In the words of a friend here, “George Clooney has done wonders for men of the salt-and-pepper persuasion.” And while this may be true, with all the hoopla lately of his arrest and trying to raise awareness on the issue, the more pertinent question is: “What has George done for Sudan?”
Now, at first glance (especially if you’ve seen his recent Enough video, which is moving, showing the human beings who are suffering as a result of the north’s attacks, yet albeit, one-sided and, well, potentially harmful), yes, it seems good. However, there is a flip side of this whole equation, and instead of espousing on it myself, I’m just going to let you read an excerpt from the far-more-articulate Nesrine Malik’s article, “George Clooney isn’t helping Sudan,” or as I like to call it, “Why the conflict in Sudan is kinda, you know, like, complicated (and stuff)” [emphases mine]:
As a Sudanese, I am concerned not because I would like foreigners to stay out of internal affairs, but because the view Clooney is presenting to the world is not an accurate one. This is not out of any deliberate manipulation on his part, but Clooney’s campaign is rooted in a political culture that does not care for nuance.
It all really goes deeper than the criticism aimed at his Enough Project, the Save Darfur campaign, or the “genocide paparazzi” satellite monitoring scheme – all of which are symptomatic of an overarching failure in US foreign policy, which promotes a black-and-white understanding of some situations, often underscored by moral superiority. After all, “Arabs are genocidally massacring blacks in the Nuba mountains” is far sexier and easier to digest than “the people of the Nuba mountains sided with the Southern People’s Liberation Movement during Sudan’s decades-long civil war between north and south, and after the secession of the south last year, a disgruntled SPLM candidate for governor lost what he believed were rigged elections and then took arms against the government in Khartoum in co-operation with the residual Nuba SPLM cadre, whose grievances had still not been addressed”.
Clooney stated that the situation in the Nuba mountains was a “man-made tragedy by the government in Khartoum to get these people to leave”. It is nothing of the sort. Khartoum is responding to a rebellion in the region (where the SPLM’s agitating role is problematic to say the least) with little strategy and mass clumsy bombings, rolling makeshift oil drums full of explosives out of planes. It is apathetic to civilian deaths and not concerned with wiping out inhabitants of the Nuba mountains. This does not make the situation any less desperate, but it is an event that cannot be addressed in isolation from the conditions and provocations that precipitated it.
Sudan Change Now, a Sudanese opposition movement, published a letter to Clooney today stating :
“Portraying the regional conflicts in the country as a simplified war of Arabs and Africans concerns us. It does not fully capture the historical and political aspects of the conflict considering that the Sudanese government is a dictatorship and does not reflect the sentiments of the majority of the people. The regional conflicts in Sudan are not simple and are highly political with a strong basis on economic gains such as oil and other resources.”
Rob Crilly of the Telegraph is correct when he writes: “The problem is that his campaign stems from the same misguided analysis that brought us Kony 2012. It is an analysis that reduces Africa to simple notions of good versus evil, and suggests that outsiders hold the key to finding solutions”. Sudan is a country where a plethora of issues – such as tribal grazing rights, water availability, diversity of ethnicities and border demarcations – contribute to conflict. The situation is inflamed by decades of entrenched centralisation on the part of successive governments in Khartoum that have alienated the peripheries. Rebellion flares up in and is doused regularly, with fundamental grievances never addressed.
The current government in Sudan is not a benign one, and it might appear churlish not to support an out-and-out condemnation of its actions. But identifying the true nature of the problem enables us to come up with the right solutions.
Does it mean that Clooney shouldn’t care/protest/get arrested? No. Should he be advocating both the US and Khartoum for solutions and an end to this? Sure (which, btw, Sudanese do in their own country, too, often in the face of imprisonment and torture). But context matters. Because bad advocacy leads to bad policies which leads to bad actions.
Insinuating that this is about oil and directly affects gas prices is narrow-minded. Stating that it’s not for retaliation but for ethnic cleansing is a distortion of reality. Stating that for the first time since the stone age people are living in caves is just… gah, I can’t even go there.
Is this just an issue of right and wrong? No. Is the situation in the Nuba region any less desperate because it’s maybe more complex than being presented? No. Is there an easy solution? No. But a starting point is being genuine about the issues and starting the conversation from there.
So yeah. There’s that.