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The attack on the Darfur village of Bendesi was well planned and systematically executed. It was not a government attack against rebels. It was racially motivated and carried out jointly by the Sudanese military and Arab militia. Bendesi serves as an instructive example of the nature of the violence in Darfur.

The attack on Bendesi, in the southern part of Western Darfur, provides a shocking example of how government troops and Arab militia carried out their systematic effort to exterminate black Africans from Darfur.

Tensions between Arabs and Africans

Tensions between black Africans and Arabs existed before the genocide in Darfur.

The area surrounding Bendesi is a lush area and was farmed by black Africans. Arab nomads from the north, fleeing desertification, brought their herds into the Bendesi area. Conflicts between the nomadic herders and the subsistence farmers was inevitable.

In 2002, a dispute over grazing land resulted in Arabs shooting four African men. From that time, Africans accused Arabs of looting and shooting in the Bendesi area. One black African says that it became unsafe for women to go out alone. A number had been raped or killed if they refused.

Darfur Rebels

For a time, the Africans and the Arabs had been able to coexist, but in 2002 the tensions escalated into more than just sporadic violence. An eye-witness tells of Arabs in khaki uniforms attacking the village of Kaber, just south of Bendesi in December 2002. Other attacks were to follow. But the attacks were not by the Janjaweed alone. Government planes dropped bombs on the village.

In response, the black Africans in this area armed themselves for protection. The African rebels were able to obtain arms from Chad. Having armed themselves, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA, a rebel group) attacked a Bendesi police station, taking arms and a radio and killing two Arab men in the process. The SLA carried out other raids in the surrounding area.

Fanning Racist Hatreds

In August 2003, the Sudanese government actively began to recruit forces to fight the rebels. However, only Arab recruits were accepted. They then began to organize the Arabs into militias. Ali Kushayb, an Arab leader and member of the Sudanese military, began to integrate the Arab militia or Janjaweed into the Public Defense Forces in the area.

Government rhetoric was not limited to inciting outrage among Arabs against the black African rebels. Ahmad Harun, Darfur Security Desk Minister, announced that “those that disrespected the government should be cleansed away by the government.” This was not limited to rebels. Harun's strategy was one of collective punishment. In his view, all black Africans were responsible for the scattered attacks in the Bendesi area, and so all should be punished. Harun offered the analogy that the farmers and villagers were the “water” in which the rebel “fish” swam and survived. Destroy the "water" and you kill the "fish."

So, the focus of government action was not to be merely on rebels, but on all black Africans in the area.

Concentrate Africans in a Central Location

At the time, Bendesi was a town of about 7,000 people. However, rather than attack Bendesi, government and Janjaweed forces first began attacking neighboring villages. Attacks on the surrounding villages occurred in the first weeks of August 2003, leading up to the attack on Bendesi on August 15.

If the government's goal was to attack the greatest concentration of civilians, then forcing villagers in the area into Bendesi worked. To escape the violence in their villages, Africans flooded into Bendesi for safety.

Warn Arabs in Bendesi

Arabs in Bendesi were warned of the impending attack. Black African women reported hearing about the coming attacks in the markets. African children reported hearing stories from Arab children while herding. The Arab children taunted the Africans, saying such things as, “We're going to eliminate all the Nuba and just leave the trees—we'll even eliminate the ants.”

Loot African Possessions First

On the day of the attack, members of the Arab militia went to the umda's house and told him that they would be back later to collect “Zakat” (an Islamic tax). At 7 A.M. six government Land Cruisers with mounted guns came into Bendesi and announced over a loudspeaker that everyone had to bring their goods to a central area to be assessed for taxes. Government and Janjaweed combined totaled to about 500 men.


The Sudanese military and the Janjaweed waited a couple of hours until the people of Bendesi had gathered together their belongings. Then they attacked. The soldiers on the Land Cruisers began to shoot into the crowd. Janjaweed, mounted on horses and camels, attacked, also shooting into the crowd. Witnesses report the Janjaweed shouting such racially charged language as, “Tora Bora!” “We don't want any blacks in this area!” and “Exterminate the Fur, kill the Fur!”

Witnesses tell of many people being killed. While some were able to provide estimates of the number of people they saw killed, others admitted that there was simply too much chaos to count the number killed by the military and Janjaweed. One survivor said she felt as if she were “running over dead bodies.”

Murder was not the only type of violence. Women and girls were raped. One witness describes seeing a 12-year-old girl raped by five men. The young girl died soon after the assault. Another reported that more than thirty girls had been raped and abducted, some carried back to Khartoum as “booty.”

Others tell of Bendesi men who were captured and tortured, many dying under torture.

After the initial attack, the attackers divided into three groups:

  1. One group was responsible for burning the village,
  2. The second group collected animals and looted houses,
  3. The third group chased down the black Africans who tried to escape.

The attack continued for five days. One witness reported knowing of 229 men who had been killed.

Planning and Execution

The Bendesi attack was well planned and systematically executed. It was not a government attack against rebels. It was a racially motivated attack, carried out jointly by the Sudanese military and Arab militia. But the attack on Bendesi is not an isolated case. It serves as an example for how the Sudanese government and local Arab militias work together to eradicate black Africans from Darfur.

Data and Methods:


Hagan draws from two data sources:

  1. Survey data gathered by the Atrocity Documentation Team commissioned by the U.S. State Department in 2004 from Darfurian refugees in ten camps and nine settlements in eastern Chad from July through August 2004. Researchers gathered information from 1,136 randomly selected refugees using a semi-structured interview protocol.
  2. A survey based on news and NGO reports of deaths in attacks on 101 villages. Andreas Höfer Petersen and Lise-Lotte Tullin, The Scorched Earth of Darfur: Patterns in Death and Destruction Reported by the People of Darfur, January 2001-September 2005, (Copenhagen, Bloodhound).

Funding Source:

? unknown--ask Katie to track down

Full Text Availability:
Text not yet available

Hagan, John. Forthcoming. "The Rolling Genocide." Chapter 6 in [name of book].

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