Darfur Conflict:A Case in point

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Chapter
5
Darfur Conflict: A Case in point
The Darfur Conflict in Sudan, which begun in 2003 is presented as an example of the how the humanenvironment relationship may be seen from a geographical perspective. While the said conflict has
varied root causes, the article presents the impact of geographical forces on the ongoing strife.
T
he conflict and resulting human tragedy that have unfolded in Darfur since 2003 have
grabbed international headlines. As the UN Security Council hammered out a deal to
get an international peacekeeping force deployed there, discussions about how to
understand the causes of the conflict intensified.
When Darfur first made headlines, the most common way of explaining the context
was in terms of ethnic differences between Arabs and Africans. More recently, some have
argued – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon among them – that ‘the Darfur conflict began as
an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.
No conflict ever has a single cause. In the case of Sudan, the escalation of violence has
been attributed to such factors as: historical grievances; local perceptions of race; demands for
a fair distribution of power between different groups; the unfair distribution of economic
resources and benefits; disputes over access to and control of increasingly scarce land,
livestock and water between pastoralists and agriculturalists; small arms proliferation and the
militarization of youth; and weak state institutions.
Arab-African differences are not as clear cut as some commentators first thought.
Political and military alliances frequently shift between ethnic groups, depending on pragmatic
considerations. The difference between herders and farmers is also variable. According to the
UN Environment Programme, the rural livelihood structures in Sudan are complex and vary
from area to area. In many cases, farmers and herders are not separable as some tribes practice
both herding and crop cultivation.
The impact of climate change, in particular the 20-year Sahelian drought, played a
major role in intensifying grievances in Sudan because it meant there was less land for both
farming and herding.
These issues played out against a background of economic and political
marginalization, as well as violence. The number of violent conflicts attributable to traditional
disputes over the use of land escalated dramatically from the 1970s on. In the mid-1980s,
when the north-south Sudanese civil war broke out again after a 10-year hiatus, the
government used Arab tribal militias as a means of keeping the southern rebels at bay in
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Darfur. As a result, ethnic identity started to become more politicized, feeding the escalation
of conflicts over land issues with much more destructive fighting than in former times. In 2003
two Darfurian armed groups attacked military installations; the response of local government
backed militias was a further escalation with a campaign of ethnic cleansing, causing over
200,000 deaths and the displacement of over two million.
Thus climate change alone does not explain either the outbreak or the extent of the
violence in Darfur. The other 16 countries in the Sahelian belt have felt the impact of global
warming, including Mali and Chad, but only Sudan has experienced such devastating conflict.
Darfur is, in fact, an exemplary case showing how the physical consequences of climate
change interact with other factors to trigger violent conflict.
The conflict itself is taking a further toll of already scarce resources. Militias in Darfur
are known for the intentional destruction of villages and forests. The loss of trees in these
campaigns reduces the amount of shelter available for livestock and the amount of fuel wood
for local communities. This threatens their livelihoods and results in their displacement, while
simultaneously worsening the impact of desertification, which makes further conflict over land
access more likely.
The massive scale of displacement in Darfur also has a serious impact on the
environment. Camps for displaced people mean trees being felled for firewood. The
consumption is greater in the many camps where manufacturing bricks is being taken up as a
means for people to earn a living, encouraged by development organizations such as DFID.
These camps can require up to 200 trees per day for brick-making. Over the weeks and
months, combined with the wood needed for domestic use, this adds up to a rate of
deforestation that renders the camps unsustainable.
Deforestation already extends as far as 18 kilometers from some camps, as people go
further and further afield to find wood. Most of those who go to gather wood in this way are
women and children, and this task makes them extremely vulnerable to continuing violence
from the militia groups. The incidence of rape has risen as an inevitable result. As the wood
runs out, the camps eventually have to move. This is not only hugely disruptive to the
hundreds of thousands of camp inhabitants, but it is also detrimental to Darfur’s existing
problems of drought, desertification and disputes over land-use, which were contributory
factors to the conflict from the outset.
