Families torn between tribes

Last year a 20-year-old woman whose father is from the Zaghawah tribe, and whose mother is from the Birgid, decided to visit her mother. Nothing here to make the headlines, you might say. Unfortunately the Zaghawah and Birgid had been in conflict and, after they finished fighting, the Birgid moved to Shi’airiyah area while the Zaghawah headed for Dar el Salam in northern Darfur. The young woman ended up in the company of her father in Dar el Salam, but her mother was displaced to Shi’airiyah with her clan.

Trouble began when the young woman went to visit her mother in the village of Hagarah, in Shi’airiyah. When she arrived, she was abducted by armed men from the village. They decided she had to pay the sum of 3,000 Sudanese pounds (about $1,200 or £750) to free herself and that, pending payment of ransom, she was to receive five lashes every day until the sum was paid.

When the news reached her father’s tribe, they got ready and mobilised their armed clansmen in Dar el Salam to attack Hagarah. They planned to get the woman back to her father and take 10 women from the other tribe as revenge.

Local mediators, led by Haroon Abdullah Is’hag, saw the danger of violence and intervened, managing to convince the Birgid to apologise for what they had done to the woman, while also convincing the Zaghawah to demobilise. This was done and a solution was reached. Furthermore, it was agreed that inter-tribal family members be granted permission to visit relatives from time to time, with full guarantees that no-one would stand in their way.

A miscarriage caused by passing herders

The Awlad Hamid Bashar, a clan of the Tunjur tribe, were on the move with their animals. Passing by some farms, they camped in order to tidy up their belongings, which were being carried by their animals. During this break, some animals entered a farm of a woman of the Birgid tribe. A conflict erupted between the herders and the woman, who was pregnant at the time, which turned violent. Neighbours intervened, stopping the fighting and taking the woman to hospital. Tragically, however, the woman lost her baby as a result of the violence.

Umdah Ibrahim Busharah, a member of the local Native Administration, set out conditions for the two parties, whereby each was to refrain from trespassing into the other party’s land until the woman had recovered, to prevent any vengeful acts. After the woman had fully recovered, Ibrahim asked the two conflicting parties to meet with a group of mediators from other tribes.

The issue was put to discussion and, many hours later, all agreed that the herders were to pay for the material losses at the farm, as well as the expenses incurred in obtaining medical treatment for the woman. No blood money was prescribed, however, as the two tribes had no precedence for this in the history of conflicts between them.

Not an eye for an eye

In the area of Khazan Jadeed, on the borderline separating south Darfur from north Darfur, a fight broke out between a man from the Is'hag tribe and a young shepherd who worked for him. This resulted in the shepherd losing an eye. The shepherd sent the news to his father, who lived and worked in Libya at the time. The father returned immediately and started mobilising his clan members to fight the Is’hag tribe unless they let him exact personal retribution.

A member of his tribe, Ahmed Abdul Rahman, launched an initiative called ‘quest to reach the cause of the problem first’. He said, “We only heard our son’s story, and we have to hear the other party’s story before deciding.” A delegation of eight members was formed and they went to the Is’hag village, Gad el Haboob.

There they were met by a cousin of the man who had committed the offence. He said that he regretted what had been done by his cousin, and assured them that he would personally cover the expenses of the young shepherd’s medical treatment for a month.

After this month, the delegation returned and was invited by the cousin to sit down with the offender to reach a suitable solution to this problem. The umdahs and sheikhs sat down and finally agreed that the eye is equal to half the human being, and therefore committed the offender to pay half the value of the blood money that would be paid for the loss of a human life. As is the practice in local customary rules, a third of the amount was immediately paid, with the remainder entered into records for future payment.


I have taken examples of life in Darfur that demonstrate the types of conflict that can occur in everyday life, and also the potential for such conflicts to spread without effective interventions. These are real cases, though I have withheld some names to protect the identities of the people.