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." . . .


"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,", December 24, 2013

Mahmood Mamdani, "The way forward for South Sudan,", January 6, 2014

Bob Dreyfuss, "The Lesson of Carving Up Sudan,", 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,", February 24, 2014

[Control of the oilfields is crucial because South Sudan gets about 90% of its revenue from oil.--"S Sudan attacks an abomination, says White House,", April 23, 2014]

"Many South Sudan boys 'kidnapped to be child soldiers',", March 1, 2015

[Nearly half the population of the world's newest nation, South Sudan, is in danger of going hungry. New atrocities are reported almost every day. And more than 1.5 million people have fled their homes--Marc Santora, "As South Sudan Crisis Worsens, 'There Is No More Country',", June 22, 2015]

"UN: South Sudan army raped girls and burned them alive,", June 30, 2015

[Militias allied to the South Sudanese army have been allowed to rape women in lieu of wages while fighting rebels, a UN report says.--"South Sudan: Women raped 'as reward for fighters',", March 11, 2016]

[Five years ago, pushed by an odd coalition of movie stars and conservative Christians, the United States midwifed the birth of a new African nation, South Sudan.--Stephen Kinzer, "The cost of short-sighted missionary zeal in Sudan,", July 24, 2016]

Nick Turse, "An ethnic-cleansing campaign by the government threatens to empty South Sudan,", July 2017

[The country is in deep crisis and those in Washington who made it a "project" haven't done much good.--Doug Bandow, "The West Fails to Social Engineer South Sudan,", September 19, 2019]

South Sudan Is Collapsing Thanks to Corruption Over Oil, VICE News, March 1, 2020

Ted Galen Carpenter, "South Sudan: Another U.S.-Sponsored, Nation-Building Fiasco,", July 6, 2020

Thierry Meyssan, "The fake 'military coup' in Sudan,", November 2, 2021

[South Sudan was most corrupt, scoring 11/100--Tony Ward, "Russia's war riddled with corruption and distrust,", May 27, 2022]

"UN Panel Accuses Regional South Sudan Officials of Overseeing Gang Rapes, Beheadings," Reuters, November 28, 2022

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