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July 11th, 2011
Heart of Darfur

“A compelling account of the deadly conflict in western Sudan”
–United Features Syndicate

Read the latest news on the crisis in Darfur.


In the half-century since Sudan was granted independence from colonial rule, the country has been in a chronic state of civil war. Most of the fighting has been between the Arab-controlled central government in Khartoum and rebels in the predominantly Christian and animist south. But in 2003, rebels in the Darfur region of western Sudan — a predominantly black, Muslim area — rose up against the central government, angered by the economic and political marginalization of their region.

In response, government-backed militias known as the janjaweed began a “scorched earth” campaign — riding on horseback, the janjaweed looted shops, raped women, and burned entire villages to the ground. Five years later, United Nations officials estimate that as many as 300,000 people may have been killed, and more than 2.5 million have been displaced.


The film Heart of Darfur captures the desperation of daily life in remote villages, crowded refugee camps and in El Fasher, the once sleepy capital of North Darfur that is now home to 100,000 refugees and 10,000 U.N. personnel.

Mohammed SiddigHeart of Darfur takes a look at the people and places affected by the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. Our cameras follow the people working to bring an end to the conflict and suffering, such as Mohamed Siddig Suliman, a Darfuri aid worker who has been working in the region for more than 20 years. We travel into the expanding Sahara desert with Siddig, where, he explains, three decades of drought conditions have led to fighting over scarce resources—one of the root causes of the conflict in Darfur.

General Martin AgwaiWe also meet General Martin Luther Agwai, the former head of the Nigerian Armed Forces, who now leads UNAMID, the joint U.N./African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur. The film follows Gen. Agwai as he helicopters into hostile areas to meet with leaders of various rebel factions. We learn that he is concerned about the fragmentation of the rebel groups, the logistics of UNAMID’s deployment, the expectations on the mission, and the limits of his power. Still, Gen. Agwai manages to have a positive outlook.

“It is in our culture in Africa that everywhere we are our brothers’ keepers,” he says.

  • Robert S

    Kudos on this new site!

  • Carl Webb

    It says the Darfur region of western Sudan is a predominantly black, Muslim area. But isn’t the government also predominantly black and Muslim?

  • Lauren

    In response to your comment Carl, while both the government of Sudan and the population of Darfur are predominantly Muslim, the majority of people in Darfur are from sub-Saharan African tribes, while the government is dominated by Arabs. So while both groups share the same religion, there are ethnic differences, and the mostly black people of Darfur complain of racism from the predominantly Arab government.

  • Katherine

    Tears of the Desert by Halima Bashir is an enlightening book for a Darfuri’s perspective on the black African/ Arab animosity and describes the insanity of Muslims destroying other Muslims. The book will come out in September.

  • Vanessa

    I’m really looking forward to watching tonight and learning more about what is going on over there. I’m also going to read Tears of the Desert when it comes out in September. Thanks for the recommendation.

  • Daniel

    Thank you for covering Darfur.

  • Leena

    What time is it going to air?

  • Lauren

    Hi Leena, air times vary from place to place–check your local listings.

  • Christopher Rushlau

    The crucial thing is that Darfur reminds us that we are the “good guys” in the planet. Whether the Arabs are the “bad guys” is not for us to say. The way we know from Darfur’s crisis that we are the good guys is that we can look past all the obvious comparisons with Zionism, European interventionism, militarism and the full spectrum of dysfunctional liberal institutions that stir up conflict instead of resolving it and instead of seeing ourselves in sin just see misguided local people who need our help if only they knew it. Such subtlety is the proof of our superiority. Such exquisite despair is our heritage.
    If you want to see a “man-made tragedy”, for God’s sake, look at Somalia today, hundreds of thousands of people living on the road west from Mogadishu because we, the US, had our Ethiopians invade so we could clean out Al Qaeda in Somalia. Pretty damned subtle.

  • Mohamad Abdelraman


    1. The Darfurian Arabs are the ones- within the Darfur region – who are more marginalized…. less education …less share in the power (local).. so that why back in 1987 (might be 1988) they ask for their share in power and education…
    2. The land system in Darfur is very bad (Hakoura system)… the land did belong to the tribe….So because the Arabs are nomad… they don’t own land…and when the draught happen (starting 1983 and so on) the African didn’t allow them to own land to settle…. that why Alex DeWaal think solving the land system is one of most important three isues to solve the problem…
    3. My point is that the bad guys are not only the Arabs …the bad guys are some of the Arabs and some of the African as well…
    4. Anther point is that the leaders of the Darfurian movement -who are still holding up arms- are either fanatic Islamist (JEM), and some of them (Dr. Khalil) had been accused for torturing and killing in the southern Sudan before 2001 and where part of the current regime and still had strong ties to Dr. Turabi. (who is the Islamist leader who brought Bin Ladin to Sudan).. the leaders for the other movement are ex – communist (Abdulwahid)…
    5. the solution would be applying pressure and disarming both the government and the rebels…….. solving the land system …….brining those – on both sides – who commit crimes to the trial….

  • Charlotte

    Thank you for covering this important issue! Darfur hasn’t received enough consistent attention over the years. I hope that you continue to publish pieces on this conflict.

  • Lisa

    I have been following the atrocities in Darfur for years and am appalled at the lack of assistance the U.S. government has given the victims. Is this because we have nothing to gain (i.e. oil) from helping end the senseless slaughter and rape of thousands of innocent Darfurians? Thank you PBS for bringing this issue to the forefront. Hopefully the people in Washington will finally take an interest in the lives of the fellow human beings.

