Executive Director of Enough
Posted: February 2, 2010 06:43 PM
Obama Takes our YouTube Question on Sudan
Thanks to the Sudan advocacy community's ability to quickly mobilize, the Enough Project was able to get Sudan policy front and center before President Obama not just once, but twice in 48 hours. First, President Obama was at the Duke-Georgetown basketball game on Saturday where he saw a powerful joint appeal from students at both schools during halftime to support the Sister School's program assisting Darfuri refugee kids trying to get an education in camps in Chad.
On Monday, President Obama responded on YouTube and on the White House Web site to a video question on Sudan submitted by Enough Project and voted by the general public as the most popular foreign policy question. Thanks to a dynamic social media campaign, online voters made clear they wanted the president to better explain what he is doing to avert a resumption of widespread bloodshed in Sudan. The outpouring of support for a query on Sudan is all the more impressive given that some 14,000 potential questions were submitted for the online interview. Here's the Sudan portion of the live Q&A:
My colleague, and Enough's Co-founder, John Prendergast took some issue with the president's statement:
President Obama's response is missing two elements. First, there is no full-time field-based diplomatic presence in Sudan and the surrounding region working on both Darfur and the North-South issues to make sure peace efforts have a chance of success. So we would like to see him deploy that diplomatic capacity and challenge other nations with influence to do the same. Without that kind of on the ground U.S. leadership, the kind that led to the 2005 North-South peace deal, the risk of further conflict is very high.
Second, diplomatic engagement should be backed by real and immediate pressures on the Sudanese government. It is not a case of engagement versus pressure as the president seems to imply. The U.S. should be working to build a coalition of countries willing to escalate pressures in support of peace -- pressures that would include targeted asset freezes and travel bans, expansion of the arms embargo, denial of debt relief, and suspension of aid to the deeply flawed election. Introducing these consequences into the equation would influence the calculations of the parties and help move them toward lasting peace.
Georgetown and Duke students Daniel Solomon and Amber Henderson have penned an op-ed about Darfur that highlights the initiative their two schools have undertaken to help fund schools in the Darfur refugee camps. Although major rivals on the court, Duke and Georgetown alumni and students are coming together to raise money for the Darfur Dream Team's Sister Schools Program, which I started with NBA star Tracy McGrady and the UN High Commission for Refugees. The goal of the program is to provide a quality education for every refugee child from Darfur. The initiative which Daniel and Amber from Duke and Georgetown are spearheading is going to help fulfill that goal for thousands of Darfuri kids. Hard to imagine a more noble partnership than that.
According to a recent report published by The New York Times, the turmoil of the Darfur region in Sudan has largely quieted. Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, who commands UNAMID -- the joint UN-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur -- has described the security situation in Darfur as "calm ... but it remains unpredictable."
The conflict in Darfur -- which, according to Amnesty International has left in its wake 300,000 deaths, 250,000 refugees, and 2.6 million internally displaced persons -- has been a flashpoint for violence since it began in February 2003. The conflict originated when two rebel groups -- the Sudan Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement -- challenged the authority of the Sudanese government in Darfur. The Sudanese government replied with an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign. It used janjaweed -- or horse-riding militias -- to carry out scorched-earth operations against civilian population centers in Darfur.
It quickly became clear that the Sudanese government's efforts were escalating from a heavy counterinsurgency to what many international activists and the United States have labeled genocide, as defined by the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Nyamyumba's comment indicates that the game has recently changed in Darfur. While the classification of the Darfur situation as post-genocidal is arguably apt, that of post-conflict is not. As Sean Brooks of the Save Darfur Coalition recently wrote, "Darfur...remains a human rights and humanitarian crisis of the first order." Though major hostilities between Sudanese government and janjaweed forces and the rebel groups may have de-escalated, the security situation for the people of Darfur remains unstable. Sexual violence is widespread, the Sudanese government restricts crucial access to humanitarian aid organizations in Darfur, the peace process has stalled and the refugee crisis remains acute. Last March, the International Criminal Court indicted current Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity, but a culture of impunity still underlines the Darfur conflict.
