A group of around 20 students protested former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit to Stanford Thursday evening. Holding signs that read “The answer to colonialism is not imperialism” and “Africa’s resources are for Africa’s people,” protesters gathered outside of Cemex Auditorium, where Blair gave a public talk.
Students protested in conjunction with the “Tony 2012” movement–which, according to its Facebook page, seeks to “bring the warmonger [Blair] to justice.”
Blair was at Stanford to deliver a speech titled, “A New Approach for a New Africa.” He spoke to a packed audience about international aid, economic development and governmental process in developing African nations.
“Tony Blair has been found guilty of war crimes under international law by more than one tribunal,” wrote Zoe Lidstrom ’12 in an email to The Daily. “There are any number of other war criminals that Stanford would never bring to campus because of the atrocities they committed, and yet it has brought Tony Blair. We are challenging the idea that we should excuse Blair’s actions.”
According to Lidstrom, the protests had no official student group affiliation, but many of its participants are also involved with Occupy Stanford or Stanford Says No To War.
“[We] who want to challenge this University to see its role in a larger global context and to understand why providing a place for Tony Blair to speak implicates us in perpetuating neo-colonial policies,” wrote Anna McConnell ’14 in an email to The Daily.
Students mentioned Blair’s involvement in the Iraq War during his time as prime minister as a cornerstone to their opposition.
“I wanted to organize a protest against Tony Blair because he lied to the international community, along with [former U.S. President] Bush, that Saddam Hussein had WMDs and that if we didn’t remove him from power then he would destroy the free world with those weapons, which is proven to be not only false, but lies,” said Josh Schott ’14. “He is a war criminal, and it is disgusting that this University is welcoming him. He should be in prison.”
Students expressed frustration with Blair’s decisions as a political leader, as well as Stanford’s implicit “endorsement” of Blair’s policies through hosting his talk.
“It frustrates me how Stanford students are often seduced by celebrity status and fail to actually hold (Western) leaders accountable for their violence and perpetuation of injustice,” wrote Alok Vaid-Menon ’13 in an email to The Daily. “Our silence is a tacit endorsement of Blair’s violent and criminal activities.”
Protesters were angered by Blair’s actions as a prime minister as well as his current projects that focus on providing aid to six sub-Saharan African nations.
Vaid-Menon called the specific subject matter “offensive.”
“‘A New Approach for a New Africa,’ are you kidding me?” Vaid-Menon wrote. “The British Empire was one of the most dominating and violent empires and is directly implicated in the underdevelopment of Africa. Having Blair speak about ‘Africa’ (as if there were solutions that applied to all of Africa, a continent composed of many different nations and countries) constitutes, in my eyes, a pernicious form of neocolonialism.”
Blair expressed a need for western involvement in African development during his talk.
“When countries have emerged from prolonged periods of insecurity and conflict, the basic apparatus of government can be missing,” he said. “We have the means to help supply it.”
However, Blair also mentioned third parties–among them “new donors” in China, India and Brazil–as necessary contributors to the development of sub-Saharan Africa.
“You start at your most popular and least capable and you end at your least popular and most capable,” he said.
Blair directly addressed the protests when speaking with The Daily after his talk.
“It’s great that we live in a vibrant democracy, but sometimes what people protest about,” Blair said. “If you’re in Africa and you’re desperate to get a decent standard of life, some change of prosperity and proper education and healthcare, you actually need the outside world to be your partner in this. We don’t go into any of these countries unless people want us.”
Blair did not address his time as prime minister with regard to his involvement in the Iraq war.
Though Tony 2012 is an international movement–it had approximately 8,250 likes on its Facebook page as of publication–Stanford students were not involved until Blair’s visit to campus, according to Vaid-Menon.
According to Schott, the protests were a singular effort against Thursday’s event and will not persist.
Vaid-Menon said he was pleased with the turnout and passion of the demonstrators, but commented that he was disappointed in the way the University treated the protest.
“They prohibited us from using our megaphone, citing university policy, and had police watch our every move,” Vaid-Menon wrote, noting some irony in the situation.
“We found it ironic that the University feels the need to take such safety precautions for peaceful demonstrators and yet allows a documented war criminal to freely speak.”