Cultural Geography (Jordan and Rowntree, 1990 with modifications)
Cultural Geography is the study of spatial variations among cultural groups and the
spatial functioning of society. It focuses on describing and analyzing the ways language,
religion, economy, government, and other cultural phenomena vary or remain constant from
one place to another and on explaining how humans function spatially. Cultural geography is,
at heart, a celebration of human diversity.
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Geographers seek to learn how and
why cultures differ or are similar,
from one place to another. Often
those similarities have visual
expression. In what ways are these
two structures—one a Methodist
Church and the other a Seventh
Day Adventist Tabernacle—alike
and different?
The Methodist Church
Jireh Tabernacle Seventh Day Adventist
Source: http://www.anguilla-beaches.com/anguillaphotos-churches.html
Themes in Cultural Geography
1. Culture Region. Region is the word and concept used by geographers to mean a grouping
of like places or the functional union of places to form a spatial unit.
Formal Culture Region—defined as uniform area inhabited by people who have one or more
cultural traits in common. Geographers find the culture region useful for grouping people with
similar cultural traits. It is a tool geographers can use to describe spatial differences in culture.
For example, a Waray-language culture region can be drawn on a map of Philippine
languages, and it would include the area where Waray is spoken. This example represents the
concept of formal region in its simplest level. It is based on a single cultural trait. Commonly,
culture regions depend on multiple related traits.
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In this market in
rural Vietnam,
various facets of
multi trait formal
region are apparent.
Agricultural
products, marketing
and clothing all
contribute to the
region’s identity.
Source: http://www.ifad.org/photo/images/10196_O34s.jpg
It should be noted that the formal culture region is the geographer’s somewhat arbitrary
creations. No two cultural traits have the same distribution and the territorial extent of a
culture region depends on what defining traits are used. For example, Ilokanos and Tagalogs
differ in language. On the basis of language, these two would form separate culture regions.
However, Ilokanos and Tagalogs share many other cultural traits in common, partly because of
similar historical experience (say, both were colonized by the Spaniards for a span of 300
years). Both generally have a common taste of fashion, pop songs, and religion.
Functional Culture Region—The hallmark of formal type is cultural homogeneity, and formal
region is abstract rather than concrete. By contrast, the functional culture region is generally
not culturally homogenous. Instead, it is an area that has been organized to function politically,
socially, or economically. A city, an independent state, a church diocese or parish, a trade area
are all examples of functional regions. Functional regions have nodes, or central points where
the functions are coordinated and directed. Examples of such nodes are city halls, national
capitals, precinct voting places, parish churches, factories, farmsteads, and banks. In this
sense, functional regions also possess a core/periphery configuration, in common with formal
groups.
Some functional culture regions have definite boundaries but it is best to imagine these
borders in terms of increasing or diminishing flows of energy out of or into nodes. On a map,
this motion might be represented by directional arrows rather than boundary lines—as a
network, not a territory. A good example is daily newspaper’s trade. The node for the paper
would be a plant where it is produced. Every morning, trucks move out of the plant to
distribute the paper throughout the city. The newspaper may have sales outside the city
towards rural areas and nearby towns. There, its sales area overlaps the territories of
competing newspapers published in other cities. It would be futile to try to define borders for
such a process. How would you draw a sales area boundary for The Philippine Daily Inquirer?
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Vernacular or Perceptual Region—perceived to exist by its inhabitants, as evidenced by the
widespread acceptance and use of a regional name. Some vernacular regions are based
physical environmental features, while others find their basis in economic, political, historical,
or promotional aspects. Vernacular regions like most culture regions, generally lack sharp
borders, and the inhabitants of any given area may claim residence in more than one such
region. These regions are often created by publicity campaigns, and their use in the
communications media has a lot to do with acceptance by the local population.
2. Cultural Diffusion. This is the spatial spread of learned ideas, innovations, and attitudes.
Any culture is the product of almost countless innovations that spread from their points of
origin to cover a wider area. Some of these innovations occurred thousand of years ago, others
very recently. Some spread widely while others remained confined to their area of origin.
