and the AU has been attacked in larger camps by war victims frustrated at its failure to protect them from continuing violence.

“It can actually be quite dangerous to go into these camps and try to discuss the issues because they have been so set against it,” said Briton Simon Haselock, who organised the festival for the AU.

The festival took place under the name “Good health for Darfur” to avoid any association with the AU, which some of the Sudanese organisers said may deter people from attending.

In nearby Abu Shouk camp, the governor of North Darfur was stoned and forced to beat a hasty retreat during the Muslim holiday of Eid. When he attended the concert in town, he was booed out of the stadium.

Puppeteers for peace

The puppet shows for children have dramatised basic principles of the Darfur peace accord—power and wealth-sharing, development and cooperation and dialogue.

But there was no specific mention of the AU or the peace deal.
Instead, metaphors for peace and cooperation were used to avoid heightening tensions.

“There is some sensitivity about these subjects,” said puppeteer Ahmed Bashir Ibrahim who came from Khartoum. He is training local Darfuris to make puppets and act out shows.

Mostly non-Arab tribes took up arms in 2003 accusing the central government of neglecting remote Darfur. Khartoum armed mainly Arab militias to quell the revolt, which has exacerbated tribal divisions.

But while the youth of el-Fasher mixed regardless of tribe to enjoy the festival, the subtle message of peace seemed to have escaped some of those attending Tuesday night’s concert.

“This is for Eid celebrations, paid for by the government of course,” said Mediha Abdallah (19) echoing the sentiments of many. ‒ Reuters

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