Robust U.S. diplomacy can help prevent war in Sudan is the message that actor George Clooney and Enough Co-Founder John Prendergast are taking to the streets of Washington D.C. and to the airwaves in an advocacy blitz that has included meetings with President Obama, members of Congress, and members of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Clooney and Prendergast hope to raise awareness on the potential for conflict to return to Sudan as the country approaches two momentous votes in January. One vote may grant the region of South Sudan independence while the other gives residents of Abyei—a disputed piece of land that lies in between North and South—the chance to decide whether to join North or South Sudan. Preparations for both votes have fallen critically behind, held up by political deadlock and logistical difficulties.
In their meeting at the White House, the two long-time Sudan activists briefed the president on their recent visit to South Sudan, which aimed at examining potential flashpoints ahead of the two votes.
“It’s complicated and it’s difficult and it means negotiating with people you don’t necessarily like and you don’t necessarily get along with. This administration seems committed to it. And we have to focus on that right now rather than focusing on the idea of the aftermath. I’d rather us prevent one than have to triage at the end.”
Watch the entire post-Obama meeting press gaggle here.
At the Council on Foreign Relations meeting, the message also focused on prevention. Speaking about the amount of basic infrastructure that has yet to be built in South Sudan, Clooney noted, “It’s still going to be a herculean task to get an election pulled off.”
These challenges notwithstanding, Prendergast said that officials they spoke with in South Sudan believe there is still enough time. “As long as there’s a chance, we’ve got to do everything to make it happen,” he said.
On the issue of Abyei, Clooney said that President Obama was “not disheartened” by the failure of talks facilitated by the U.S. between the two Sudanese parties. Talks began in Ethiopia two weekends ago to push the Sudanese parties to find an agreement on who is eligible to vote in the Abyei referendum.
At the end of the day, Prendergast said, a package deal will have to be struck and Abyei’s status will be part of the package. What is clear from conversations in South Sudan, said Prendergast, is that if you negotiate away people’s right to self-determination “there will be violence.”
In raising awareness, Clooney hopes to build the political will necessary to provoke action by the U.S. government. “You want to go everywhere and you want to go, ‘Fire, fire, fire!’,” he said.
The actor is certainly getting the message out. Today he is well into a day of appearances on a long list of media outlets, after starting off the morning with Prendergast on CBS’s “The Early Morning Show” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Here’s the full Good Morning America” segment: