Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ramblings: Nicholas D. Kristof, Sudan and Intervention

 Every so often I get up on my soapbox and talk about certain things in this world that really, really bother me. I suppose “every so often” is really a euphemism, seeing as I rant about things to anyone who will listen, and also to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis. I try to read about everything that is going on and then get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of atrocities that are happening in this world that we live in on a continuous basis. I often feel like a fraud, because all I am doing is reading and writing and talking about all these things, and that’s not enough. I want to go to these places, DO something. Talking about it just isn’t enough, because I can talk and talk about it, but in the end what is it going to do? Maybe a few people will listen and agree with me, maybe a few others will listen and disagree, but in the end it will all fall amidst the deep well of other stories and articles that are forgotten, while, in the meantime, whatever I am talking about continues to happen on a daily basis.

This is exactly why I admire people like Nicholas D. Kristof. He goes to places that are the furthest away from paradise and reports back to us on what is going on there. He takes photos and videos and uses his power as a celebrated journalist to show us the realities of what is going on in places like Sudan and Uganda and China and Haiti, as well as right here at home in the US. The man covers topics such as sex trafficking, bullying, starvation, civil war, bombings, death, massacres, hope, love and revolution in any place that he can find it. He doesn’t seem to be phased by obstacles that are thrown in his path – just recently he snuck through the Sudanese border to report on the fate of the Sudanese people hiding in the Nuba mountain region from their own government’s regular bombing campaigns on them. On top of dodging the bombs that are trying to wipe them out, these people are literally starving, living off leaves and insects. Many of them do not have the energy to make the long (and dangerous) trek to the refugee camp that is across the border in South Sudan, so they are stuck in the mountains, hoping that something will change before they all starve. Click HERE to see Kristof’s most recent article on the plight of these people who are stuck watching their children starve away. 

For those who thought that the problems in Sudan ended last year when the territory was divided into two separate countries were wrong. It was a good step towards a better life for those living in the South, but nothing has really changed for those living in the South Kordofan region, the only region in North Sudan where oil can be found. When a country is divided into two there will always be a part of the population who suddenly finds themselves in the wrong country, and this is a prime example of this happening. South Kordofan is the home of many pro-south communities who now find themselves being governed (and terrorized) by the Northern government. Foreign aid has been restricted to the area and humanitarian groups have been expelled, leaving the population to fend for itself, with next to nothing to eat. So what can be done? Kristof calls upon Obama to step in and do something, but what exactly can he, or we, do? There has been conflict in Sudan for so many years now, conflict that nobody really cared about until it had been going on for years (see The Devil Came on Horseback, a terrifying documentary of one man’s mission to show the world what was going on in Darfur). When it comes to a country that doesn’t really have much to offer the western world it is easy to turn a blind eye and figure that they will just sort it all out themselves. I agree that some kind of intervention needs to happen, but not the type of intervention that involves sending US troops yet again into another country. Intervention should happen in the manner of world leaders getting together and putting enough pressure on the North Sudanese government in order to stop the bombings, and to let aid groups back into the affected region and feed the starving people. How can this be done? It’s not like Sudan is the only place in the world where the government is killing people (Syria for example) or where famine is taking its toll on an entire population. It’s not the only place where people are leaving their homes with nothing but the clothes they are wearing and trekking across borders to refugee camps, not knowing if they will ever make it back home again (DRC). There are still countries in this world where conditions are so dire that many people don’t make it past the age of 40 (Mozambique, Swaziland for example – taken from the UN World Populations Prospect, 2006 revision), and that’s if they even make it through childhood. So what makes it more important for us to intervene in one country and not another? Should we intervene? 

From a global view I can’t answer that question without asking a bunch of other questions. From a personal view I think we should intervene, in the most pacifistic of manners. We don’t need to go stomping into another country, guns ablaze, to settle a conflict that is not our own, or that really doesn’t have anything to do with us. But we do need to HELP people who are being murdered for no other reason than because someone said they should be killed. We don’t need to find political reasoning for this type of intervention, or even financial gain, we should just do it for humanitarian reasons. It’s as simple as that – no one needs, or wants, another Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq, where one country goes into another country under the flag of “democracy” with the aim of installing a law that may or may not be wanted. But other countries DO need the help of those whose lives are better off. This is the reason why the UN exists – exactly to avoid the types of atrocities that happened during WW2. Since then we have seen acts of genocide in many countries that have been allowed to go on before anyone tried to intervene (Rwanda, Yugoslavia, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Darfur). We all have our own opinions of what is right or wrong, and they will all differ from person to person, but there is nothing to justify the murder of children, or the use of children as soldiers. Right? If anyone disagrees with that I invite you to explain why. 

Kristof asks Obama to put pressure on Khartoum, and I agree with this. But the only way that one can put pressure on one government to put pressure on another is by constantly bringing it up. I admire Kristof for not only his reporting, but also for his constant reminders to the world that the situation in Sudan still exists and that people are going to continue to die until someone on the outside does something about it. I may have really bad credit and work 7 days a week, but I live in a place where I am relatively safe, and do not need to worry about where my next meal or glass of clean water is going to come from. The least I can do is talk about people who don’t have these things that we take for granted. The very least.
Kristof writes columns that appear twice a week in the New York Times and you can find them online HERE. He has an ongoing competition that is open to students and people over the age of 60 to join him on a journalistic adventure to another country. I wish I were part of one of those groups because it has been a dream of mine for a while to go to Sudan or the Congo or even Syria and to report back on what I see happening with my own eyes, words and images. 

More information:
For a very in-depth study on Sudan you can read Mahmood Mamdani’s book entitled Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror
It’s not an easy read, and you may not agree with everything he brings up, but it provides a lot of insight into the country and the issues that have been ongoing for years.

For a very moving true story from three Lost Boys of Sudan you can read They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng and Benjamin Ajak (my review can be read HERE)

For Nicholas D. Kristof’s columns you can go to the NYT website HERE

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