THE WISDOM FUND: News & Views
December 28, 2013
The Observer (UK)

How Hollywood Cloaked South Sudan in Celebrity and Fell For the 'Big Lie'

Film stars have been speaking from a flawed script about the newest nation. Daniel Howden points a finger at those who have failed to grasp the awful reality

by Daniel Howden

When violence erupted two weeks ago in the world's youngest country, one of the first voices to speak out, before the US president or the head of the United Nations, was that of the Hollywood actor George Clooney. There was nothing particularly objectionable about his counsel, which in any case was more likely authored by the American activist John Prendergast, with whom he shared a byline. It spoke of the need for a robust UN response and, even as tens of thousands of civilians fled ethnically motivated death squads, of the "opportunities" present in South Sudan.

This is a country, not yet two and a half years old, whose birth has been soaked in celebrity like no other. As well as Clooney, Matt Dillon and Don Cheadle have been occasional visitors who have tried to use their star power to place the international public firmly in the corner of this plucky upstart nation.

Unsurprisingly, the actors were highly effective at communicating a narrative about the new country that borrowed from a simple script. The south had fought a bloody two-decade battle for its independence against an Islamic and chauvinist north led by an indicted war criminal. The cost of that war, regularly touted as two million lives, meant that the south would need huge development support to lift it from the impoverished floor of every quality of life index published.

The great threat in this narrative was the vile regime in Khartoum, the capital of rump Sudan, which would seek to undermine its southern breakaway, or march back to war to reclaim some of its lost oilfields. . . .

The pursuit of separation at all costs made it harder to admit certain truths such as ethnic divisions and created the need for the "big lie", as one senior UN official calls it. "The big lie is that there was no ethnic problem in South Sudan. There is a political problem." . . .

FULL TEXT



"Southern Sudan Vote: Freedom for Southern Sudan, or Freedom to Exploit?," The Wisdom Fund, January 9, 2011

"Thousands dead in South Sudan violence, UN says," bbc.co.uk, December 24, 2013

Mahmood Mamdani, "The way forward for South Sudan," middle-east-online.com, January 6, 2014

Bob Dreyfuss, "The Lesson of Carving Up Sudan," middle-east-online.com, January 9, 2014

[Industry officials say oil output has fallen to about 150,000 barrels per day, down 40 per cent from before the start of the conflict, which has killed thousands and displaced 900,000 people.--Katrina Manson and Javier Blas, "South Sudan's factions vie for control of oilfields," ft.com, February 24, 2014

back button