Tensions rise in Darfur as community rallies round grieving family

The name Darfur may evoke images of simmering ethnic tensions, large-scale displacement and sporadic episodes of violence. But there’s more to this corner of Sudan than the horrors conjured up during its 14-year war.

There is also a strong sense of community.

Close-knit family units, village elders and tribal chiefs – the displaced people of this war-torn region – rely on their kin and community to settle disputes, to redress wrongs and to reach decisions.

This means that negotiating an insurance settlement often requires a hard-won knowledge of local customs coupled with on-the-ground pragmatism.

However, even then, sometimes things don’t go to plan.

In 2016, a seven-year-old Sudanese girl was killed in a traffic accident involving a United Nations armoured personnel carrier in Darfur. The African Union/UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) is the largest in the world, with thousands of vehicles traversing the dusty and pock-marked roads of the south-western region every day.

Tangiers International was instructed to handle the case – contacting family members, obtaining witness statements, liaising with the insurance company and members of the community and, finally, reaching an equitable settlement with the girl’s family.

In Islamic law, it is permissible to pay a ‘diyah’ – financial compensation for a death – if all parties agree. Tangiers International’s field agent in the region, Hafiz Ibrahim, was tasked with facilitating this payment.

Case manager Naji Mansour, based in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, said: “This case was really interesting because in those remote areas, there’s a lot of influence from the tribe, the family, from the community.

“Many people were pushing the father to take these guys to court. But some of the local elders, like the chief, we’re trying to calm him down. ‘The diyah will be good for you and your family,’ they were telling him.”

Amongst this backdrop of conflicting advice, Hafiz ventured out to the make-shift camp for internally-displaced people, where the family was based.

Emotions were high. Before we were even employed, a field agent had gone out there and was almost beaten up,” explained Naji.

As Hafiz entered the camp, he realised just how high tensions had become. Armed men had arrived and were insisting that the diyah be paid immediately. They ordered Hafiz into a waiting car and told him they would drive directly to a bank to obtain the payment in cash.

Hafiz, understandably nervous about this development, attempted to defuse the situation, using his local knowledge to calm the increasingly agitated community members.

Once he had received assurances for his safety, he eventually agreed to travel with the armed men to the nearest bank. The case was far from settled that day, however, as issues with the money transfer meant the payment could not be paid.

The case illustrates just how easily tensions can spill over in a region scarred by recent violence. In situations like these, local field agents are an invaluable asset and ensure that those tensions can be contained.