Divestment: Constructive or Destructive Requital?

11 Feb

The Darfur situation, albeit slightly having improved as of late, has not been getting the same attention from the ‘genocide’ obsessed media of yesteryear. Considering that the ICC’s final ruling is upon us, I thought I might attempt to brush the dust off the Darfur issue and reopen the topic for discussion.

I have recently read a 2007 article written by a Harvard student for The Harvard Crimson. For a business student, Harvard students are demigods; for a business student who enjoys writing, Harvard students who write for The Crimson are religiously admired. However, this particular Crimson contributor has managed to not only write a poorly constructed article, but also write it on a topic based on false pretenses. His article is less about the Darfuri plight and more about the issue of divestment, which I might add is the most adorable solution I have ever heard to combat the war in Darfur. It is almost as pathetic as the “boycott Denmark and Starbucks” chain mails I receive from my mom every day–except more so. Divestment to me seems like a vindictive and dangerous retaliation mechanism rather than a step towards a resolution.

To investigate this idea of divestment further, I contacted Mohamed Yahya, founder and Executive Director of Damanga Coalition for Freedom and Democracy. I have previously met Mr. Yahya, who is from Darfur, and had a brief discussion with him about the situation. Mr. Yahya’s approach to reviving people’s consciousness about Darfur was highly sensationalist and emotionally charged rather than fact-based. Needless to say, I found that objectionable and ungratifying. However, I decided to give this divestment idea the benefit of the doubt, and see if there is any merit to it.

Here are Mr. Yahya’s responses to my questions (I left his responses unedited partly for comedic relief, partly because I’m evil like that.)

Why is it necessary for universities to divest from Sudan? Isn’t Divestment counterproductive and divisive considering it hurts the Sudanese people as a whole?

It is necessary for the Universities to divest from Sudan, because any divestment has a direct impact on Sudan government
which was using the money of investors to fuel the war in Darfur. As we know over 50% of the money goes to buy weapons from China, Russia and other countries to be used in Darfur. Therefore, any divestment will directly affect the Sudanese government. Sudanese people were already hurt by the government violations for their human rights..specially Darfuri people. They already getting
nothing despite the huge investments taking place now. We also have examples of some successful divestment that made a difference in the live of South African people during the Upper tight.*

What are other altrenatives to divestment in which universities could productively voice concern about the Darfur issue?

The alternatives could be: Calling for the implementation of Resolution # 1769 that passed by the UN SC  last 2 years July 2007.
Also all Student and the Universities have to support the ICC The International Criminal Court in it’s efforts to bring Al-bashir the President of Sudan to the justice. Universities and all Americans and others need to support  the ICC to bring the arrest warrant
against Sudanese president for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. Universities could do more by raising awareness and asking the new administration and the United Nation a long African Union and the International Community to work to bring justice first before peace. Because there’s no justice without peace.**

Do you believe that the situation in Darfur has improved?

The situation in Darfur doesn’t improved yet. Unfortunately, it gotten worse everyday. Still Sudanese government and the Janjaweed militia targeting the Innocent Civilians everywhere in Darfur. Bombing the refugees and the IDP’s Internally Displaced People. Rape and looting is still going on.

*I rolled on the floor laughing when I realized he meant to write ‘Apartheid’

**It tickles me when people regurgitate clichés!

Do you believe divestment to be a valid and viable aid to the Darfur situation? Feel free to answer the questions I asked Mr. Yahya, or otherwise voice your comments about his responses.

12 Responses to “Divestment: Constructive or Destructive Requital?”

  1. sudaneseoptimist February 11, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    This blog post was also left unedited to show solidarity for Mr. Yahya’s sub par grammatical abilities.

  2. Mustafa February 11, 2009 at 9:58 am #

    First of all, welcome back!

    Secondly, thank you for clearing up “Upper tight”

    Thirdly, on the topic of divestment, its very hard to pick a position, because on the one hand, if you stop supporting the entities that seem to have some connections to the government, then you can sort of hinder the power of one of the sides in this conflict, however, by essentially boycotting the entities that support this government, it could have a negative effect on the non-Darfur populus as well…. what is your opinion on this topic? From your tone in this article, I’m assuming you’re not a big fan of it, and I want to know why…

  3. AK February 12, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    Wow! It’s fascinating how you let your infantile sense of humor deprive you from the opportunity to have a substantive discussion about a truly tragic issue.

    Yeah, shame on Mr. Yahya for his accent and his imperfect English! Bloody murder; the temerity! Really really funny.

    Idiots trying to pass for quasi-intellectuals sicken me.

  4. sudaneseoptimist February 12, 2009 at 12:26 pm #

    Mustafa–

    My reservations about divestment are from a moral and pragmatic standpoint along with an economically driven rationalization.

    From the moral standpoint, any fair and just resistance to the Sudanese government should be through fair and just means (e.g. ICC), otherwise, you’re being counterproductive. Divestment might or might not bend the Sudanese governments’ hands but it will definitely affect the Sudanese people as a whole. From an economic standpoint this means less job creation, a hindrance of the move towards a modern and developing country, and most importantly unnecessary withdrawal of successful companies from Sudan.

