Sudan: Blimey it’s complicated

Heartened to read a piece in The Christian Science Monitor suggesting that the threat of war in Sudan may have been exaggerated in the run up to January’s referendum…

Having listed a series of hyperbollock stories, Maggie Fick, a journalism expert based in Juba, expands on her theory…

These news clips illustrate the tendency – rather, modus operandi – of the international media coverage of Sudan to highlight the worst case scenarios surrounding the key upcoming events instead of the best possible outcomes.

I couldn’t agree more. Although, the problem really lies with the advocacy groups which consistently use terms such as “slaughter” and “genocide” to describe a low-intensity conflict in Darfur and to raise the stakes ahead of the South’s referendum. Take this typical piece of guff from George Clooney, predicting thousands of deaths in South Sudan:

If you knew a tsunami, or Katrina or a Haiti earthquake was coming, what would you do to save people?

Clooney has, of course, become something of a mouthpiece for John Prendergast and his Enough organisation – sometimes called the shock troops of the Save Darfur Coalition and a headline-hogging group which will only be satisfied with regime change in Khartoum. Their ideology is often splashed across the column of Nick Kristof such as this, who regularly talks up the risk of war

“[W]e should all try to pay more attention to the risk of a catastrophic war ahead in Sudan. Everybody knows it may be coming, but until the bullets start flying, it simply isn’t going to get the attention it merits… behind the scenes the real question is whether the north-south civil war is going to resume.”

And then there were the dire warnings of violence around this year’s elections…

With the nationwide elections less than a month away, the chance that violence could break out around the polls is real, and fear among Sudanese like Ms. Lueth is warranted. The unpredictable nature of Sudanese politics and the goal of the ruling parties in both North and South Sudan to legitimize themselves through resounding electoral victories, combined with existing tensions along tribal lines in the South, could prove to be a lethal cocktail.

Lethal cocktail… nice.

But wait a minute, what’s this? Who is this Maggie Fick who wrote the last piece and quoted Kristof in an approving manner? Surely the Enough blogger and researcher can’t be the same one as The Christian Scientist columnist of the same name complaining about the media hyping the threat of war?

Or is that Sudan turns out to be a lot more complex when you get up close?

5 thoughts on “Sudan: Blimey it’s complicated

  1. Dear Rob,
    I don’t have your email address so I hope it’s alright to leave my personal message to you here:
    I am now working as a freelance journalist in Juba; I’m the Associated Press’ stringer in Southern Sudan and I contribute pieces to various online outlets including CSM’s Africa Monitor blog. As you know, I used to work for Enough (from August 2008 until July 2010).
    I have lived in Juba for the past year, and I worked for Enough here for nine months before becoming a journalist.
    So, mea culpa, I’m clearly new to journalism. My intention in writing what I did about international media coverage of Sudan was to raise some of the challenges I’m experiencing on a daily basis in this work. I assume as a journalist who previously covered Sudan you understand some of these challenges. I thought I made it fairly clear–in phrases like “Since I’m a member of this media corps, I can affirm that this is the case…”–that as a journalist directly involved in international media coverage of Sudan, I am part of this problem.
    So my intention in writing the piece on media coverage of Sudan was not to complain. It was to raise some questions and issues that I am considering in my work as a new journalist and thought might be worth discussing with others. Again, I thought I was clear about my direct involvement in international media coverage of Sudan, but to reiterate that, I acknowledge my involvement in the questions/issues/challenges I cited.
    You are right that I have “changed my tune” to a great degree in the past year that I have spent living in Sudan.
    If it makes you feel good to make fun of me for having an open mind, for reconsidering assumptions that I wrongly held, and for publicly raising professional challenges that I’m experiencing instead of criticising other people, bismillah. If instead we could have a more positive discussion about these topics, I would sincerely appreciate that (my email address below).
    Thanks and all my best,
    Maggie Fick
    maggie.fick at gmail dot com

    1. The cause of Sudan has been very poorly served by advocacy groups using a black and white analysis, drawn up often by people who have never set foot in Africa. Sadly the agenda is dominated by these voices because of the pulling power of people like George Clooney, and his record of pithy, apocalyptic predictions – which don’t come true. It is a long standing problem and I’m glad that you now recognise it. But organisations like Enough, with their skewed agenda, are the real problem.

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