Khartoum — Early in 2017 war broke out between the Darfuri tribes of Maalia and Rizaigat in continuation of a belligerency that had been raging on between the two groups for over three years. In that conflict heavy weapons were used to the surprise of some observers who came to the conclusion that some of the weapons in the hands of tribesmen nearly match those in government hands, a matter that could sure aggravate tribal conflicts. The availability of weapons in the hands of the tribes and the ability of tribesmen to use them had made many tribes think that they are stronger than the state.
At an early stage the government at its highest levels had been announcing that the year 2017 would see the end of armed tribal conflicts in Darfur.
In an estimate, concerned authorities had put the number of fatalities between these two tribes at 1000. This figure may indicate the negative impact of tribal conflicts in a region still trying to recover from over thirteen years of civil war. Some observers go further to conclude that the negative impact of such tribal conflicts may supersede that of the war between government forces and the armed rebel groups. For sure the severity of tribal conflicts is a natural outcome of the tribes' possession of firearms. And the only way out of this armed tribal feuding is for the government to have monopoly over the instruments of violence in the society.
Last week a group of Rezaigat citizens staged a sit in at the doorstep of the Federal Ministry of Justice in protest of the detention of some of their tribal chiefs who, together with a similar group of Maalia tribe leaders, were sent to the prison of the Red Sea City of Port-Sudan in the East. The Government had justified the measure as a move to pre-empt new confrontations between the two ethnic groups in East Darfur State.
In al-Fashir city another scene was being drawn with its hero this time the country Vice President Hasabu Mohamed Abdelrahman who went there to put into force a new government policy to eliminate sources of tribal conflicts.
The Vice President said his Government would not permit the existence of firearms outside the government fold and that the main objective of his being in al-Fashir was to oversee the collection of weapons from the hands of civilians. The government will collect all firearms from citizens and will confine the possession of firearms to the regular forces, he said.
Abdelrahman further declared a government crackdown on unlicensed vehicles that roam Darfur. Unlicensed vehicles are largely blamed for acts of lawlessness in that region.
Unlicensed vehicles will be treated likewise and any unlicensed vehicle that crosses the border will be confiscated on the spot, he said.
In the same connection, West Darfur State Governor Fadlalmawla al-Haja has pledged to carry out the Presidential directives and will not permit the existence of any firearms outside the government authority. Firearms in the hands of civilians is a threat to the future of peace in the country and any move towards peace should necessarily give monopoly of weapons to the state, he said.
Now the crucial question: Can the Government implement its plan for disarming civilians?
Head Section of Political Science at al-Neelain University, Dr. Awad Ahmad Suleiman, considered the plan to disarm civilians a step in the right direction, but the factors for its success are not available for the Government at the moment.
In this respect Dr. Suleiman raises the question: Are all the sources of firearms situated within the Darfur region?
He further goes on to note that the politicizing of tribalism had started at an early stage as every political organization had used to look for popular support outside official echelons.
But the matter should not stop at this search for political support. One of the sources of firearms was the state itself. The state, in its search for the elimination of rebel movements, had supplied some groups with weapons. Some observers say this phenomenon had started before the advent of this government. In this they indicate a role for the National Umma Party that has a historical legacy in Darfur. The observers say the Party had, one way or another, provided some groups in Darfur with weapons, he said.
Dr. Suleiman, however, stated that the Government endeavors to collect weapons may succeed given the drop in confrontations between the National Army and the rebel groups. The decline of the activity of the rebel groups may discourage the acquisition of firearms outside the authority of official government bodies, he said.
Some other observers rule out the success of the government in arms collection for a number of factors:
Top of these factors is that Darfur is still in a state of war and the feeling of tranquility is not that high among the citizens. This matter prompts the individual to keep his weapon under the feeling that your weapon is your safety and a guarantee of your survival.
In addition, the possession of firearms is part of the public culture in Darfur. The value of the individual is determined by the weapon he possesses.
The emergence of armed robbery in the region had also increased the tendency to obtain firearms.
The state of political instability in Darfur's neighboring countries, coupled with the recent armed strife in Libya, has turned the region into a lucrative market for firearms. Many groups in Darfur were forced by the bad security situation to purchase weapons. It is very common in Darfur to hear a member of these groups say: without a weapon you equal nothing.
Official spokesman of the opposition Sudanese Congress Party Mohamed al-Hassan Arabi belittles the government strategy to collect firearms from citizens in Darfur. In its present form, this strategy would not be feasible because there is a co-relation between the dissemination of firearms and the existence of semi-official institutions. These institutions have acquired weapons and in many cases they become part of any conflict in a society where tribal components are superior, he said.
Arabi is of the view that the best way for eliminating bloodletting in the region is to try to find solutions for these tribal components prior to going ahead with arms collection.
Arabi concludes that the ideal solution for the firearms problem is to reinstate the authority of state institutions and to raise the feeling of peace among the citizens of Darfur.