    The Sudanese government has been able to wage a war against the Southerners–brutality, mass murder, and hijacking of their resources for over twenty years. Twenty years, that’s before Petronas and Schlumberger were splitting profits that allegedly fund the war.

    Divestment is also ridiculous and paradoxical in the economic context. The Darfur situation stemmed in large due to strained living conditions and poor economic situations in the region. Internal conflict is more often than not symptomatic of economic turmoil.

    Sure, the logic of “let’s cut off the government’s blood supply” could seem sufficient, but it is far from that. Let’s take Schlumberger for example; the company has been able to stabilize its region of operation through increased security, not only for the sake of its workers or the Sudanese people, but also to protect its reputation. Oil companies, while corrupt in business dealings, do cooperate with UN forces for instance to help alleviate violence in the region surrounding their operations. It would make no sense to ask such companies to stop investing in Sudan. The same companies that have pushed for better infrastructure. The same companies that have fueled (pun intended) that double digit growth in GDP despite the sanctions.

    The lives of so many Sudanese people have become better directly or indirectly because of the presence of international companies. This is an objective statement based on living standards and income level, not based on cultural or ethical objections to the companies’ involvement in the politics of the country.

    The danger of divestment lies in the fact that it pushes out the only sliver of ‘economic and political’ hope in Sudan. A push for divestment is a vengefully motivated push to ‘tease’ the government. At the end of the day, it will hurt more people than it will ever benefit. Especially now.

    I’m all for rationalized and effective combative methods, definitely not for emotionally charged potentially disastrous solutions–considering that rationale, divestment is guilty as charged.

  5. sudaneseoptimist February 12, 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    AK–

    The Darfur issue is tragic. The Darfuri peoples’ plight is tragic. Divestment is not tragic. Mr. Yahya is not tragic. This means that Divestment and Yahya can be patronized. Read on only if you fully comprehend that point.

    We can have substantive discussions about the atrocities in Darfur, but obviously this wasn’t one, so don’t try to force it to be something your mind wants it to be.

    It seems like your narrow-mindedness is not only capable of blocking your humor receptacles, but also prevents you from accepting that others just might have a view different from yours. Also, I am not advocating that people not support divestment, I was obviously asking people what they thought about the issues, and invited others to answer my questions—something you seem to have skipped in order to humor me with your lovely and highly irrelevant comment.

    I suspect you have not yet brushed shoulders with sarcasm. I suggest you two get acquainted and soon. It just might broaden that narrow horizon of yours and brighten your day. Moreover, I do not think I need to reiterate the seriousness of the Darfur issue, but just in the event of people such as you read my blog, I have in the body of my post alluded to the seriousness by saying that poking fun at Mr. Yahya was for comedic relief. Here’s a definition of that for you:

    Comic relief: In literature and the media, a common device employed in serious texts to relieve tension, and sometimes to provide antithesis or irony as a comment on more serious action.
    http://encyclopedia.farlex.com/Comedic+relief

    As for your comment: “Idiots trying to pass for quasi-intellectuals sicken me.”

    Don’t be so hard on yourself dear😉

  6. I'm So Adjective I Verb Nouns February 12, 2009 at 11:54 pm #

    As humans, we will always justify our thoughts and actions to fit what our emotions are telling us is right.

    The problem in Darfur is egregious, the plight of the population is horrible. As humans we want to make it better fast, usually taking the most obvious route before thinking through the consequences of our actions. Our emotions do not make a pro/con list, our emotions do not confer with our rational mind.

    Theoretically divestment does make sense. In some cases it has even been effective. However the consequences of taking out these employers, companies who I can so far only tell pay fair wages and treat their employees relatively well, would be devestating by ripping out huge amounts of capital from the already poor country. Lets not make it worse. Maybe down the road divestment should be considered, but only when the circumstances might be more appropriate (and effective).

    Maybe the better solution would be a more transparent and fair government, hold the corruption please. Its so easy, isn’t it?

  7. Eu February 13, 2009 at 2:03 am #

    NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! (to divestment)

    Divestment runs contrary to free market capitalism and the neo-liberal Washington Consensus.

    Or has the ‘free world’ adpoted a new global, economic theory in the midst of the credit crunch?
    If it has then I’d be interested to know what it is.

    Blockading Sudan’s oil would paralyse the distribution of food aid from Port Sudan to the south…east…as well as to Darfur.

    Whatever we think of it the Government of Sudan is not a company but an object and party to the international global order.

    And for those proponents of divestment, why hasn’t the same ruckus been kicked up over the complicity of other ‘multinationals’ not even countries in atrocities – like the recent one in Gaza.

    As for the fair and accountable government its succesful inception will ‘never’ be an exogenous affair.

    And if we want to talk accountability and corruption which one of the people who left the comments knows the past and finances of Dr Khalil Ibrahim, disciple of Turabi and former state Health Minister in the 90’s?
    Who knows Ali Al-Haj who is based in Germany and was also a Darfuri government hot shot?

    I see the ‘rebels’ in London, in South Kensington and in the Sudanese Community School and I see their tailored suits and wonder how they could afford them.

