Journal of the People’s Pastor

“Writing The History I’ve Lived, Living The History I Write!”

DARFUR DIARY

Darfur Diary: Part I – My Journey To Chad, Central Africa
Visiting the Darfurian Refugee Camps



Sunday, March 18, 2007

I awakened this morning with Darfur on my mind. Everything was set, airlines reservations were fixed. We had been sitting on pins and needles as of yesterday. Yahya had called from Washington, D.C., to say only one seat was available. It seemed that there was a high level meeting in Chad. VIPs connected to the meeting had claimed all the seats. Late last night, a second seat had become available. We would have to leave two persons behind.

I completed our two worship services, 8am and 12noon. At both services, I emphasized the importance of my journey to Chad. We, who named the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, had been called to be at the cutting edge of life and death issues. The stakes were high in Africa generally, Sudan in particular. The life of generations hung in the balance. There is a great potential for regional conflict involving many African countries. Nine (9) countries borders Sudan.

Refugees from Sudan were fleeing into Chad, which is contiguous to the western region of Sudan. The United Nations has called the situation in Darfur the worse humanitarian crises in the world today. It has been reported that 200 to 400,000 people have been killed and 21⁄2 million displaced since 2003. The incursion of masses of destitute men women and children put a staggering burden on Chad, which was already in a desperate stage of development. In addition there were rebels, believed to be supported by the Sudanese government, threatening to overthrow the government of President Idriss Déby Itno. Even as I write, there are reports of warfare in the eastern region of Chad, where we are headed. The refugee camps we planned to visit are in that area. We had not succeeded in securing visas to visit Sudan, thus we had to go into Chad to visit the camp.

As always on these trips, I try to prepare the people for the possibility of my death or my not returning. I reassured the people with my contentment of being where I was called to be, to be on a monumental mission in Africa, is the way I would want to die. I quoted Dr. William Jones, the deceased pastor of Bethany Baptist church, “I don’t want to die in shallow waters.” There weren’t any joyful responses, only heavy silence.

After service, I had dinner with my family. Returning to the church, we began to pack for the journey. We had purchased two hundred (200) T-shirts to be distributed in the refugee camp. On the front of the baby blue shirts, printed in black letters, were the words, “The National Religious Leaders of African Ancestry Concerned About Darfur – We Stand With You.”

Helping us pack for the trip were Cuyler Cohen, Omar Wilks, Kefentse Johnson, and Caleb Miller. Bill Moore of the Amsterdam News and Lem Peterkim of the Daily Challenge took photos, which later appeared in the respective papers.

At 7:30pm, we departed from the church, arriving at the JFK Airport at 8:30pm. After checking in, we had over a two (2) hours wait. The waiting time gave me an opportunity to do some reading of my briefing papers on Chad. The following information I read from material taken from the Internet:

CHAD

A landlocked country in north-central Africa, Chad is about 85% the size of Alaska. Its neighbors are Niger, Libya, the Sudan, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, and Nigeria. Lake Chad, from which the country gets its name, lies on the western border with Niger and Nigeria. In the north is a desert that runs into the Sahara.

History

The area around Lake Chad has been inhabited since at least 500 B.C. In the 8th century A.D. Berbers began migrating to the area. Islam arrived in 1085, and by the 16th century a trio of rival kingdoms flourished: the Kanem-Bornu, Baguirmi, and Ouaddaï. In 1883–1893, all three kingdoms came under the rule of the Sudanese conqueror Rabih al-Zubayr. In 1900, Rabih was overthrown by the French, who absorbed these kingdoms into the colony of French Equatorial Africa, as part of Ubangi-Shari (now the Central African Republic), in 1913. In 1946, the territory, now known as Chad, became an autonomous republic within the French Community. An independence movement led by the first premier and president, François (later Ngarta) Tombalbaye, achieved complete independence on Aug. 11, 1960. Tombalbaye was killed in the 1975 coup and succeeded by Gen. Félix Malloum, who faced a Libyan-financed civil war throughout his tenure in office. In 1977, Libya seized a strip of Chadian land and launched an invasion two years later.

