Darfur (därˈfōr) [key], region and former sultanate, W Sudan. The region is mountainous, dominated by the central massif of Jebel Marra, which rises to 10,130 ft (3,088 m). Much of the terrain is dry plateau, and there are sand dunes in the extreme north. The region is divided into the states of Northern, Western, Central, Eastern, and Southern Darfur. The Fur (for whom the area is named) and the Baggara are the major ethnic groups. Darfur's economy is based on subsistence agriculture. Cattle, sheep, and goats are raised in the north.
The rulers of Cush, which fell c.A.D. 350, may have established a dynasty in Darfur. Christian kingdoms emerged in the period between 900 and 1200, but they were destroyed by Muslim incursions from Kanem in the mid-13th cent. Fur, a major kingdom probably founded in the 15th cent., pushed aside the Kanem rulers in the 17th cent. Fur was conquered by the Egyptians in 1874 and by the Mahdists (see Mahdi) of Sudan in 1883. With the fall of the Mahdist state in 1898, Darfur became a semiautonomous sultanate under Anglo-Egyptian suzerainty. The sultan attempted to expel the foreign colonizers during World War I, but his forces were defeated by the British in 1916, and Darfur was incorporated into Sudan.
Since 2003 the region has been scene of fighting, with Sudanese government forces and their allied Arab militias (the janjaweed) battling non-Arab rebels originally linked to an opposition party, but the conflict has gradually widened to include fighting between allied groups on both sides, as both rebels and militias have splintered. Warfare also has spilled over into Chad, and Chadian rebels have based themselves in parts of Darfur. An African Union (AU) peacekeeping force was established in the region beginning in Aug., 2004; the force, which officially became a joint UN-AU operation in Dec., 2007, has not been effective. Attempts to establish a cease-fire produced only temporary results, though in the 2010s fighting lessened. In 2013 the one of the main Darfur rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), signed a cease-fire agreement and committed itself to negotiations with Sudan, but subsequently there was resurgent fighting in Darfur, and JEM and its allies also mounted attacks in Northern Kurdufan.
An estimated 300,000 persons have died in the fighting or from disease, hunger, and other causes arising from the fighting, and some 2.7 million people have been made refugees. The government and janjaweed have been accused by some of genocide, and in 2009 Sudan's president was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court; in retaliation, Sudan ordered aid agencies to leave Darfur (and other parts of Sudan).
See studies by M. W. Daly (2007), J. Hagan and W. Rymond-Richmond (2009), M. Mamdani (2009), and W. Rymond-Richmond (2009).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
More on Darfur from Infoplease:
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Sudan Political Geography