Expansion Diffusion—Ideas spread throughout a population, from area to area, in a
snowballing process, so that the total number of knowers and the area of occurrence become
ever greater.
Relocation Diffusion—Occurs when individuals or groups with a particular idea move bodily
from one location to another, thereby spreading the innovation to their new homeland.
Each symbol is one person or place
Original Knower
Knower
Contagious expansion diffusion
Very important Person
Non-Knower
Path of diffusion
Prospective place of migration
Hierarchical expansion diffusion
Before migration
After migration
Relocation diffusion
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Types of cultural diffusion are
presented here. These
diagrams are merely
suggestive; in reality, spatial
distribution is far more
complex. In hierarchical
diffusion, different scales can
be used, so that, for example,
a “very important person”
could be replaced by “large
city”.
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Expansion diffusion can be further divided into subtypes called hierarchical and
contagious diffusion. In hierarchical diffusion, ideas leapfrog from one important person to
another or from one urban center to another, temporarily bypassing other persons or rural
territory. By contrast, contagious diffusion involves the general spread of ideas, without regard
to hierarchies, in a manner of a contagious disease. Sometimes a specific trait is rejected, but
the underlying idea is accepted. This is known as stimulus diffusion.
3. Cultural Ecology. Cultural geographers look on people and nature as interacting. Each
human group and the way of life it has developed occupy a piece of the physical earth.
Cultures interact wit the environment, and is necessary for the cultural geographer to study this
interaction in order to understand spatial variations in culture. This study is called cultural
ecology. “Ecology” here is used to refer to the two-way relationship between an organism and
its physical environment. A “physical environment” is understood to include climate, terrain,
soil, natural vegetation, wildlife, and other aspects of the physical surroundings. Another
frequently used word is “ecosystem”. By this, we seek to describe the functioning ecological
system in which biological and cultural Homo sapiens live and interact with the physical
environment. In sum, we define cultural ecology as the study of (1) environmental influence
on culture, and (2) the impact of people, acting through their culture, on the ecosystem.
“Phasing out the human race will solve
every problem on earth, social and
environmental.”—Dave Forman,
Founder of Earth First!
“If I were reincarnated, I would wish to
be returned to Earth as a killer virus to
lower human population levels”. —
Prince Phillip, World Wildlife Fund
[Source: Cartoon and quotes from, Alan
Caruba, http://www.canadafreepress.com/
index.php/article/28875
Through the years, cultural geographers developed various perspectives on the spatial
interaction between humans and the land. In a broad sense, schools of thoughts have
developed:
Environmental determinism—Physical environment, especially the climate and terrain, is the
active force in shaping cultures—that humankind was essentially a passive product of the
physical surroundings. Hence, environmental determinists view cultural ecology as a “oneway street”. Determinists believe that peoples of the mountains were predestined by the
rugged terrain to be simple, backward, conservative, unimaginative, and freedom loving.
Temperate climates produced inventiveness, industriousness, and democracy, whereas
coastlands produced great navigators and fishermen.
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Possibilism—Since the 1930’s, environmental determinism has fallen from favor among
cultural geographers. Possibilism has taken its place. Possibilists do not ignore the influence of
the physical environment, and they realize that the imprint of nature shows in many cultures.
However, possibilists stress that cultural heritage is at least as important as the physical
environment in affecting human behavior. Possibilists argue that people are the primary
architects of their culture, not the environment. For them, any physical environment offers a
number of possible ways for a culture to develop.. How people use and inhabit an area
depends on the choices they make among the possibilities offered by the environment. Most
possibilists feel that the higher the tehnological level of a culture, the greater the number of
possibilities and the weaker the influences of the environment.
