A Biography of Khalil Ibrahim, Rebel Leader of the Justice and Equality Movement of Darfur, Sudan (photo by T. Krzimar)
It is commonly accepted that war involves a radical reshaping of social relations. However, what is intriguing for anthropologists is the social dynamics that lead otherwise peaceful individuals to take up arms against the very system that they once served. It is routinely considered legitimate to unveil the process of war through an examination of such macro forces as development failure, ethnic discrimination and systemic oppression. While this approach has merit, it also frequently has the effect of obliterating the specificity of the participants as unique individuals with their own personalities, families, hopes and dreams - all of which fade into the background in the avalanche of generality. Lack of agency thus becomes a prime outcome of the analysis.
This project takes a different approach. It attempts to comprehend war through the creation of a biographical perspective on the life of one key individual, Dr Khalil Ibrahim, the current President of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the largest rebel movement in Darfur, Sudan. The project looks at the personal characteristics of Dr Ibrahim's life as a child, a camel herder, a student, a physician, a government politician, and latterly a rebel leader. To oppose a government and work for peaceful change is one thing, but to insist that such change can only come out of the barrel of a gun follows a different set of logical principles altogether. That is precisely what Dr Ibrahim has opted for and it is the emergence of this radical perspective on action that forms the focus of this exploration of war.
The project involves extended interviews with Dr Ibrahim in the war zone, in August 2009 and in Doha, Qatar, venue of the Darfur peace talks in 2010. This project is a work in progress.