Not On Our Watch, co-authored by actor Don Cheadle and Africa expert John Prendergast is a sugarcoated pill for those wishing to understand the genocide in Darfur. It is also a call to collective responsibility. Part diary, part history and part how-to manual for potential activists this book is certainly a hybrid.
Cheadle and Prendergast have both taken up the watch on behalf of the people of Darfur and this book is their call to action. Prendergast explains "this is what I do with my life" and Cheadle has used his personal time and currency to try and make a difference.
The sugarcoating comes from the diaries of Cheadle and Prendergast. The pair formed an unlikely friendship over love of basketball and their shared determination to witness and end this genocide. If we all have a tendency to associate stars with their roles, there is none stronger than the association of Don Cheadle with Paul Rusesabagina, the heroic character he immortalized in Hotel Rwanda. It is from that association and experience that Cheadle began his journey into the troubles in Darfur and became one of this genocide's most determined activists. Cheadle's diary entries are anecdotal and intimate. Thus the reader engages in a crisis in a far away country with him, a star humbled by true human suffering.
The book's historical background on Sudan and its explanation of how the Darfur crisis evolved is clear, straightforward and will no doubt become the college and high school primer for this, the first genocide of the 21st century. The genocide in Darfur began in 2003 and still rages. Today over 2.5 million people are displaced, up to 400 thousand have died and 1.5 million are beyond the reach of humanitarian aid. The latter are now facing slow and painful death from disease and starvation, an intolerable situation the authors accurately call "Phase Two" of the genocide.
Not On Our Watch also records the growth of the movement in this country to end the genocide. The authors generously detail the work of many "Upstanders" (as opposed to bystanders), those who refused to sit by and do nothing, the people who have worked tirelessly on behalf of the dispossessed and murdered in Darfur. The title of the book, Not on Our Watch is in itself, a tribute to the extraordinary work of the Save Darfur Coalition to make Darfur a household word across America.
The latter part of the book is a challenge to the reader to take on this issue as a personal cause and to become conscious and active. The information and advice are faultless, the intention worthy. With the simplicity and directness of legions of self-help books the star and the policy expert (Prendergast served in Clinton's White House) deliver a point-by-point plan for becoming a Darfur activist. The book concludes with the simple message: write a letter, stop a genocide. I am far more of a cynic than these two, but I do hope Cheadle and Prendergast succeed in motivating their readers to action. If they do, Not On Our Watch will become a vital agent to reach the tipping point this conflict, now four years old, desperately needs.
However, reader beware: if you pick up this book you will have a lot more on your conscience than you ever imagined, but you will be in excellent company.
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