  • Jeff Govendo

    This was a fairly good overview of the conflict’s history, which brought the view up to date with what’s happening with UNAMID. 2 points in particular: 1. I was unhappy that they portrayed competition for scarce arable land as a chief cause of this tragedy. While the encroaching desert cannot be dismissed as unimportant, it is not a rationale for Khartoum’s actions, and in fact serves to dilute the blame the Sudan government richly deserves. 2. I did not hear the word “genocide” used at any time. It is a term that is being overused in other conflicts in the world, but it’s appropriate for this one. Final point: Nick Kristof is a real “mensch.”

  • Ms. Ina Allen

    Dear PBS:

    I learned about the plight of Darfur several years ago on PBS Radio.

    Today, I don’t own a TV, but get the news online and from the radio.

    I look forward to the day when I can view “Heart of Darfur”.

    Thank you and God bless you all for telling the truth, even if it’s sometimes ugly.

    Sincerely, Ms. Ina J. Allen

  • Hilda Jaffe

    Thank you PBS and Wide Angle for presenting this at prime time. Let us hope that officials of various governments also watched.

  • Sheldon Ayers

    My hope is that more eyes have been opened because of this program. Thank you for inspirational reporting.

  • Beverley Wilson

    Thank you, Aaron Brown, for debuting with “Heart of Darfur.” As always, your very human response, with feelings quite apparent, and your probing questions are refreshing. I have missed your regular presence on TV. I trust that Wide Angle will continue to disturb our collective conscience. Thank you again.

  • Babiker

    Mohamad Abdelrahman,
    Although I a gree that there must be justise applying to all who commit crimes in Darfur, but I don’t think that because the your arab nomad should come easily after many century to claim those African tribes land. The Land system that you refer to was working very good for many century and probably was going to work for ever if those arab and the central government didnot destroy it.I think now it is the time for those arab who live in Darfur to find a way to life with other like old days, otherwise there will not be peace at all in Darfur.

  • Susan Morgan

    Thanks for covering this important topic with on-the-ground reporting. Nick Kristof’s interview captured the essense of this tragedy and what needs to be done to bring it to a swift close.

  • Gerri in DC

    If you watched the program tonight you should have seen that the U.S. is the biggest donator of food to the refugees in Darfur. the US has been very involved in this crisis and have even called it genocide. Have they done enough? So, don’t be so hard on the US, especially if you are not up to date on what is going on.

  • Mike

    I wonder why there was not more inofrmation on how much the confilict is also related Oil as seen on National geograpics ” the devel came on camel back” ware the land is wanted for Oil exporation but there are poeple who own it if chaina wanted to end the war stop buying oil from them untill it is over.

  • Abdelmula Abdelmageed

    Dear PBS
    To resolve Darfur conflict it doesn’t need more than to build a cultural center (civilized center) and no body can go to fight. Hunger is not scarcity of food but it’s a scarcity of democracy. The democracy which I said including NGOs don’t have an equal opportunities in all levels.

  • Ruth

    I’m very glad that PBS continues to show these amazing films on the genocide in Darfur and I alos admire those people like New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristoff for his fine reporting in Darfur. Please keep showing these kinds of films!!

  • Jennifer

    It’s so easy these days to get caught up in the oil crisis, or political campaigns wooing us to believe that if we vote for them, our lives will be infinitely better. But until we can stand together, united in our resolve to end the horrific genocide that is happening right now, we are destined to be a nation of self-servers. Kudos to PBS for airing this desperately needed documentary.

  • Rhonda

    Why was there no mention of Bin Laden and Zawahiri setting up shop in Sudan circa 1989? What effect, if any, did this have?

  • Mohamad Abdelrahman

    The Darfurian Arabs are 100% Sudanese, they should have the same rights as the African to buy land wherever, whenever they want…. the African Darfurian should have the right of selling their land to others…the existing land system is discriminating against the Darfurian Arabs….this conflict is showing that this land system is not working and has to change
    The Darfurian Arabs need the settle because of the draught and because of modern life .. also they need to have education at least like what their African neighbors have… and of course their share in the power….New Darfur should be based on equal rights based on citizenship not on tribe and ethnicity…

  • dis

    Hi, I am Sudanese living in Canada, How can I inform the large Chinese community in Toronto about this big problem in Sudan and how they can influnce their government back home? please provide advise.

  • Daniel Middleman

    I couldn’t believe Aaron Brown sat there and said nothing when that loon at the end said the leaders were pragmatists because all they do is go in and slaughter all the men. What kind of crap is that? Can we expect to see more of this kind of “illuminating” discussion in the future?

  • Ayman Fadel

    While there may be legitimate reasons for conflict on both sides, the problem is the tactics pursued by the Sudanese government and its militia allies (and to some extent some of the rebel groups). The deaths, rapes and displacement can have no justification. Friends of mine with more knowledge of Sudan tell me the main problem is the concentration of development around al-Khartoum and Umm Durman, with the countryside (les provences) neglected. There are also rebellions and disturbances in other remote regions of the country. But this problem is widespread in developing countries, and I don’t know how to solve it. Regardless of the difficult policy options, however, humanity cannot tolerate killing, raping and displacement of non-combatants. But the U.N. (and the U.S.) should apply this principle elsewhere as well.

  • jesus Rangel

    As many people feel helpless,so do I. Is there and an orphanage in Darfur that is helping the many orphans?
    If so, is there an address I can write to some information as to I can help? Thank you.

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