John Prendergast: Students Can Help Darfur

John Prendergast discussed the current conflict in Darfur and what individuals can do to help out. (Photo by Kevin Baier)
John Prendergast discussed the current conflict in Darfur and what individuals can do to help out. (Photo by Kevin Baier)

John Prendergast, Former Director of African Affairs at the National Security Council and co-founder of the Enough Project, gave his second of three public lectures as the Senior Nitze Fellow on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

Michael Taber, director of the Nitze Scholars Program, introduced Prendergast and said, “he turns a light on difficult problems in difficult parts of the world and turns that light on us to shine a light on what we can do.”

Prendergast focused on the causes of violence in Sudan and the action that individuals can take to end that violence. He began with the heartbreaking story of Ameena, the mother of four from a small village in Northern Darfur.

Ameena was awoken early one morning by the sound of an explosion. Then she heard the sound of horses “this could mean only one thing, the Janjaweed were coming,” said Prendergast. As she fled the village, two militiamen chased her down.
The first grabbed her five-year-old son, Adam, and threw him into a burning house. “I don’t know what any of us would do,” said Prendergast. Ameena, Adam still screaming in the fire, chose to save her three other children. The second militiaman grabbed her seven year old and shot him three times before Ameena could escape with her two remaining children.

After recounting her horrifying story to Prendergast, Ameena said, “now that you know my story, you must do something.”
According to Prendergast, Ameena is one of three million displaced, her village is one of 1,500 villages burned and her children are two of the hundreds of thousands killed in the genocide perpetrated by the government backed Janjaweed. “The Janjaweed is Sudan’s KKK,” he said.

Although the Janjaweed, an extremist group, is responsible, Prendergast points to a small group of political leaders as those responsible for arming and encouraging the Janjaweed. He said, “it is not a divide and conquer strategy it is a divide and destroy strategy.”

To explain U.S. inaction, Prendergast points to the War in Iraq, counterterrorism efforts and energy. “The US is distracted in Iraq,” he said and, “the Sudanese government is providing information to the CIA” on the whereabouts of known terrorists. Also, China has invested heavily in the Sudanese oil industry and in exchange, Prendergast said, “China protects Sudan in the UN Security council, like [the U.S.] does with Israel.”

Prendergast ended the lecture by talking about the hope he has that the genocide will end and how students can get involved. “We are, for the first time, seeing a mass movement to end genocide,” he said, “we must create political pressure and cover for politicians to do the right thing.”

He laid out five ways students can help. First, join an anti-genocide movement. Second, contact a Senator or Congressman. Third, call the White House. Fourth, write or call local media. Finally, get involved with the “Darfur Dream Team” sister-to-sister school program (www.darfurdreamteam.org).

“We have a lot of potential to impact [the genocide in Darfur], being so close to Washington,” said Shane Hall, Sustainability Fellow, “we just need to look past our iPhones or use them in the right way.”

“John [Prendergast] gave pretty solid guidelines that we can follow through with and gave a global context for the small role that we can play,” said Andrew Reighart, a first-year and Nitze Scholar. Andrew and other first-year Nitze scholars read “Not on Our Watch” in preparation for the lecture. “Not on Our Watch” is a book co-authored by Prendergast and actor/activist Don Cheadle about the genocide in Darfur.

More information on John Prendergast and his work is available at www.enoughproject.org.

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