Star Power for Social Good: Clooney and Prendergast Speak Out on Sudan

Posted by at 12:19AM

Usually at the start of an event article such as this, I’d provide some background, some details on the event, maybe a few witticisms, and wrap up with some related resources.  And I will.  Just not yet, because that is not the point.  If you take nothing else away from this article, give this sentence your full attention:

Sudan is at the precipice of civil war, and YOU can do something to prevent the next genocide.


  • A Sudanese child soldier: the very real human consequence of inaction in Sudan

    Sign a petition at  ask Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough (Obama’s point person inside the White House on Sudan) to “make sure Sudan’s leaders fully comply with the benchmarks for progress in both Darfur and South Sudan before any incentives are granted by the U.S. Government.”

  • Write a personal letter to Obama himself:  ask him to remember the January deadline.
  • Join STAND, Amnesty International, or any of Stanford’s other anti-genocide groups on campus.
  • Participate in Stanford’s Darfur Fast:  Nov. 17th, all-day, with breaking of the fast 6-7:30 p.m., 1st floor Tresidder Union.  Register here, suggested donation $10.  Proceeds benefit the Darfur Stoves project.
  • Purchase a STAND Beat Cal Sudan T-shirt:  30% of proceeds go to the Darfur Stoves project.
  • Buy food at Jamba Juice between November 10 and 19, mentioning STAND or Darfur Fast, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Darfur Stoves.
  • Use social media to spread the word!

Our generation can reverse the tide of racial genocide and use creative diplomacy to prevent future atrocities.  Who doesn’t want to be a part of that?

Now back to our normal programming….

Prendergast and Clooney deep in discussion

This Monday evening, larger-than-life activists John Prendergast and George Clooney lent their star power and international clout to a cause of urgent and epic proportions: the crisis in Sudan.  For those of you unfamiliar with the details, here’s a quick synopsis of the issues at hand.

The layman’s guide to the Sudan crisis:

The Janjaweed: armed and dangerous

The modern conflict in Sudan stems from 2003 when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement, launched a militarized uprising against the Sudanese government.  To quell the rebellion, the government called in the aid of various nomadic Sudanese groups such as the Rizeigat and the Misseriya.  With financial backing from Sudan’s ruling National Congress party, these groups formed the Janjaweed militias that are largely responsible for the deaths of over 400,000 as well as the displacement of over 4 million people.  In this way, according to Prendergast, the Sudanese government has  “used ethnic based militias to attack… and destroy civilian populations in a way that is unparalleled in all of Africa.”

The marketplace in the volatile oil-rich town of Abyei

Sudan has experienced a concurrent national conflict over oil, as a split between northern and southern Sudan intensifies.  Southern Sudan has the mixed blessing of bountiful oil resources (particularly concentrated in the contested region of Abyei) that make it a desirable asset to the Sudanese government in Khartoum.  However, northern Sudan has been stingy in sharing oil-derived profits with the people of southern Sudan.  Southern Sudan has had enough, and its intensified efforts to gain independence from northern Sudan have cost approximately 2.25 million lives.  Clooney asserted that the “South is better armed than they were in the last war” and that “they have every intention of fighting to the death.”  With grim conviction, Clooney concluded that “if you don’t settle Abyei, there will be war.”

Why it’s relevant now:

"If there's a conflict... the South isn't going to fight a conventional war.... They're going to blow up oil wells."

Politically, Sudan has been in a relative stalemate for the last several years.  This unfortunate stagnation derives primarily from China’s economic holdings in Sudanese oil assets and its unwillingness to jeopardize relations that have thus far preserved such a lucrative trade situation.  With veto power in the Security Council of the U.N., China has effectively blocked the majority of all efforts by the international community to put pressure on the Sudanese government.  Most urgent of all is the pending issue of upcoming elections in Sudan.  On January 9, the Sudanese people will vote on two referendums: whether or not to split and, if so, where to place Abyei.  These issues are hotly contested and, according to Prendergast and Clooney, it is imperative that the Sudanese government conducts fair elections and then acts according to the will of its people.

How the U.S. is getting involved:

John Kerry speaks on behalf of Obama in Sudan

It’s predominantly up to the U.S. to make sure Sudan runs a fair election and gets its act together.  Fortunately, we’re in a good position to make this happen.  “On the table is a set of incentives the U.S. is offering,” says Prendergast.  These incentives include a “laundry list of things the U.S. Government has done to isolate the Sudanese government” including placement on international terrorism lists, sanctions, and blockades of opportunities for debt relief (Clooney).  These punitive measures would be rolled back if the Sudanese government agrees to a just settlement of the Abyei question.  Senator John Kerry is the point man on these efforts.  He has visited Sudan twice already for negotiations and just two days ago presented a definitive proposal to the Sudanese government backed by a letter from President Obama himself.  Prendergast insists that unified action by the U.S. and the international community must “demonstrate very clearly… that there is one path to peace.”

Not just a pretty face….

President Obama talks about Sudan with George Clooney during a meeting outside the Oval Office, Oct. 12, 2010.

Prendergast and Clooney are using their international star power to impressive effect to get the ball rolling on the Sudan crisis.  After an extensive fact-finding mission in Sudan, the dynamic duo released an open memorandum on the issue and met privately with President Obama on October 12 to discuss the immediacy and urgency of the Sudan.  The two have met with members of Congress to promote awareness of the issue and emphasize the need to act now.  According to Clooney, “the Obama Administration really doesn’t want to lose the peace that the Bush Administration gained.”  And that, Prendergast chimed in, means that “we have a lot of leverage, we just have to be creative in how we utilize it.”  The U.S. is in the position to put Sudan’s government in some pretty hot water, in fact.  3 major Sudanese government officials have warrants out for their arrest by the International Criminal Court.  The UN list of 51 most-wanted people in Sudan for crimes against humanity has Sudanese officials very uneasy, and U.S. infiltrators have lots of information on who authorized which genocidal activities that can be turned over to the international community at any time.  With a twinkle in his eye, Prendergast noted, “there are significant things that we can do that will unnerve them fairly significantly.”

Google Earth uses satellite imaging to promote international awareness

Prendergast and Clooney aren’t afraid to use any and all tactics that might aid them in their no-holds-barred pursuit of peace in Sudan.  Clooney described one seemingly unlikely partnership as follows: “We’ve been talking to the people at Google Earth, because we figured, ‘what the f*ck?”  The idea is that, thanks to a new Sudan-targeting satellite, people around the world would be able to see current satellite images of the atrocities being committed in Sudan, and this undeniable photo evidence would powerfully compel people to action.

What needs to be done:

"Studying genocide allows us to understand how far these perpetrators are willing to go by any means necessary."

As Clooney noted, “we have a place now to put real pressure on them….  We have always, in our lifetime, always caught these things after they happened… in every single opportunity we’ve had….  [But this time] it really is in our hands, we have the ability to do this.”  Prendergast and Clooney encouraged students to take action on campus in student groups, to participate by writing letters and signing petitions, but most importantly, to get the word out about the urgency of the Sudanese issue.  Clooney emphasized the importance of social media when he insisted, “Twitter and Facebook and… all the things you use to communicate… from college to college and all across the country….  You have to do it a lot right now.”

With an air of finality and conviction, Clooney finished his main dialogue with a profound statement: “we can do this now, or we can go in later and clean up the mess.”

Let’s make history.  Let’s prevent genocide.  Enough is enough.

· Purchase a STAND Beat Cal Sudan T-shirt (30% of proceeds go to the Darfur Stoves project)



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