Those who deny reports about ethnic cleansing in the oil-rich but semi-arid Darfur region of Sudan argue that what is happening there is banditry -- competition over scarce resources.
They argue that ethnic groups are fighting to steal cattle and take over grazing lands and scarce water sources from other ethnic groups -- very much like the cattle raids between the Pokot and Marakwet or the clashes over grazing rights between the Pokomo and Orma communities of Kenya.
They argue that tribal fighting is not new in that part of Sudan, where conditions are harsh and the inhabitants are predominantly nomadic. The communities are pastoralists who are prone to conflict because they share pasture and water resources, which are getting increasingly scarce. To make matters worse, they argue, the region is awash with weapons from the Central African Republic and Chad.
Historically, they argue, there has long been tension between the Arab and non-Arab communities over land and grazing rights in Darfur. The prolonged drought, and the ensuing famine, which begun in the 1980s, has heightened the tensions.
Government supporters further argue that the accusations that pro-government Arab militias have been committing serious human rights violations in Darfur were part of a smear campaign against the Sudanese government and people.
Ethnic violence has raged for more than a year in the Darfur region, with two rebel groups fighting against the government. The government has responded by mobilizing a horse and camel-mounted Arab militia - the Janjaweed - to fight the rebellion. Now numbering several thousand, this proxy force has been accused by human rights groups of killing, looting and raping non-Arab residents of Darfur.
On February 27, in one area alone, 30 villages were burned to the ground, over 200 people killed and over 200 girls and women raped in front of their fathers who were later killed. A further 150 women and 200 children were abducted.
Since February 2003, about 700,000 people have been displaced while another 110,000 have fled to neighbouring Chad. Over 10,000 are estimated to have lost their lives.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, recently told reporters in Nairobi that the war-torn Darfur region is the "world's greatest humanitarian crisis", comparable to the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in terms of human rights abuses.
"The only difference between Rwanda and Darfur now is the numbers involved. I think some people are using the term ethnic cleansing and I would say that is not far off the mark," he added.
And U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in Geneva, Switzerland, to mark the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, repeated those fears. He said ethnic cleansing may be under way in Darfur.
Mr. Annan said the world could not stand by as it had during Rwanda's genocide 10 years ago. Reports of atrocities in Darfur, he said, "leave me with a deep sense of foreboding."
He said, at the invitation of the Sudanese government, he proposed to send a high-level team to Darfur "to gain a fuller understanding of the extent and nature of this crisis."
For many people the term "ethnic cleansing" is a euphemism for genocide. The term was gained currency during the ethnic wars that led to the breakup of former Yugoslavia. In those wars, more than 200,000 civilians were killed in Bosnia and Croatia. Tens of thousands of women were raped. Millions lost their homes.
The 1948 U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is very explicit on what genocide means. If you destroy people because of who they are, racially and ethnically, that is genocide.
But by whatever name you call it, the Darfur conflict has put Sudan sharply under the international spotlight. And, as United States President George Bush said last Wednesday, the government of Sudan must not be seen to remain complicit in the atrocities of Darfur.
Mr. Mwaura, a former Editor-in-Chief of the Nation, is Deputy Director of the United Nations Information Centre in Nairobi.