Tag Archives: George Clooney

Saving the world one luxury product at a time

(Not everyone will be able to see this video – will depend where you live, I’m afraid)

I want to help the people of South Sudan. But it looks so very complicated. You know all that business of a new country, a haven for a population that has suffered for years at the hands of Omar al-Bashir. Wasn’t it supposed to be a land of milk and honey on the banks of the White Nile, ending years of hunger and oppression? Weren’t we all hoping for independence as the solution? Why didn’t it work out?

For a while I thought maybe an arms embargo might help. After all, the crisis today seems to be entirely human-made, as two leaders wrestle for control of their new land, spending money they can’t afford.

How is a chap supposed to help? Thankfully it seems I simply have to drink premium coffee. Thank you George Clooney and Nespresso.

Nestle, of course, has a near perfect record in the developing world.

And we all know that coffee is the perfect vehicle for local populations to shrug off whatever colonial bonds might have been holding them back, ahem.

This is how Clooney – noted for his work on Sudan and South Sudan – brought it up a couple of years ago:

“Yesterday we got to drink coffee of South Sudan, and this is the only export to have come out of South Sudan besides oil since the war. The problem with oil being of course that a company takes the oil from beneath the feet of the people living there via a pipeline, back of a truck and a dock in Khartoum. Oftentimes the government gets a small proportion and it doesn’t seem to trickle down.”

Ultimately, of course anything that promotes investment in South Sudan has to be a good thing. But I’ll be very keen to know how much of money is trickling down to South Sudanese farmers. After all, at the equivalent of $51 a pound, Nespresso is some of the most expensive coffee you can buy – produced from a raw material that costs less than $2 a pound.

My fear is that when you have a multimillion dollar deal to advertise a coffee brand, then every problem looks like a coffee bean. Or something.

UPDATE (forgot to mention that I wrote this because video appeared in my inbox on Saturday morning)

Peace v Justice: Lessons from Northern Ireland

African Union soldier outside aid camp near El Fasher, South Sudan, 2005

On one of my final visits to Khartoum I was discussing the gnarly old peace-versus-justice debate with a diplomat, who used a comparison with a peace process closer to home. She was making a point about the utility of issuing a warrant for the arrest of President Omar al-Bashir even as negotiations continued for independence for Southern Sudan… (taken from Saving Darfur)

“It would be like arresting Martin McGuinness during the Good Friday negotiations.”

I was reminded of this by David Aaronovitch’s column in the The Times on Thursday (I’m afraid those of you who prefer not to pay for your journalism will not be able to read it) in which he sets out the dilemma by comparing one family’s desire for justice in Northern Ireland for their dead relative, with the benefits of sweeping such cases under the carpet, those benefits being:

It is that the peace process has succeeded partly because we have not sought too assiduously to examine who did what in the bloody recent past.

Not only have terrorists been released and pardoned, but it was also decided not to seek extradition in many cases of terrorists who had fled abroad on the ground that, as Charles Clarke put it when Home Secretary, it was “neither proportionate nor in the public interest”.

We hear much about the competing demands of peace and justice, but usually with reference to Sudan or Kenya and during the Arab Spring in Libya or Syria. But the debate rumbles on in the UK and Ireland too. And of course it must be desperately difficult for anyone who has lost a relative to see men they suspect of murder taking on positions of responsibility.

Aaronovitch spells out the dilemma without drawing a conclusion.

But reading again about how setting aside horrendous crimes in the north of Ireland was seen as an important part of finding peace, I’m reminded again that vantage point matters. How easy it is to try to impose lofty ideals of justice on faraway lands; how much more difficult to do it at home, where bombs and bullets can affect our loved ones.

My own position changed during the 2008 violence in Kenya. A shoddy peace deal rewarded government thugs who rigged an election and opposition figures who launched a wave of ethnic violence with ministerial positions for both. There was no justice in that. But it stopped the killing. And – for me – it was killing that had happened in the streets close to my house. Maybe justice will come now as the ICC decided whether to try six Kenyan suspects for their alleged roles.

