By Alexis Blue
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Author and human rights activist Alex de Waal spoke to a packed Gallagher Theater yesterday about the origins of the crisis in Sudan, in order to help, as student activists hoped, to encourage campus community members to take action to help the war-torn African region.
Declared a genocide by the U.S. government, the civil war in Sudan between the Sudanese government, or the National Islamic Front, and the Sudanese Liberation Movement, made up of rebels in the south, has claimed the lives of some 2 million people over the course of more than 20 years, and the region has been plagued with famine, poverty and disease.
"As the war goes on longer, it becomes harder to solve," said de Wall, who lectured on the historical background of the current conditions in Sudan.
Student activists hope visits from speakers like de Waal will help shed light on the conditions in Sudan and encourage more people to get involved.
"A lot of people aren't doing things because they don't know what's going on," said Katie Flannery, an international studies junior and member of a recently-formed activist group which calls itself UA Students for Darfur. "We're trying to start activism on campus."
Flannery said the group has been on the UA Mall in recent weeks selling green bracelets to raise money to help improve the situation in Sudan.
The group is also encouraging students to write letters and e-mails to members of Congress to put concern for what is happening in Sudan at the front of political leaders' minds.
"It's really the activists that are keeping it on the front pages," said group member David Manthei, a history senior. "We're trying to educate others so they can affect change."
Many students don't really understand the situation in Sudan, said group member Rebecca Furst-Nichols, an anthropology sophomore.
"It's really hard, when you're here, to even begin to imagine what's going on over there," Furst-Nichols said.
But for students like Peter Ayuen, it's not so hard to imagine.
Ayuen, a political science and anthropology senior, is one of the "lost boys" of Sudan. He fled the country as a young boy to escape the horrors of war.
For him, life in the United States is an opportunity to receive an education, but his heart is still with Sudan.
"People are really concerned about what's going on in my country," Ayuen said after de Waal's lecture. "It was great to see this many people here."
Ivy Pike, a professor in the anthropology department, which co-sponsored de Waal's visit, said many Americans don't fully understand what's happening in Sudan.
"I think we tend to simplify it in a way that we place more blame on the Africans than the poverty and (other conditions) there," Pike said.
Furst-Nichols said U.S. involvement and understanding is crucial.
"We (as Americans) have so much pull on what everyone will support in the world," she said.
Members of UA Students for Darfur hope they can encourage the campus community to seek more information on Sudan and take it upon themselves to make a difference. They plan to continue selling bracelets on the Mall and providing information. The group will also start a mailing list as a way of reaching out and getting new members.
"It's a matter of human rights," Flannery said. "People are being forced off their land and are starving and being attacked for no reason. It's not OK to just sit here and not do anything."