By Mauro DePasquale, Jr.
On April 24, Anna Maria College hosted a demonstration (posed as a panel discussion) on two humanitarian efforts currently underway in Sudan: The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP). The demo began with a brief introduction by the college’s president, Dr. Jack Calareso, as well as the reading of a letter from U.S. Congressman James McGovern by his secretary Gladys Rodriguez-Parker.
The opening dialogue gave a brief and very general overview of the current conflict in Sudan, related to the recent independence of South Sudan and the consequential continuous human rights violations being committed there since.
Although this event was framed as a symposium on the crisis in Sudan, it was evident in the unfolding of the presentations that it was more of an impressive demonstration intended to recruit support of surveillance and intervention by NGOs in Africa.
Following President Calareso’s introductory remarks, Susan Swanberg, an international law instructor for the American Red Cross in Massachusetts, gave an educational history of the organization and also provided some general background of the Red Cross’ role in the formation of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) in relation to their contribution to the Geneva Conventions which legally allows for non-governmental groups to operate without interference anywhere in the globe under the banner of “humanitarian aid.” Swanberg briefly discussed how the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is thriving in South Sudan.
After the Red Cross’ presentation, The Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) was introduced by Nathaniel Raymond, its current director, who provided some background information of the initiative.
The SSP utilizes constant satellite surveillance and other information (including every single world-wide press releases involving Sudan in real time!) to produce up-to-date reports on the security situation in the newly-independent South Sudan. The project is supposedly sponsored entirely by American actor George Clooney, and is coordinated through the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative.
Mr. Raymond introduced his colleagues who took part in discussing and demonstrating how SSP detects and documents actions in Sudan to focus world attention to the region’s need of humanitarian aid.
Throughout the discussion, remarkable satellite images were displayed and the panel took turns explaining how the images are analyzed. They revered that in 2011, the Satellite Sentinel Project detected images of freshly-dug mass grave sites in the Southern Kordofan state of South Sudan, where Sudan’s military has been targeting an ethnic minority. They explained how the SSP could use their intelligence to cite violations of International Humanitarian Law, although there were no mentions of such specific legal actions being pursued presently.
The presentation concluded with an invitation to Worcester College Consortium students to pursue an internship with The Satellite Sentinel Project who are incidentally actively looking to recruit a current Worcester college student.
I left the symposium contemplating the abundant conflicts, genocides, brutal tyrants, tribal wars and human rights calamities that have been occurring all over Africa going back since the days of European colonization yet the focus of attention has only shifted to this region recently (e.g. Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi, Omar al-Bashir, Kony). It is evident through sudden interests that the oil, agricultural and pharmaceutical industries see massive potential in Africa. (Sudan is oil rich , the UN is privatizing supply and production of seeds in Sudan , and Red Cross vaccinated over one million cattle.)
Considering that wars and conflict are what the media make them, I guess it’s fitting to employ America’s best known and romanticized actors to be the face of surveillance efforts in Africa . Framing these actions under the banner of humanitarian aid manufactures consent and exemption from much interference and SSP Director, Nathaniel Raymond specifically said that “their surveillance does not fall under international laws of espionage simply because they are using satellite imagery located way above any claimed national airspace.”
There was no mention of Sudanese rights to privacy or any mention of problems and hostility to Western involvement from citizens there either. I found that peculiar considering that many Africans perceive their modern problems as results of Western policies past and present. Much to their chagrin since 2006, The United States Africa Command, (USAFRICOM or AFRICOM) in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy.
Writer and Director Zamo Mkhwanzi is one such critic of foreign intervention into Africa who put it most eloquently:
“No to aid, no to intervention. Leave Africa alone. That’s what we really want. Stop stealing our raw materials, stop coming here to trade your guns, stop using us to provide employment for your own people who come here as aid workers. No thanks UNICEF and Amnesty International and Angelina Jolie. Stop sending food packages that put our farmers out of work. In fact leave, leave Africa, never come back here again and we will be ok. We like you, so we’ll come and visit you if you like. But we can live without you. Every time you come here you leave us worse off, so thanks – but no thanks. ”
According to The Sentinal Project’s website , Clooney’s running mate in this Sudanese mission is John Prendergast. Mr. Prendergast is not only a human rights activist as head of the NGO Enough Project, but perhaps more notably he is a former member of the National Security Council and State Department. Prendergast left government in 2001 to become Special Adviser to the President of the International Crisis Group on Africa issues. The International Crisis Group is a branch of the World Bank who advises The U.N.
The Wall Street Journal, South Sudan Seeks Oil-Sector Help From China, Apr. 24, 2012
UN News Centre, Sudan: UN agency funds farming improvement projects, Feb. 27, 2012
ICRC Resource Centre, Sudan: ICRC continues to respond to humanitarian needs, Mar. 4, 2012
IMPACT, The University of Nottinghams’s Official Student Magazine, Why Africa Doesn’t Want Us Anymore, Mar. 12, 2012