Given the daunting challenges before him, it would be unsurprising if bringing peace to Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo was not at the top of Barack Obama's list of early priorities. But it should be. Not only because Sudan and Congo are the two deadliest wars in the world, but because they are wars that the Obama administration could actually help end.
The war in Congo alone has led to more deaths than any war, anywhere, since the Holocaust. Five million people have died there in the last decade. The wars in Sudan over the last two decades -- both in the south and in Darfur -- have cost the lives of more than 2.5 million people. The number of those driven from their homes is in the millions. Two of Africa's richest countries in natural resources have reduced most of their citizens to abject poverty.
Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, Sudan and Congo garner only occasional attention and sporadic diplomatic action. When the bodies start to pile up, diplomats from around the world descend upon Khartoum and Kinshasa. But this type of emergency diplomacy has left the root causes of conflict unaddressed and has allowed them to fester.
In both wars, government soldiers, militias and rebels ruthlessly deploy rape as a weapon of war. We have met with Congolese women who have been gang-raped, had their lips cut off to prevent them from speaking, and who were then set on fire. Sudanese women tell similar stories.
Rahm Emanuel, the newly minted White House chief of staff, recently reminded us that in the midst of crisis, there is great opportunity. For Congo and Sudan, we see three big reasons for hope.
The first is China. Because of China's nearly $9 billion investment in the oil sector in Sudan, and recent $5 billion deal for Congolese minerals, China increasingly has a vested interest in peace and stability in these two countries. President Obama could send a powerful message and take a meaningful step by sending a high-level envoy to Beijing, early in his first 100 days, to explore ways to work together to help bring peace to these African countries. With all that divides the U.S. and China, these are issues we can and should unite on.
The second reason for hope is the president-elect himself. Mr. Obama has offered the world a renewed American commitment to global citizenship. In both Congo and Sudan, as is the case in countries around the world, there is an extraordinary eagerness to see this global phenomenon engage positively in their crises. However intangible, the president-elect's ability to inspire and lead is as real as any other point of leverage. He can make the case for peace to those controlling the flow of money and munitions into Congo and Sudan. And he can raise the cost of continuing the status quo through multilateral measures to economically and politically isolate the spoilers.
The third reason for hope may be the most potent of all. The American public, especially our younger generation, is increasingly interested in what happens outside of our borders, and particularly in Africa. While we have each participated in our own way in building an advocacy movement around Darfur, it has been the high-school and college students who have made Darfur a political issue too important to be ignored, and who are now preparing similar campaigns for Congo. It is these same young Americans who voted in large numbers for the new president. They are now ready to be led by a President Obama to build a safer world and a safer Africa.
Investing in the resolution of the conflicts in Congo and Sudan will be much cheaper than continuing to spend billions of dollars a year on humanitarian aid and observer forces. These band-aids are expensive substitutes for the real solutions that come from rolling up our sleeves and building an international coalition committed to addressing the root causes of conflict in a serious and sustained manner. President-elect Obama has a chance to help build an international coalition to end the two biggest wars in the world. He should seize it.
Mr. Clooney, an actor and director, and Mr. Pressman, a human-rights lawyer, are co-founders of the international advocacy organization Not On Our Watch. Mr. Prendergast co-chairs the Enough Project.