Sudan is again approaching a tipping point in its stability. The Sudanese government has scheduled elections for April 2010, but has not committed to the proper reforms required to ensure the electoral processes' credibility. Sporadic violence and the Sudanese military's significant presence in Darfur could potentially intimidate the electorate, and thereby pollute the polling process and enshrine Bashir's regime with false legitimacy.
Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health today at a hearing to review the administration's new Sudan policy, I expressed the Enough Project's deep concern that the existing strategy of the United States and the broader international community to prevent all-out war in Sudan is failing.
One month after the release of the Obama administration's new policy, the situation on the ground has further deteriorated, with life or death implications.
Central to the administration's new policy is support for full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, as U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration reiterated in his testimony today.
To date, not one of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement's (CPA) preconditions for holding credible elections has been met. The risks of ignoring preconditions and holding a non-credible election are enormous.
This Sunday "60 Minutes" will present an investigation into how the global gold industry is helping fuel violence and chaos in the Congo.
CBS reporter Scott Pelley's investigation found that conflict in the region was often to do with different militias seeking control over valuable natural resources.
"If you do a conflict analysis, you will find that when there are spikes in violence, it has something to do with contestation over the mineral resources, gold and the rest of them," John Prendergast tells Pelley. Prendergast worked in the Clinton administration on Africa policy, and co-founded "The Enough Project," which works to expose war crimes.
A growing network of activists is flexing its market muscle to help end the crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the deadliest and most neglected war in the world. That country's conflict minerals continue to play a central role in financing some of the worst human rights abuses in the world, including an epidemic of sexual violence perpetrated by fighters on all sides of the war.
These same minerals -- tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold -- are essential to our cell phones, computers and other high-tech gadgets. Emerging activism in the United States and Europe is recognizing that this link between our gadgets and Congo's conflict provides an opportunity to be part of a solution.
How do you defeat a dangerous insurgent group that has embedded itself within a civilian population? This vexing question is at the center of the ongoing debate over the counterinsurgency approach in Afghanistan--a conversation that plays itself out at the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department, on Capital Hill, and through a seemingly endless herd of pundits on cable news shows, op-ed pages, and in the blogosphere. And there is a good reason for such a considered and public discussion. Beyond the direct involvement of U.S. forces, success in Afghanistan, however that is ultimately defined, has clear implications for international peace and security. Failure, says the cliché, is not an option.
The Obama administration will complete its Sudan policy review very soon and go public with its approach for addressing the multiple crises in Sudan, namely the rapidly deteriorating state of the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the unresolved conflict in Darfur. The Obama administration's internal policy review, which began in March, has dragged on for months.
Given the enormously high stakes in Sudan--a national election, largely funded by the U.S., slated for April next year that could dissolve into violence, and a referendum in 2011 that will give the South the chance to vote to become an independent country--it's critically important that the Obama administration strike the right tone and substance in its policy and diplomatic strategy toward Sudan, at a time when the country could easily slide back into a hot war within the next 18 months.
The top agenda items for today's White House meeting between President Obama and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak are not a surprise; Middle East peace and combating extremism are the shared preoccupations that define U.S.-Egyptian relations. Yet a less obvious but no less urgent national security concern for Egypt is the situation in neighboring Sudan. President Mubarak shares President Obama's stated goal of lasting peace and stability in Sudan, and President Obama must seize this opportunity to leverage the United States' close relationship with Egypt into a genuine partnership to achieve this mutually desirable outcome.
Egypt's stakes in Sudan are extraordinarily high for one simple reason: the Nile River. The Blue Nile and White Nile Rivers converge at Sudan's capital Khartoum and the single waterway continues on toward Egypt and ultimately the Mediterranean. Any disruptions to the Nile's flow pose an existential threat to the Egyptians, and Cairo is thus directly implicated in and preoccupied by events not only in Sudan, but in the Nile's other riparian nations as well.
The constant refrain from Egyptian diplomats working on Sudan is the need for "stability," by which they mean two things: a strong central government in Khartoum with close ties to Cairo and unity between Sudan's North and South. The widespread belief in Cairo is that if Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) were to lose power, the country would descend into "Somalia-like" anarchy. Thus, any challenge to the NCP -- such as an armed rebellion or an international arrest warrant -- threatens Egypt's national security.
