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“Not on our watch:” Activist John Prendergast speaks at Elon about Darfur genocide

March 6, 2009

Jessica Dexheimer

March 6

On Wednesday, Elon students were called to action.

Human-rights activist and author John Prendergast spoke in Whitley auditorium and urged members of the Elon community to take action to stop violence in Darfur.

During the Clinton administration, Prendergast was the director of African Affairs at the National Security Council and special advisor for the Department of State. It was in this capacity that he became involved with the human rights crisis in Darfur.

To give a face to the genocide in Darfur, Prendergast told the story of Amina, a young mother from a rural village in Darfur. When the Janjaweed militia came in to Amina’s town, she tried to flee. The militiamen brutally killed two of Amina’s children, but she and two of her other children managed to escape to a refugee camp.

 

During the Clinton administration, John Prendergast worked as the director of African Affairs at the National Security Council and as a special advisor for the Department of State.

During the Clinton administration, John Prendergast worked as the director of African Affairs at the National Security Council and as a special advisor for the Department of State.

However, what happened to Amina was not an isolated incident. Prendergast estimated that the Janjaweed have killed at least 300,000 Sudanese, burned 1,500 villages and left three million people homeless. The militia targets non-Arabs from the Fur, Massaleet and Zagwa ethnic groups.

 

“This isn’t to divide and conquer, this is to divide and destroy,” Prendergast said of the Janjaweeds. “They do it to stay in power, by any means necessary.”

Barriers to aid

Prendergast said that the outside world has not done enough to alleviate the violence in Darfur.

He said that Sudan represents the “three greatest issues of our time: Iraq, counter-terrorism and energy security.”

Osama bin Laden lived in Sudan for six years in the 1990s. After the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the Sudanese government gained favor in America by sharing secrets about al Qaeda’s inner-workings. Sudan is also oil-rich – 70 percent of China’s oil comes from Sudan.

“Another factor is America believes Africa is helpless,” Prendergast said, attributing this in part to movies like “Blood Diamond,” “Lord of War,” “The Last King of Scotland” and “Hotel Rwanda.”

“[The movies] show a moment in time, but it happens to be the darkest moment in that country’s history,” Prendergast said. The movies do not show the economic and political advancements that the countries have since made.

“The point is, Africa is not hopeless,” Prendergast said. “Africa is a continent full of hope and limitless possibilities. That is the Africa I know.”

A call to action

Even though Prendergast believes that the major world powers have not done enough to help Darfur, he has not given up hope.

“I believe it’s darkest before the dawn, and I believe Sudan’s dawn is coming,” he said. “We can help the dawn come more quickly.”

Prendergast offered five “windows of opportunity” that he believes will lead to a difference in Sudan.

The first is the election of President Barack Obama,whom Prendergast believes will champion for human rights reform.

“We now have supplanted the three biggest activists from the Senate into the White House: Obama, Biden and Clinton,” Prendergast said.

He is also looking forward to the upcoming Sudanese elections, hoping that they could bring some change to the tumultuous region.

Prendergast also says that the United States should urge China to cut economic ties with Sudan, and hopes that this economic pressure could force the Sudanese government to denounce the Janjaweed militia.

On Wednesday morning, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Omar Al-Bashir, Sudan’s head-of-state. Prendergast compared this to the Nuremberg trials, and hopes that it is the beginning of a major change for Darfur.

“The fifth, final window is you, all of us in this room,” Prendergast said. “That could be the biggest game-changer in the world.”

He urged audience members to become involved with the anti-genocide movement by contacting Congress, the White House, and the local media, or just by relying on their own talents.

“The key is to see what kind of contribution you can make to the anti-genocide movement, and just do it,” he said. He recounted the story of one activist who planned a charitable poker tournament that raised more than $750,000 to donate to those affected by the conflict.

The easiest contribution that any individual can make, Prendergast said, is simply creating awareness about the conflict.

“If we make enough noise, we have a chance to make a difference,” he said. “We need to raise our voices as loudly as we can and say, ‘not on our watch!’”

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