By Alex Yu
The political geography of Africa may change radically on Jan. 9, 2011. As a result of referendums stemming from the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan, southern Sudan will vote on its independence, deciding whether to remain part of the north or become its own state.
January’s referendum was the topic of discussion on Monday night at Cubberley Auditorium, where approximately 400 people gathered to listen to John Prendergast, co-founder of the anti-genocide Enough Project, and George Clooney, actor and United Nations “Messenger of Peace,” discuss the upcoming referendum and the future of the Sudanese state.
Stanford STAND, a student anti-genocide group, which in June received national attention for its campaign against “conflict minerals” in the Democratic Republic of Congo, co-partnered with Crothers Memorial Hall, the global citizenship academic theme dorm, to sponsor this event.
The Freeman Spogli Institute invited Prendergast, who has written 10 books on Africa, as a visiting professor from Nov. 1 to 12. During his visit, sponsored by the Charles Riddell Fund, he has given a number of talks, his first entitled “The Good News from Africa: Success Stories and their Implications” on Nov. 4.
Along with STAND, political science professor Stephen Stedman, resident fellow of Crothers Hall, also coordinated with Prendergast to organize Monday’s event.
Stedman moderated Monday’s talk, introducing Clooney and Prendergast to the audience. Crothers theme associate and STAND member Alice Bosley ’11, STAND co-president Mia Newman ’12 and STAND co-president Marloes Sijstermans ’11 joined Stedman in guiding the talk. Prendergast began discussion by describing the current conflict with the Sudanese referendum.
“Now, here we are, 60 days away from the conclusion of [the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement],” Prendergast said. “The fact is that the north does not want to give up the south because it has most of the oil.”
Newman guided the conversation to discuss the notion that southern Sudan is the victim of northern Sudan’s subjugation. Prendergast affirmed the multifaceted nature of the situation in Sudan but stressed that the majority of human rights violations can be credited to the oppressive Sudanese government located in northern Sudan.
“There is a lot of blood on a lot of hands in southern Sudan,” Prendergast said. However, “the vast preponderance of the human rights violations were committed by the forces of the government of Sudan and the associated militia.”
Grounding the conversation in realistic terms for politicians, Clooney implied the need to incentivize United States intervention in Sudan by highlighting the immense benefit of interceding the conflict: the opportunity to tap into the Sudanese oil wells.
Sudan “also happens to be a place where we could use some oil,” Clooney said. From the perspective of United States politics, he added, “we could dip into that oil well as well.”
Prendergast discussed the possible objectives U.S. intervention could have. “What the government in Sudan spends all their time talking about is when can they get to roll back all the American sanctions, to get off the terrorist list, to remove all the scarlet letters on their vests that the U.S. has been putting on them for years,” Prendergast said. “The Sudanese government cares about these sometimes symbolic economic and political points of isolation.”
In Prendergast’s opinion, though, the real potential to invoke change in Sudan emerges at the local level, particularly at politically active institutions such as Stanford.
“If you want to make a change somewhere, you have to have the political will,” Prendergast said. “Political will has been generated over the last number of years because of schools like Stanford, which has generated student movements with respect to Darfur and south Sudan.”
Clooney concluded the discussion, expressing optimism in placing the future of Sudan in the hands of the individual and exhorting the audience to speak out against allowing ambivalence to exacerbate the Sudan conflict.
“We have always in our lifetime caught these things after they happened,” Clooney stressed. “We were late to Rwanda. We were late to Bosnia. We were late to Darfur. You have an opportunity that has never happened before: to stop it before it happens…your voice right now can save lives.”