In that case the right decision was made. And in Northern Ireland. But too often, a noisy Western lobby continues to push for justice before peace when it comes to conflicts elsewhere, places they have often not bothered to visit – despite claiming to speak for the voiceless.

So here’s my point. If we have set aside questions of justice in order to secure peace at home, shouldn’t we do the same for Sudan, Syria and the rest?

A Fool and His Money

George Clooney’s Satellite Sentinel Project is beaming back information from the border between north and south Sudan. The first details provide a vivid insight into what is happening there that could have been obtained by, er, just asking someone who knows about Sudan

  • SAF deployments near Muglad, Kadugli, Kharassana and other areas appear to be deployed at company strength, in groups of 75 to 225 troops, equipped with helicopter transport, light armor and artillery.
  • Importantly, these troops do not appear to be preparing to move in the near future. SSP has documented roadwork near known and suspected military bases, but the images do not show major movement of fuel trucks, supply convoys, and troop transports consistent with imminent forward operations.
  • The report documents checkpoints reported by the U.N. north of Abyei Town on the road to Diffra in the oil-producing northern part of Abyei’s territory.
  • These images demonstrate SSP’s ability to monitor the movements and activity of armed actors. SSP is watching all actors in Sudan and both sides of the border.

No news yet on the arboreal toilet arrangements of bears.

Stick to Basketball George

Sometimes, even I get sick of my own cyncism. Sometimes I make a deliberate effort to be more positive. I bite my tongue when a well-meaning gap year student tells me they’ll be digging latrines in Uganda, where manual labour is not in short supply. Or I applaud the notion of sending goats to a poor village, where they will help destroy the vegetation. And sometimes I say how wonderful it is that movie stars have decided to use their star power to help worthy causes.

And then something happens that just makes all my warm, woolly thoughts evapourate. Usually it is someone being pompous. And usually it is George Clooney…

“He’s very predictable. We know all the moves. If you play basketball with somebody three times, you know that they’ve got no left hand…. We know how Bashir acts. He helps arm one of the rebel groups that are in disagreement with other groups in the south and tries to foment violence to destabilize the government. That’s what he’s always done.”

Ah yes, George Clooney, who understands Sudan and Omar al-Bashir so well that in order to persuade the world to send peacekeepers (forgoing the prospect of a peace deal for at least two years) he either exaggerated or plain made up the possible death toll if they weren’t deployed. The peacekeepers didn’t arrive for a couple of years, and nothing like his 2.5m people died.

George Clooney, who is such an expert on Sudan, that he has repeatedly confused Darfur, Chad and South Sudan, and his visits there.

And when he finally did make it there, he was struck down with such severe diarrhoea he very nearly had to be flown out by an emergency helicopter. Nothing wrong with that of course – happens to the best of us – but getting your publicist to force Reuters to withdraw the story makes him look like a dilettante, using Sudan to burnish his image. Movie stars don’t get diarrhoea, presumably.

Anyway, the biggest problem is that Clooney emphatically does not understand Bashir. If he did, he would not have worked so hard to get Bashir indicted by the International Criminal Court or campaigned for peace keepers when the world should have concentrated on getting a peace deal.

He would have understood that criminalising Bashir would only provoke a bitter backlash and make it harder to remove him from power.

Had he understood Bashir better, then Sudan may well have had a different president by now. In 2008 Bashir was telling confidantes in the governing party and at least one other head of state that he was planning to retire. Now thanks to Clooney and his chums he is a wanted man – and still in power.

And it’s not just me who feels this way

It’s not about you, George

Poor old George Clooney. While promoting his latest multimillion dollar movie with a string of interviews, he manages to slip in a mention of how the ongoing crisis in Darfur is causing him so much pain…

“But in the case of Darfur it’s been the greatest failure of my life.

“With other people, we’ve been able to get a lot of attention focused on the terrible situation there and nothing has changed. It’s very frustrating.”

In this soundbite he manages to encapsulate almost everything that is wrong  with the world’s response to the conflict in Sudan, and highlight the shift that has happened in how we think about humanitarian assistance and conflict resolution.

