Imagine this scenario: you're sitting in your home, helping your children do homework, preparing dinner or just simply relaxing from a hard days work.
Then out of nowhere marauders on horseback storm your town, set fire to your home, kill and rape your neighbors, and drive everyone to the outskirts of towns.
In one evening, the machine gun toting riders, have turned your community inside out and you've become a refugee if you live.
Worse still, the world barely blinks an eye.
This is exactly what happened in many villages in the Darfur region of Western Sudan where a loose band of Arab known as the Janjaweed fighters on camels and horses slaughtered many mostly black Africans in their villages. Looting herds of goats and sheep, snatching children from parents and displacing close to a million people.
Human rights groups have the said the predominately Arab Khartoum government has used the janjaweed as a tool for a radical policy that borders on ethnic cleansing.
The larger civil war which has lasted for two decades between rebels trying to topple the government seemed on the verge of conclusion when two rebel groups sought to end the marginalization of black Africans thus igniting the latest chaos. Government officials have denied using the mounted militiamen and branded them outlaws.
But where's the outrage? From the world community? The African Union? The Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS? The European Union? Even the Arab League?
Incredibly, with these dark clouds over Sudan, its government was confirmed to a seat on the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) despite numerous reports of human rights abuses. The United States reportedly protested the confirmation vote by walking out.
In May the UNs own human rights chief Bertrand Ramcharan briefed the Security Council and urged some action against the Sudanese government for its repeated war crimes and crimes against humanity. "This is taking place before our eyes. No one can say they didnt know," he told reporters later.
Still no action. However, displacing those villagers is now having an economic impact on American multinational corporations.
Darfur villagers harvest a rare tree sap called gum arabic. Gum arabic is an essential ingredient in everything from fizzy soda pop, to shampoo to pharmaceutical products as simple as pills.
It acts like an emulsifier and keeps ingredients from settling at the bottom.
When economic sanctions were imposed by the U.S. government in 1997 to punish Sudan for harboring Saudi terrorists Osama bin Laden and its other links to terror, American businessmen lobbied to exempt gum arabic, also known as hashab.
It is so rare that the region reportedly produces two thirds of the worlds supply. Now the displaced villagers are too scared to harvest the acacia trees that produce the top quality resin.
Displaced villagers are also chopping down the trees when they can to use for firewood. Big business is feeling the pinch. A few years ago a metric ton of the resin supposedly cost $1,500. Since the conflict, its been double that. It is estimated that America imported over six million pounds of gum arabic from the Sudan in 2001. That figure barely cracked the five million mark last year.
Perhaps a higher price will force more severe government intervention and thus save a few lives in Africa this year. Meanwhile the ranks of the refugees keep swelling in neighboring Chad.