U.S. President Barack Obama said student groups were key to putting the conflicts in Darfur and Sudan on the radar screen of policymakers, according to John Prendergast, a prominent human rights activist, author and former Director for African Affairs at the National Security Council. Prendergast spoke Monday afternoon to a group of 40 Stanford students, staff and community members at the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons Study Room.
Prendergast praised the efforts of youth and student movements, such as anti-genocide movement STAND, which has a Stanford chapter, for its advocacy efforts. He encouraged students who are passionate about activism to use new media tools to craft personal stories that can mobilize the public and policymakers.
“I am amazed by criticism that activists have undermined the peace process,” he said. “These groups have had a great deal of influence in putting the issue on the agenda of policymakers who are the ones responsible.”
“Informed activism can make a huge difference,” he added. “We cannot tell the U.S. how to conduct foreign policy but we can help drive its focus on forgotten human rights issues where literally millions of lives are at stake.”
The discussion, titled “Why South Sudan Succeeded and Why Darfur Failed: Lessons About Activism,” is part of a guest lecture series on various human rights issues by Prendergast, which had its first event last Tuesday and will have its last event this Thursday. Crothers Global Citizenship, the Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education and the Residential Education’s Charles F. Riddell Fund co-sponsored the talk.
Prendergast co-founded the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide, with Crothers’ Resident Fellow Steve Stedman.
Prendergast began his talk by applying what he called the “Four Ps” of external engagement — consisting of Policy, Personnel, Process and Political Will — to both Southern Sudan and Darfur.
Prendergast warned that there are still key issues to resolve between Sudan and Southern Sudan including the distribution of oil revenues, border demarcation and territory disputes — as well as internal communal fighting in both areas.
However, he considers the formation of Southern Sudan as an independent state to be a success, crediting it to international pressure and the efforts of the Obama administration in reasserting a firm U.S leadership role in the region.
“The international community was able to zero in on the essential issue of self-determination for the people in the south,” Prendergast said. “There were a lot of hiccups, but they essentially got it right.”
In comparison, he called the U.S and international involvement in the Darfur conflict “literally a case study of how not to undertake peace.”
“The utterly fatal flaw in Darfur was sending in U.N. [United Nations] peacekeepers,” he said. “The peacekeeping mission had absolutely no impact in slowing down the crisis, but rather it was a tremendous diversion of effort and energy.”
According to Prendergast, the U.S and the international community should focus on real democratic transformation in Sudan and dealing with the problems in the region holistically.
After the talk, audience members posed questions on topics ranging from China’s involvement in the region to the efficacy of foreign intervention.
One of the audience members, community member Gabriel Tor, shared his experience as a Sudanese who had to escape the country as a child in 1987.
“I think some of the important points were glossed over though,” said audience member and Sudanese student Atheel Elmalik ’15. “Some issues like the oil conflict and Bashir’s defiance are very difficult and complicated.”
After the discussion, Prendergast provided some inspiration to Stanford students who asked about becoming involved in activism.
“Find other like-minded students and act with them to build relationships with other universities and constituencies,” he said. “It is all about being part of something bigger and changing the world one step at a time.”