Darfur was an independent sultanate before it was incorporated into British-controlled Sudan in 1916. Sudan gained independence from the British Empire in 1956.
Historically Darfur’s many different ethnic groups lived peacefully alongside each other, although conflicts over land-use have arisen over time. However, its location and ethnic mix of black Africans and Arabs have made it a target for both the Sudanese government’s Arab nationalism and interference from neighbouring states like Libya and Chad. The Sudanese Government has been condemned as racist – favouring Arabs over black Africans, and being complicit in ‘ethnic cleansing’ and enslavement of black Africans.
Many Sudanese people believe that the country’s border areas, such as Darfur, South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains have been neglected and marginalised by the government, which has concentrated development on the capital city of Khartoum and the centre of the country.
In February 2003 two Darfuri rebel groups – the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) launched a rebellion against the government. The majority of the rebels came from black African farming tribes, who accused the government of oppressing Darfur’s non-Arab citizens. The government responded by training, arming and mobilising the Arab-militia, known as the Janjaweed (‘devils on horseback’), to stop the rebellion.