  8. sudaneseoptimist February 13, 2009 at 5:01 am #

    I couldn’t agree with you more!

    ‘I see the ‘rebels’ in London, in South Kensington and in the Sudanese Community School and I see their tailored suits and wonder how they could afford them.’

    Oh the stories I have about that! Besides you and I’s personal observations, A UNDP employee I met in Sudan actually made a similar remark, so I guess many people are seeing through the hypocrisy!

    I also found a strong correlation between people who believe in divestment and people who throw in the ‘genocide’ label nonchalantly when discussing Darfur. Those are the types who have a rudimentary understanding of the situation and seem lack the ability to wrap their head around complex and effective long term solutions, and opt for simplified instant gratification by talking about divestment.

  9. AK (the real one!) February 13, 2009 at 9:08 am #

    SO-

    First-
    I don’t know who other person using the name ‘AK’ was, but I can tell you it wasn’t me. (Maybe AK is a common blogging name?)

    To answer your question-

    I think that divestment is a serious avenue that can and should be pursued vis-a-vis Darfur. The Khartoum government has proven incapable and unwilling to take serious action, and divestment is the only way they can be tangibly effected. Indeed, as you point out in your first question, divestment has a blanket effect on the entire population, but unfortunately, the entire population of Sudan (save for an extremely small minority) are already living in squalor and abject poverty. Divestment will only hurt those who are dealing in hard international currency and have their assets in major companies and European banks. Regarding the current situation in Darfur — there is no doubt it has improved, but that is not saying very much. The conflict was at its most disruptive point back in 2003-early 2005. That being said, the situation remains volatile, as you are probably aware.

    Finally-
    I am not sure who the person posting as “AK” was, but I am going to assume it is an honest mis-understanding. I might need to get a more original pseudonym.

    Best,
    AK

  10. Eu February 13, 2009 at 6:20 pm #

    ‘unfortunately, the entire population of Sudan (save for an extremely small minority) are already living in squalor and abject poverty. Divestment will only hurt those who are dealing in hard international currency and have their assets in major companies and European banks’

    Which indicators are you using to prove that save for an extremely small minority the entire population of Sudan is living in squalor and abject poverty and where do those indicators come from? And if you could also contextualise that statement within Sudan’s African setting by comparing indices of poverty with countries such as Ethiopia and Nigeria that would be great.

    According to macro-economic indicators Sudan has been doing great. Again I revert to free market economics, the doctrine of the ‘free world’ and the leading global institutions the World Bank and the IMF.

    If a new, successfully implemented economic doctrine has been discovered I’d be obliged if you would let me know about it.

    All of Sudan’s workforce who are not unemployed, subsistence farmers or working for a daily wage deal either directly or indirectly with banks. Actually even those working for a daily wage may deal with micro-finance banks in a new government initiative to use Grameen-inspired micro-finance to combat poverty.

    People in Sudan deal in currency, the Sudanese Pound, not in peanuts or bananas.
    The argument that ‘divestment’ and ‘economic sanctions’ only affect those dealing in foreign currencies is flawed due to the inter-connectedness of the global financial system. Divestment could, coupled with other factors. contribute to an economic recession. What effect would that have on the micro-economy and the Bank of Sudan (the Central Bank) and the flow of money – Sudanese Pounds – and those who only deal in Sudanese Pounds?

    Divestment ‘does not’ adversely affect members of the government who are well off anyway – it affects the man and woman on the street who lose their jobs because their Kuwait-based investor who has assets in the States was intimidated by ‘divestment’ and shut down his business in Khartoum.

    And presumably those Sudanese who aren’t subsitence farmers or working for a daily wage form the group that is expected to lead the way towards accountability and positive change…

    Or is it a case of defending the indefensible like Madeleine Albright did regarding the ‘economic’ sanctions that would ‘hurt Saddam’ by stating that ‘at least’ 350,000 children dead as a result of the sanctions was ‘worth it’?

    There is a dire humanitarian crisis in Darfur and in Somalia and the D.R. Congo (the latter respectively being worse in terms of food security and net casualties). The Government of Sudan could have done a better job in dealing with the crisis.

    But what of the role of the rebels?
    Where do their finances come from?
    How can they afford their weapons?
    What is their ‘vision’ of development in Darfur – do they have one?
    Where is the condemnation for their banditry, car-jacking of humanitarian aid convoys, forced recruitment, child soldier recruitment, involvement in the trade of marijuana (bangu) and targeting of civilian infrastructure in an attempt to seize power in Khartoum on the 11th of May 2008?

    How and why is it that rebels in Sri Lanka have been designated as terrorists and had their assets frozen, when Darfur’s rebels are given a safe haven in Paris?

  11. Eu February 13, 2009 at 6:28 pm #

    http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article30157

    This is extremely worrying.

    I’m offended at the arrogance of those who’ve already deemed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement a ‘failure’.

    It doesn’t really surprise me though since none of those white men and women are stakeholders in Sudan in any way, shape of form.

    To them it’s merely a series of trips, consultancies, reports and laser pointing at maps.

    The same mind-set messed up Iraq.

    I hope the same doesn’t happen to Sudan.

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