The simple fact, George, is that the failure in Darfur is not about you. It is not about your pain or frustration or failure or disappointment. It is about the 144 people who died in violence during July (the most recent figures), it is about the risk of a flare-up in the conflict and the millions of people still living in aid camps too frightened to go home.

But this is not what the global response to Darfur is based upon. Instead of adopting policies that will mitigate the pain and suffering on the ground, the advocacy movement has focused on a human rights analysis that highlights the motives of consumers, politicians and leaders in the West. Divestment campaigns, rallies and letter writing campaigns are the tactic, with a strategy of forcing governments at home to adopt a pure outlook.

It is a clever way of operating. By concentrating on T-shirts, banners and wristbands it has clear, achievable targets and can generate a vast, grassroots movement. The same tactics have been used by anti-poverty campaigners and anti-war protesters, turning the debate from discussing outcomes in Africa or Iraq, to one of personal responsibility: What did you do in the anti-war campaign Daddy?

The problem though is that Darfur – or any other humanitarian crisis – is not about what we are doing. It should be about whether or not we have made a difference on the ground. It should be about them. Clooney’s words suggest he has discovered this dichotomy. His campaign has been incredibly successful – helping deploy UN-AU peacekeepers and getting President Omar al Bashir indicted at the International Criminal Court – yet it hasn’t stopped the conflict.

Instead Clooney should change his ethical outlook, opting instead for one that values improvements on the ground rather than judging the morality of the players. Ends rather than means.

He is not alone. Principles such as the responsibility to protect or calls to human rights have supplanted other ways of looking at the world. They are powerful norms to prompt people to act in preventing suffering, but they have been reified, turned into ends in themselves. They aren’t. They are rules of thumb: shortcuts to doing the right thing. Forget that and we are in danger of forgetting the purpose of what we are trying to do.

Ultimately we have to remember that actions can only be right in so much as they improve conditions of people in need, ease suffering and make the world a better place. I’m sorry you are disappointed and frustrated, George, but you aren’t the one I care about.

Clooney And Me

There were three people who declined all requests for interviews for my book: President Omar al-Bashir, Musa Hilal and George Clooney. At least Hilal had the decency to decline my requests. The other two simply didn’t respond. If I had got the chance to ask Clooney a few questions, this is what I would have asked:

  • In a 2007 interview with Time you challenged “dumb pundits” who were concerned about the role of celebrity activists to a debate on Darfur. You had been there, you said, and met all the players. Had you been to Darfur by October 2007, or had you been to South Sudan and Chad?
  • The following year you did travel to Darfur. But was your trip cut short by diarrhoea? A Reuters story was pulled under pressure from your publicity people. And an aide on your trip told me he had put the diarrhoea story about in order to give you more time “under the radar”. So what’s the truth?
  • Do you regret campaigning so hard for the indictment of President Omar al-Bashir, given that it lead to the expulsion of 13 aid groups with a huge impact on victims of sexual assaults and rape?

I didn’t ask Mia Farrow, but I’m pretty certain she would have come down with stomach bugs during her umpteen trips to Chad and Sudan. And I reckon she wouldn’t have had puff teams around her trying to kill the story. (In the interests of full disclosure, my last trip to Darfur was almost aborted when I came down with a stomach bug after a fine evening enjoying the hospitality of Irish peacekeepers in Chad, a sticky state of affairs solved only with half a dozen charcoal tablets.)

A Dumb Pundit Writes

Nairobi: George Clooney has taken a pop at armchair experts who dismiss his brand of celebrity activism. The vocal campaigner for Darfur says in Time magazine…


“…I welcome any of these dumb pundits who make celebrities out to be bad guys to a discussion about Darfur. Because I’ve been there and I’ve met all the players, and I guarantee you, the pundits haven’t.”

Hmm. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought George Clooney’s much publicised visit to Darfur last year was actually a trip to southern Sudan and Chad

So George, you name the time, the place and I’ll bring the withering analysis of why celebrities have put the international response to Darfur on the wrong track.