Nine rival groups meeting in Lagos, Nigeria, in March 1979 agreed to form a provisional government headed by Goukouni Oueddei, a former rebel leader. Fighting broke out again in Chad in March 1980, when Defense Minister Hissen Habré challenged Goukouni and seized the capital. Libyan president Muammar al-Qaddafi, in Jan. 1981, proposed a merger of Chad with Libya. The Libyan proposal was rejected and Libyan troops withdrew from Chad that year, but in 1983 they poured back into the northern part of the country in support of Goukouni. France, in turn, sent troops into southern Chad in support of Habré. Government troops then launched an offensive in early 1987 that drove the Libyans out of most of the country.

In 1990, Idriss Déby, a former defense minister and head of the Patriotic Salvation Movement, overthrew Habré, suspended the constitution, and dissolved the legislature. In 1994 a new constitution was drafted and an amnesty for political prisoners was declared. Déby won multiparty elections in 1996 and was reelected in 2001. His rule has been marked by repression and corruption. Déby has faced about a half-dozen insurgencies since taking office.

In June 2000 the World Bank agreed to provide more than $200 million to build a $3.7-billion pipeline connecting the oil fields in Chad to those in Cameroon. Oil revenues are estimated to earn $2.5 billion over the next 30 years. Human rights groups are concerned they will only benefit the oil companies and the political elite in Cameroon and Chad. The World Bank, however, has forced Chad to agree to spend 80% of the resulting oil revenues on education, health, infrastructure, and other social welfare projects desperately needed by this impoverished country. The deal has been hailed as a novel approach to ensuring that developing countries with authoritarian governments manage to spend revenues to alleviate the poverty of their people rather than enrich its elite. (In 2005, Transparency International listed Chad as the world's most corrupt country.) In the next 25 years Chad is expected to make $80 million per year, increasing the government treasury by 50%. But in 2006, after the pipeline was completed, Déby reneged on the deal with the World Bank, saying he would spend the oil revenues to finance the military, to buttress his nearly insolvent government, and to shore up his fragile hold on power. In response, the World Bank suspended its loans and froze Chad's bank accounts. In May the World Bank and Chad reached a compromise: Chad's government would receive 30% of the oil revenues, instead of the 10% originally agreed to, and the remaining 70% of revenues would be spent exclusively on programs to alleviate the country's poverty.

By 2006, about 250,000 Sudanese refugees had fled to Chad to escape the fighting in Sudan's Darfur region, where they face hunger and disease in desperately undersupplied refugee camps. In April 2006, a coup to oust Déby was averted with the help of French troops stationed in the country. Opposition parties boycotted the May presidential elections, and Déby retained the presidency.

Prime Minister Pascal Yoadimnadji died in February 2007. President Déby named Delwa Kassire Koumakoye as his successor.

Rebels from three groups stormed N'Djamena in February 2008 and demanded the resignation of President Déby. Chad's military, however, repulsed the rebels. Leaders in Chad accused Sudan of fomenting the rebellion, and tension between the two countries escalated. About 100 people died in the fighting.

To be continued…

Upcoming Events

Attend the Timbuktu Learning Center’s weekly Thursday Night Community Forums. All Forums are held at the House of the Lord Church from 7pm to 9pm.

Join Operation Life Line if you need assistance or know someone who needs assistance with their mortgages as it relates to foreclosures, predatory lending and/or subprime lending.

Attend NRLAA’s monthly forum Focus on Africa the 2nd Saturday from 2pm to 4pm.

Organizing Meetings regarding Darfur every Thursday - 12noon @ the House of the Lord Church
Keep abreast of our Darfurian activities by checking our web page @ www.holnj.org.

Join us for a discussion by the renowned Dr. Cornel West on “Race in America and Presidential Politics.” Thursday, April 10, 2008, 7pm-9pm @ Timbuktu Learning Center Weekly Forums held at The House of the Lord Church, 415 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.

On Thursday, April 17, 2008, 7pm-9pm, Councilman Charles Barron will be the key speaker at the Timbuktu Learning Center Weekly Forum held at the House of the Lord Church. Councilman Barron will be addressing pertinent issues relative to the City Council and the City Government, (i.e. Congestion Pricing – Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to charge an $8.00 toll to enter parts of Manhattan.)
On Thursday, April 24, 2008, 7pm-9pm, Dr. Adelaide Sanford will be the guest speaker at the Timbuktu Learning Center Weekly Forum. Her topic will be: “My Years as an Educator.”