Activist, author speaks out on atrocities committed in Darfur

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John Prendergast, co-founder of ENOUGH, a new campaign working to prevent mass atrocities, and co-author of “Not On Our Watch” with actor Don Cheadle, spoke April 25 to more than 200 students, faculty and community members in the Northridge Center.

The event, originally scheduled to take place in the West Valley Room of the University Student Union, had to relocate due to the large turnout. Prendergast, senior adviser of the International Crisis Group, which works to prevent conflict, spoke to audience members about genocide in Darfur.

Prendergast opened the lecture by telling the audience about his encounters with victims driven out of Darfur due to violence. He shared a story about a woman named Aminah, giving the audience a sense of how difficult it was for this mother of four children when her village was attacked in the early morning. She knew she had to gather her children and go.

She strapped two of her children on her back, one on her left side, and the other on the right. Even so, two of the children were killed. A jajaweed militia leader shot one and the other was thrown in a fire and burned alive. Aminah still managed to escape with her remaining two children. After Prendergast’s conversation with the woman, she said, “You must do something. You must heal this predicament that we’re in and help save our people.”

“I knew of course it wasn’t me she was speaking to. She was speaking to us, to those of us in the world that care about what is happening in Darfur today and have the opportunity, freedom, the chance to actually contribute to the end of the 21st century’s first genocide,” Prendergast said.

It is unknown how many have died, Prendergast said, talking about the evidence which tracks the crisis boiling up in the Sahara Desert.

“John was one of the first to warn about the impending crisis in Darfur,” said Jennifer De Maio, a political science professor who specializes in African politics and teaches conflict management. “He’s actually spent time on the ground, met people, met the refugees, met the parties to the conflicts and can provide us insight not only to what is going on but what we can do about it.”

The people in Darfur being attacked are from the south of Sudan. The largest nation in Africa, Sudan has one of the most prominent ethnic splits, between brown-skinned Muslims in the North and black skinned non-Muslims in the South.

“There’s a split in Sudan that more or less facilitates what people are calling genocide,” said Dr. Darryle Gatlin, professor of Pan-African studies and history.

Gatlin, who teaches about colonialism in Africa, said the problem in Sudan has been happening since 1956, when Sudan became independent from Britain.

“Sudan is one African nation that, in my opinion, the solution will probably have to be to split that nation into two. I don’t like the idea of splitting African nations in two above ethnic boundaries,” Gatlin said. “But if there’s one place in Africa where the solution may have to be that, it is the Sudan. In 1956, until today, those people have never been able to get along. The difference between them are just so big and profound. I just don’t think they’ll never really work it out,” Gatlin said.

Jacequeline Chinery, a native of Ghana, came to Prendergast’s lecture after visiting his Web site. Chinery learned new information from the lecture.

“Today is the first time I sort of understood what the genocide is, what the conflict is about,” Chinery said.

Prendergast’s two-hour lecture was followed by a reception and a book signing of “Not On Our Watch.” The lecture was hosted by the College of Social and Behavioral Science and the SAGE Society.