Water and grazing land have become an increasingly scarce resource in Sudan, partly due to increased drought frequency and severity.
The Arab Awlad Zeid and the African Zaghawa tribes have repeatedly clashed over access to scarce resources since the early 1980s. However, tensions between the groups escalated as ethnic divides were exploited by the Sudanese government as part of counter-insurgency strategies in Darfur.
In May 2001, more than 70 people were killed in a dispute over the Bir Taweel wells in northern Darfur.
The Awlad Zeid and Zaghawa have repeatedly clashed over water and land since the early 1980s. By the mid-1990s, relations between the two communities further deteriorated as ethnic divides were exploited by the Sudanese government as part of counter-insurgency strategies in Darfur. The tensions between the two groups escalated in May 2001, leaving more than 70 people dead in a dispute over the Bir Taweel wells in northern Darfur (UCDP, 2015). The implication of the Sudanese government in this event as a weapon supplier to the Awlad Zeid added to Zaghawa grievances and precipitated the formation of the rebel movement SLM/A (Sudan Liberation Movement/Army) (Brosché and Rothbart, 2013).
Water and grazing land have become an increasingly scarce resource in Sudan due to a variety of reasons such as increased drought frequency and severity, caused by climate change and an increased demand for cattle due to high population growth (Bromwich, 2008). This situation has led to frequent clashes between the Awlad Zeid and the Zaghawa since the 1980s. In 2001, the Zaghawa created four self-defence camps in response to continuous threats of violence from Awlad Zeid. The tensions between the groups climaxed in May 2001 when the Awlad Zeid staged an attack on the Zaghawa at the Bir Taweel wells (UCDP, 2015).
The implication of the Sudanese government has further fuelled local conflict along ethnic lines by favouring groups with an “Arab” identity, such as the Awlad Zeid, over those with an “African” identity, such as the Zaghawa. In its need for allies against nascent rebel movements such as the SLM/A, the central government in Khartoum armed Arab militias and encouraged them to loot and destroy villages of African communities suspected to support the rebels. The conflict between the Awlad Zeid and Zaghawa has to be seen in this context of counter-insurgency strategies by the Sudanese government (UCDP 2015; Brosché, 2012; Bradbury et al., 2006).
After the violent incident in 2001, the Sudanese Army was deployed in the area to stop the fighting and keep the Zaghawa from the wells. In the same year, a peace conference was organized by the Government of Sudan to resolve the conflict. It failed to improve the situation and the Zaghawa perceived the conference as biased. As the government was unable to successfully address grievances between the two groups, many Zaghawa joined the SLA (Sudan Liberation Army), while many Awlad Zeid joined Arab Janjaweed militias, which would become notorious for their exactions during the Darfur civil war (Bradbury at al., 2006; UCDP, 2015).