Thursday, November 04, 2010

Nicholas Kristof Speaks at Syracuse University, Warns of Likely Violence and Brutality in Sudan

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was at Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University last night to talk about some of the topics he has discussed in his book "Half the Sky", written with his wife and partner-in-journalism, Sheryl WuDunn.

He started his talk, much of it about weighty topics such as global poverty and the plight of exploited women around the world, with a light touch. Speaking about the contest he runs at the NY Times annually, choosing a college student to accompany him on his travels, the Harvard-educated, Rhodes scholar, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner said, "One thing you should realize is that, within the New York Times, behind my back, the story goes that First prize is one trip with me; Second prize is two trips with me. Be careful what you wish for."

The audience at Hendricks Chapel

He went on to talk about a brave nomadic woman who gave birth in the desert and developed a fistula, having been perceived as something evil and isolated from her fellow villagers, left to fend off hyenas and make her own way to a hospital where she was given care and an opportunity to eventually become a nurse and care for others.

He showed the audience a photo of a young woman named Long Pross, of whom he spoke glowingly as a heroine in a story of her enslavement in sex-trafficking in Cambodia and the gouging out of her eye by her captor when she would not cooperate with her own exploitation. Today she works with the Somaly Mam Foundation to raise awareness of a cruel and continuing modern-day slavery.

Mr. Kristof took a good number of questions, but the one in which Mr. Kristof's reply was most memorable for me was the one where an audience member, who'd met Mr. Kristof in Darfur, asked him to try to tie in the upcoming referendum in southern Sudan and how it might play into international politics.

This was Mr. Kristof's reply:

If you think about things around the world that may go badly wrong over the next six months or so, what might be the bloodiest war in 2011, it may very well be a bloody war between north and south Sudan.

The situation there is that north and south Sudan had a terrible war that went on for twenty years and ended in 2005 after two million deaths. Under the terms of a peace agreement, south Sudan was given a right to have a vote, a referendum to secede from the rest of Sudan.

That vote will happen on January 9, 2011.

It is overwhelmingly clear that southern Sudan will vote to secede. The problem is: it's hard to imagine the north will allow the south to leave, because the south has most of the country's oil, about 80% of the oil. So there is a fairly widespread expectation that, in one way or another, the north will block that vote, block that referendum, frustrate that, not let that happen, and that in that case the south will declare a declaration of independence and have renewed fighting.

If you think Darfur was bad [with 2 million dead], you could quickly have a level of killing and a level of brutality that makes Darfur look just like a prologue.

What has been so frustrating about this is that we've known, for years now, that this referendum was coming up. There are ways we could have worked internationally with other countries, and it's not just the United States' role, it was all countries that needed to do that.

And nobody really did.

I believe the Obama administration was not aggressive in holding Sudan's feet to the fire until very recently - until a month ago. About a month ago the administration got very, very active and has been doing a lot of last-minute diplomacy. I think that helps, but I'm afraid it may have been "too little, too late."

I think there are things we could do that would minimize the risk of war. They're going to have to involve working with other countries. I fear they're not going to happen and I fear there is going to be a really brutal new war in north and south Sudan in the coming months.

See: "Chronicle of a Genocide Foretold" by Nicholas Kristof - NY Times, Sept 29, 2010

* Mr. Kristof and Ms. WuDunn have also written two previous books, both about Asia: Thunder from the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia and China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power.

Want to become active?

Half the Sky Movement - how to become involved

"How to Change the World" by Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, October 20, 2010

Groups in the Syracuse area:

- She's the First (at Facebook)

- She's The First (blog)

- Dining For Women (at Facebook)

- Dining For Women (Skaneateles Chapter)

- Dining For Women (Ithaca Chapter)