Similarly threatening to Egypt is the potential break-up of Sudan, which could occur in 2011 when southern Sudan is set to hold a self-determination referendum. Any such alteration to the current Sudanese state would force Cairo to negotiate its rights to the Nile with a new state -- one that could potentially seek to use the Nile to unlock its agricultural potential.
While Egypt's preferences in Sudan are evident, their position is increasingly untenable. The NCP's strong-arm tactics may seem to serve Egypt's short-term interests, but the way Sudan has been governed for the past two decades has rendered the country inherently unstable. Moreover, the prospects of a united Sudan diminish with each passing day, as southern secession seems a near certainty at this point.
If Egypt is going to be a constructive partner for the United States on Sudan, President Obama must hammer these points home and get President Mubarak to start thinking seriously about life after the NCP and the critical need for a peaceful and credible self-determination referendum for the South.
The good news is that President Mubarak could be a willing listener. He is a pragmatist and acutely aware of the NCP's recklessness, having survived an assassination attempt orchestrated by this very regime in 1995. The United States also has some significant leverage with Cairo, which receives some $1.5 billion U.S. in military assistance each year along with significant development funding.
So what can President Obama do to find some common ground with his Egyptian counterpart? We believe that President Obama should seek to secure President Mubarak's commitment to jointly forge a strong international coalition with a shared strategy for lasting peace in Sudan. The essential elements of such a strategy are the following:
Revitalize the Darfur peace process: The so-called Doha Process is on life support. There is no strategic leadership, and Egypt has actively sought to undermine the process out of sheer pettiness: Egypt sees the host Qatar as an upstart challenger to its traditional diplomatic role in the region. The United States should seek a formal partnership with Egypt--along with France, the United Kingdom, and, potentially, China and Libya--to support AU/UN mediation efforts. Giving Egypt a prominent (and deserved) seat at the table would help end the counterproductive proliferation of alternative processes, and empower mediator Djibril Bassolet to focus on achieving a political settlement.
Implement the North-South Comprehensive Peace Agreement: The North-South peace deal is in serious trouble, and the NCP continues to obstruct implementation and fuel conflict in the south. A poorly managed self-determination referendum for southern Sudan and a return to full-scale civil war would be disastrous for regional stability and likely pull Egypt more directly into a very messy conflict. The United States should enlist Egypt's support to put greater pressure on the NCP to adhere to its commitments under the CPA. In exchange, the Obama administration should help broker a deal between Egypt and the Government of Southern Sudan on water rights before the referendum and act as a guarantor.
If President Obama can secure President Mubarak's commitment on these two fronts, the prospects for lasting peace in Sudan will immediately improve.
Enough Co-founder John Prendergast and Enough Policy Assistant Maggie Fick writing in The Huffington Post -
"If there was a serial mass murderer on the loose who had killed seven people in the United States, there would be a media firestorm, a panicked public, and subsequently, a galvanized response at the highest levels of government. In central Africa, there is a mass serial killer who has been responsible for thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of kidnappings of children over the past two decades. For over 22 years, Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has been on the loose in central Africa, leaving a trail of death, amputations, abductions, and terror. The world has paid scant attention to this deadly conflict and the mass murderer responsible for it all.
Concerned Americans, aside from having a moral urge to see an end to the LRA's cycle of death and destruction, should also have an economic interest in seeing this man removed from the battlefield. Ending the LRA's atrocities would dramatically reduce the enormous costs to U.S. taxpayers who year after year underwrite the humanitarian aid that flows to the survivors and the cost of peacekeepers patrolling parts of the Congo affected by the LRA's violence."
When Kat Kramer announced the launch of her "Films That Changed the World" series, she got a mostly enthusiastic response, but there were a few naysayers.
"You've got to be kidding me!" some said to Ms. Kramer, "Films don't change the world!"
As Kramer shared this story at the premiere luncheon for her series, groans of disagreement from approximately 100 women (and a handful of men) in the entertainment industry echoed throughout a "writer's garden" area on the Sunset-Gower Studios lot in Hollywood.