Kristoff’s Times Select Op -Ed Nove 14th 2006
Around this remote market town are janjaweed, the Sudanese-sponsored Arab militias that hunt down black Africans and shoot or rape them. The janjaweed are armed with AK-47s, grenade launchers and heavy machine guns mounted on pickup trucks.
Here in Koukou, the Africans are waiting for the attackers — with bows and arrows.
The international community has shamefully abandoned the people of eastern Chad, allowing the Darfur genocide to spread relentlessly. Incredibly, this year some 15,000 Chadians have sought security by fleeing into Darfur.
So the people in little Chadian towns like Koukou are left to themselves, and they have organized a self-defense force out of the town’s 2,000 people. They have 12 hunting rifles, and every man has bows and arrows. Many also carry spears or swords.
It is an astonishing sight in the 21st century: Almost every male you meet here over the age of 12 carries a homemade bow and a quiver of arrows, just in case they come across marauders with machine guns. It is as crazy as it is courageous.
“I will try to defend myself with this bow and arrow,” said Muhammad Hamid, a 40-year-old farmer walking down the path by the town. “If I die, that’s O.K., but I will try to fight.”
Mr. Muhammad gave me a demonstration of his archery and it was, frankly, pitiful. He could fire the arrow only about 50 feet. Another villager sent the arrow only 40 feet.
Yet the villagers are fighting for the lives of their loved ones, and that counts for something. They also apply traditional poison to the arrowheads, and they say that if it reaches the bloodstream it is deadly. In a destroyed village southwest of here, I saw a janjaweed horse that had been killed by a defender’s arrow.
The local peasants certainly do better than I do. When I ran into a band of janjaweed yesterday in a burned-out village near here, I fled. The peasants of Koukou stand their ground.
Indeed, the archers of Koukou managed to turn back an attack by the janjaweed over two days in May. One janjaweed fighter they killed carried a Sudanese military identity card — one more indication that Sudan is behind these attacks.
“God gave us help to win,” said Muhammad Ibrahim, the chief of the locality, explaining the janjaweed retreat in May. But after a string of attacks on 20 villages in the area over the last 10 days, he now expects another assault on Koukou by the janjaweed.
The townspeople have talked about pulling up stakes and moving en masse, but they have nowhere to go.
The courage of ordinary citizens here offers a pointed contrast to the fecklessness everywhere else. France, the former colonial power here, has troops in both Chad and the Central African Republic — which it seems ready to use primarily to evacuate Europeans as order collapses. (During the Rwandan genocide, France left its local staff to be butchered but took care to evacuate the embassy dog.)
As for the U.S., President Bush has found the courage to do little more than demand that the U.N. do something. Frankly, we should be embarrassed that the mightiest superpower in the history of the world can’t summon the gumption of Chadian peasants with bows and arrows.
Already, the U.N. and the major powers have allowed hundreds of thousands of people to be killed in Darfur. Now they seem equally ready to allow the genocide to spread to a far larger area and cause the collapse of Chad and the Central African Republic.
Local Chadians in this region, from the sultan to the homeless people now sleeping under trees, regularly plead for U.N. peacekeepers, or any international intervention.
Here’s a suggestion: How about a joint U.S. and French operation to fly sorties, at the invitation of the Chadian government, from the French air base in Abéché, Chad, to strafe janjaweed raiding parties? Most of the janjaweed destroying eastern Chad seem to be Sudanese, guided by some Chadian Arabs who know this territory, and many appear to be in it for the pay and the spoils. Such mercenaries may find it less of an adventure if they risk being gunned down themselves.
In this semidesert land, large bands of janjaweed can be spotted relatively easily. And there is no sovereignty objection in assisting Chad in securing its own territory.
The people in Koukou and other towns here, with their bows and arrows, have the guts to stand up to genocide. I wish we did.