Thanks to the Sudan advocacy community's ability to quickly mobilize, the Enough Project was able to get Sudan policy front and center before President Obama not just once, but twice in 48 hours. First, President Obama was at the Duke-Georgetown basketball game on Saturday where he saw a powerful joint appeal from students at both schools during halftime to support the Sister School's program assisting Darfuri refugee kids trying to get an education in camps in Chad.
On Monday, President Obama responded on YouTube and on the White House Web site to a video question on Sudan submitted by Enough Project and voted by the general public as the most popular foreign policy question. Thanks to a dynamic social media campaign, online voters made clear they wanted the president to better explain what he is doing to avert a resumption of widespread bloodshed in Sudan. The outpouring of support for a query on Sudan is all the more impressive given that some 14,000 potential questions were submitted for the online interview. Here's the Sudan portion of the live Q&A:
My colleague, and Enough's Co-founder, John Prendergast took some issue with the president's statement:
President Obama's response is missing two elements. First, there is no full-time field-based diplomatic presence in Sudan and the surrounding region working on both Darfur and the North-South issues to make sure peace efforts have a chance of success. So we would like to see him deploy that diplomatic capacity and challenge other nations with influence to do the same. Without that kind of on the ground U.S. leadership, the kind that led to the 2005 North-South peace deal, the risk of further conflict is very high.
Second, diplomatic engagement should be backed by real and immediate pressures on the Sudanese government. It is not a case of engagement versus pressure as the president seems to imply. The U.S. should be working to build a coalition of countries willing to escalate pressures in support of peace -- pressures that would include targeted asset freezes and travel bans, expansion of the arms embargo, denial of debt relief, and suspension of aid to the deeply flawed election. Introducing these consequences into the equation would influence the calculations of the parties and help move them toward lasting peace.
With national elections just three months away and the South slated to vote for independence or unity one year from now -- two landmark events that have the potential to trigger widespread violence -- the time for wait-and-see is quickly passing by the day.
Since President Obama took office, an estimated 2,500 people have been killed in violent clashes in southern Sudan, amid suggestions that the spike in violence may be tied to efforts by the ruling party in the North to destabilize the region, and that all parties may be gearing up for a return to war.
So we launched an online petition to President Obama to pose a follow-up question:
We agree with you, Mr. President, that there is an acute threat of violence during the upcoming elections and referendum period. We respectfully disagree, however, that our government has made the progress necessary to broker agreements in Sudan that will stabilize the country. We therefore urge you, Mr. President, to lead other counties willing to escalate pressures on the parties in support of peace. Only with increased pressures and a full-time field-based diplomatic presence in Sudan, working on both Darfur and the North-South issues, will peace efforts have a chance of success. (Click here to sign.)
Our partners -- Change.org, Genocide Intervention Network, Save Darfur Coalition, and Invisible Children -- called on their followers to get behind our message, which helped propel our Sudan question into the spotlight. From YouTube to college campuses and well beyond, concerned citizens are again demonstrating that when we speak with a collective voice, it will be heard in Washington.