New Advocacy Group Aims To Point Up Atrocities in Africa
Friday, February 9, 2007
Veteran Africa activists, frustrated by the slow response from Sudan's government to international demands to ease the plight of refugees in Darfur, are regrouping to take their fight to the next level.
A new group, calling itself Enough, has joined the growing list of nongovernmental peacemaking organizations. Its aim, the founders said, is to tap into the grass-roots awareness and sense of rage generated by the Darfur crisis and create a social and political network that can identify potential wide-scale atrocities, particularly in Africa, and stop them before they occur.
The three co-founders are Gayle E. Smith, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who was previously an officer with the State Department and the National Security Council; Africa expert John Prendergast, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group who also served at State and the NSC in the Clinton administration; and Colin Thomas-Jensen, Africa research and advocacy manager for the International Crisis Group and a former official with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
"We've got people's attention on Darfur. While we have it, there are other raging fires such as Uganda and the Congo, and it is more cost-effective to act in concert," Smith said. "I am both excited and moved by the activism on Africa and what has happened in the last 30 years. . . . It is breathtaking."
In a survey by the Pew Research Center conducted in December, 51 percent of American respondents said they thought the United States had a responsibility to do something about ethnic violence in Darfur, and 53 percent were in favor of U.S. troops in Darfur as part of a multinational force to help end ethnic genocide there.
"It's a neat idea. When you build up such a large grass-roots base, it would be a shame to let it die away once a crisis is finished. It would be great to have a system to take care of future conflicts," said Amjad Atallah, president of Strategic Assessments Initiative and an adviser to the Save Darfur Coalition, an alliance of organizations committed to protecting civilians in Darfur.
"So much of the campaigning has been effective in raising awareness, which is crucial, but ineffective in affecting policy. We won't just focus on one crisis. We want to show the linkages and common roots between the crises in Congo, Northern Uganda and Sudan," Prendergast said Monday by e-mail from Uganda, where he is touring with actor Ryan Gosling.
Prendergast said the object was to feed the growing movement against genocide and make it more comprehensive. "Ultimately, our goal is to help reorganize our government's ability to prevent and respond to the commission of crimes against humanity as a fundamental objective of U.S. foreign policy, just as promoting trade and countering terrorism is today," he said.
The founders' experience in government and in relief work in Africa will add another dimension to the grass-roots activism that began on campuses nationwide. Stark images from Darfur of emaciated, gangly refugees on the edge between life and death have entered the American consciousness through a variety of documentaries and other television shows.
"We are going to develop a committed core of people, which is not so much a lobbying group as one that can drive up the political temperature," Prendergast said, spelling out the new group's agenda. "How do we restructure diplomatically? What we want to do is make existing movements smarter and build a better infrastructure within the government. How to restructure intelligence networks to set alarm bells in motion? How do we provide assistance to existing peacekeeping operations and, more importantly, protect civilians?"
Some ideas the group discussed include monthly analysis briefings, workshops on shaping the congressional budget process, and regional training for advocacy.
At the request of the Save Darfur Coalition, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) led a delegation last month to Sudan's capital, Khartoum, to meet with President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. The group hoped to tease out written commitments on the deployment of peacekeeping troops, the establishment of humanitarian delivery corridors, and the clear marking of government planes to avoid confusion between attack aircraft and relief drops.
S. Daniel Abrahams, a Slimfast magnate and philanthropist, offered his private jet, and the State Department gave its consent for the trip. A couple of days after the trip, a 60-day cease-fire collapsed.
Richardson said in an interview this week that some advances were made "in the right direction," such as a pledge to reduce the red tape delaying permits for Sudanese relief workers hoping to work in Darfur. Most previous diplomatic efforts with Bashir have failed.
"I'm going to make Darfur an issue," said Richardson, who announced his bid for the presidency one week after returning from Sudan in January. "We need to start thinking about Africa and about repairing our relations with the Muslim world. Our obsession with Iraq has caused us to neglect poverty issues. "
"I think candidates of both parties at some point are going to be asked about Darfur," Smith said. "In 2004 there were questions about Darfur in the debate. We expect everyone running for president will get a question on Darfur."
More than 185 organizations are members of the Save Darfur Coalition, which has a highly efficient system for collecting online donations, obtaining grants and foundation money, and gathering sizable contributions from individuals and celebrities. Enough is likely to tap into the same pool of funding.
Richardson met with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to push the Sudan agenda, and he welcomed the intensified efforts of the civic groups. "It is very healthy to have such groups," he said. "There are a number of ethnic wars in Africa . . . unfolding tragedies. We cannot as a nation have any more Rwandas."