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Brooklyn, New York (VBS.TV) -- Before I went to Sudan, I didn't know much about the conflict in Darfur beyond everyone saying, "It's the worst genocide of our time" and watching footage on CNN of the Janjaweed militia wiping out whole villages. Really, we only decided to go there because one of our favorite photographers had been chatting with an old friend of his who is now a UN press officer in Khartoum. She offered to pull some strings and get us visas and organize flights around the country, so we said, "F*** it" and got on a plane.
On the flight over, I went through this huge binder of research about the situation. It really messed me up. The scale of the devastation was difficult to comprehend:
There have been 300,000 people killed and at least 2 million displaced from their homes in Darfur since fighting broke out in 2003. This comes right on the heels of another civil war in the south of Sudan that killed more than 2 million people and displaced a further 4 million over the course of the conflict.
As the plane landed in Khartoum, I had the biggest "Ummmm, what the f*** am I doing here?" moment of my life. From the minute we got off the plane to the minute we flew out again, I was s***-scared. And as it turned out, I was totally right to be.
I never understood the motivation of the conflict until I went there. Why are they killing all these people, cutting their arms off and throwing them in the wells? Well, obviously that's a terror tactic, but it also makes the villages and towns where they do it unlivable afterward. Why ruin the land that you're raiding? It didn't seem to be about one group claiming rights to territory; they're all Muslim, so it isn't about religion or Arabs killing blacks, like it's being portrayed in the media. What is it for?
Well, as little as 30 years ago, Sudan was one of the poorest nations in Africa. It experienced a huge famine in the early 1980s, just like Ethiopia. Then they found oil in the south, so they freaked out and sent all these paramilitary groups similar to the Janjaweed down there and kicked all the people off the land. These groups were not officially affiliated with the government, so the government could safely say, "It's got nothing to do with us," but they were all secretly government-sanctioned. The civil war that this led to went on for nearly 20 years.
They finally enacted a peace agreement to unite north and south Sudan, and the UN went to Sudan especially to monitor that agreement. But then -- bang! -- same thing happened again, elsewhere in the country. The Janjaweed started killing people in Darfur, and the government was saying "It's not us doing it" and doing very little to stop them.
And that's the interesting thing. In fact, we could point our finger at America for the early days of it, because Chevron sank the first well in southern Sudan. When we went down south in Sudan and saw the wells, we found out that it's all Chinese companies there now.
China doesn't have any of America's problems of bad press in the Middle East or Africa, or people back home saying they shouldn't buy conflict diamonds or whatever. China is in very good favor in those parts of the world. In 2009, China gave $10 billion in aid to African countries. So Africans are like, "We love China." In turn, China comes in and says, "We'll take your oil and your gold. We don't give a s*** about your conflicts or who hates who here."
The work camps are all completely enclosed and staffed by Chinese and Malaysians. All the money that Sudan gets from these wells goes to the north to Khartoum. The south of Sudan is supposed to get 2 percent, but they have no auditing there, so it's like, "Two percent of how much?" It's crazy, you're in the poorest areas in the world, and you're constantly in the shadow of rigs that are pumping out oil for China. Everyone likes to say that America is addicted to oil, but at this point it's the entire world.