Environmental perception—Each person and cultural group has its own mental images of the
physical environment. To describe such mental images, cultural geographers use the term
environmental perception. Environmental perceptionists declare that the choices people make
will depend more on what they perceive the environment to be than on the actual character of
the land. The perceptionist maintains that people cannot perceive their environment with exact
accuracy and that decisions are therefore based on distortions of reality. To understand why a
cultural group developed as it did in its physical environment, geographers must know not
only what the environment is like, but also what the members of the culture think it is like. An
excellent example is geomancy, as East Asian world view and art. Geomancy, called fengshui in Chinese, is a traditional system of land-use planning dictating that certain environment
settings deemed by the sages to be particularly auspicious should be chosen as the sites for
houses, villages, temples, and graves.
4. Cultural Integration. The explanation of human spatial variations requires consideration of
a whole range of cultural factors. The cultural geographer recognizes that all facets of culture
are systematically and spatially intertwined, or integrated. In short, cultures are complex
wholes rather than series of unrelated traits. They are integrated units in which the parts fit
together causally. The themes of cultural integration reflect the geographer’s awareness that
the immediate causes of some cultural phenomena are other cultural phenomena.
To get at the ways culture is integrated, at how space is organized by humans,
geographers generally seek to strip down reality, separating different causal factors. They are
aware that in the real world, so many causes are involved in any problem that confusion may
result, and so they have employed a simpler way of testing how a culture works. It is called
model building. A good example of this is the Von Thunen model (see chapter on
Geographer’s Tools). The purpose of Thunen’s model was to study the effect of transportation
costs and increased distance from the market on agricultural land use.
Theorists and model builders tend to regard geography as nomothetic, or law-giving
science, believing that the chief purpose of geographical scholarship should be discovery of
universal principles. They feel that cultural geography belongs to the social sciences,
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alongside economics. Those who claim such idea are accused of economic determinism—the
belief that human behavior is largely dictated by economic motivation.
The theme of cultural integration can also lead the geographer to cultural
determinism—which maintains that the physical environment is inconsequential as an
influence on culture. Any facet of a culture, cultural determinists argue, is shaped entirely by
other facets of culture. Cultural integration for them offers all the answers for spatial
variations. People and culture are the active forces; nature is passive and easily conquered.
What are the pros
and cons of a
society with a
muti-ethnic
composition?
Is cultural
integration possible
amidst cultural
diversity?
How could we ease
tensions brought
about by “culture
clashes”?
[Source: Cool Shaker.net, 2008, http://www.coolershaker.net/wpcontent/uploads/2008/06/school.jpg
5. Cultural Landscape. This is the artificial landscape that cultural groups create in inhabiting
the Earth. Cultures have shaped their own landscapes out of the raw materials provided by the
Earth. Every inhabited area has a cultural landscape, fashioned from the natural landscape, and
each uniquely reflects the culture that created it.
Rice cultivation on the
slopes of the mountains of
Ifugao, in the island of
Luzon, Philippines, is the
basis of a highly distinctive
cultural landscape.
Source: www.flickr.com
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Landscape mirrors culture, and the cultural geographer can learn much about a group
of people by carefully observing the landscape. Some cultural geographers regard landscape
study as the core of geographical concern, geography’s central interest. For them, landscape
reflects the most basic strivings of humankind: for shelter, food, clothing, and entertainment.
The cultural landscape also reflects different attitudes concerning modification of the earth’s
surface. In addition, the landscape contains valuable evidence about the origin, spread, and
development of cultures, since it usually preserves relic forms of various types.
A relic form embedded in the
modern urban landscape of
Baguio City, Philippines, this
1936 American-Period Catholic
Church is a valuable index of a
colonial culture.
[Source:http://upload.wikimedia.org
/wikipedia/commons/e/ee/Baguiocat
h1.JPG]
The content of the cultural landscape is both varied and complex. Most geographical
studies have focused on three principal aspects of this landscape: settlement patterns, landdivision patterns, and architecture. In the study of settlement patterns, cultural geographers
describe and explain the spatial arrangement of buildings, roads, and other features that people
construct while inhabiting an area. Land-division patterns reveal the way people have divided
the land for economic and social uses. For architecture, we can distinguish two types in the
cultural landscape: folk architecture and professional architecture.
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