Of the 80 or so people in Harris 107 on Wednesday, several students could be seen sporting little blue, white and purple buttons with the slogan, “NU Pride, Divest from Genocide.”
The pin summed up the forum held by the Northwestern University Darfur Action Coalition that night. Anne Bartlett, director of the Darfur Center for Human Rights and Development in Chicago, and NUDAC coordinator Alyssa Huff shared the stage for more than an hour, explaining the Darfur genocide, divestment, and ways students can make a difference.
So far, the genocide perpetrated by the Janjaweed militia in Darfur has caused between 400,000 and 500,000 deaths, and displaced approximately 3.6 million people, Bartlett said. She emphasized the complexity of the situation.
“The crisis in Darfur is not simply an African-Arab conflict,” Barlett said. “This didn’t start in 2003. We can trace it back to the 1980s, although it really escalated from 2003 onwards.”
NUDAC not only aims to raise student awareness on genocide but also to promote concrete change. Recently, one of NUDAC’s priorities has been Northwestern’s targeted divestment in Sudan.
So what is divestment? Basically, Northwestern has money invested in companies that, in turn, contribute to the Sudanese elites’ lavish lifestyles, while the majority of the population suffers from poverty and fear of genocide. Divestment would remove money from those companies.
The only country who could successfully pressure Omar al-Bashir’s government is China. China is involved in oil policy in Africa, notably in Sudan. It also supplies the Sudanese with arms such as tanks, helicopters and even anti-personnel mines. By divesting from 29 companies, including Chinese oil and electronics businesses, Northwestern could have an impact on the Chinese viewpoint on the genocide, which could lead the country to act against Sudan’s government.
NUDAC has been pushing for Northwestern to adopt the recommendations of the Sudanese Divestment Task Force, which targets divestment in certain business branches. However, agricultural companies would not be included, as 80 percent of the Sudanese population relies agriculture or herding for its livelihood.
Despite several meetings between NUDAC members and administration representatives, Northwestern seems a bit cautious regarding divestment in Sudan. Although the administration has claimed to have divested from Sinopec, a Chinese oil and chemical company, it refuses to make a public announcement of plans to divest from 29 other companies. Huff said that President Henry Bienen seemed very concerned by the whole topic, but that Bienen was afraid that divestment would put him in a vulnerable position with the Board of Trustees.
And how does NUDAC seek to change things, in this complicated economic-political equation? As a NUDAC member in the audience put it, “This has to be a visual movement on campus. It has to be something people can see and talk about.” Posters and buttons were distributed to the audience, along with encouragements to spread the word about Darfur to family members and friends. NUDAC has also posted an online petition on divestment, and will hold other events this quarter, including a rally on Mar. 8.
Did you know what divestment was before? After this forum, do you plan on doing anything about Darfur?