Images from Darfur

William Keo

Governed by codes of honour and respect, the Janjaweed are highly respected by many in the region. Their dress remains the turban, highlighting the Arabic heritage of the Sahelian people. Sometimes described as the 'riders of hell', they are not merely the image or label prescribed to them by the media. Not all of them are fighters, and many have different vocations such as teachers or Imams. 

Several groups came together under the same banner, calling themselves the Janjaweeds. Since 2003, the militia has been waging a war against the opposition in Darfur. The government has armed this group as its main force against the growing insurgency. In recent years, they have been incorporated into the army. This group has still been accused of genocide and war crimes, and this subject remains extremely taboo in Sudan.

Reasons for this conflict are many, including geographical, ethno-political, and economic issues related to oil. Regarding population displacement, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) argues that more than three million people are vulnerable in Darfur.

In conflict there are always multiple versions of history, and we always decide to dehumanize the side we choose not to support. Truth is neither black nor white - it is grey. Reality, sometimes, is different from popular narratives. This work is not about morality, but about examining truth. I am interested in the complexity of these relationships because on one hand, the Janjaweed are men with the same fears and dreams as anyone else, even though they are the militia of the Khartoum government. It is important to show all dimensions humanity can occupy.


About the photographer
I was born in 1996. For me, surely because of my double French-Cambodian culture and identity, photography was a form of evidence; a way of preserving things that should not be forgotten, a physical fragment of a certain moment in time.

As a son of refugees, I have been sensitive to these geo- political events from an early age, particularly to conflict and its consequences. I learned to re-discover the work of photographers who gave me the desire to capture written stories and bring them to life with a camera. I understood where writing stopped and what it could show, and more importantly what an image could, and perhaps could not, say.

*These photographs are from the collection titled Burning Land, © William Keo | william-keo.com

Photography, Politicsjfa