Wasn't it just not too long ago that divestment from Sudan was the issue? Celebrities from Spielberg to Clooney were making front-page news, urging U.S. firms to use their economic leverage to help halt the violence in Sudan. Berkshire Hathaway came under fire for rejecting the plan as did, naturally, the Chinese. Forty-two colleges and universities even restricted their holdings in companies somehow linked with the state. Divestment was a tour de force, at least for a time.
I recently did a news search for "divestment, Sudan." The most promising find was an article in today's Alaska Report noting the attempts of four Alaska legislators to stop the state from investing in foreign companies complicit in the Darfur genocide. So far so good. The second best find was a Washington Times feature piece, dated 1 January 2009, on the Genocide Intervention Network. Third best? An opinion piece in Payvand, an Iranian news network, on the rise of Hilary Clinton as U.S. Secretary of State. The piece has nothing to do with Sudan, but the word is mentioned. Twice.
And, that's it.
Well, sort of. The FT reports that U.S. businessman Philippe Heilberg has secured a huge piece of fertile land in southern Sudan from the family of a notorious warlord. This is post-colonial Africa's biggest private land deal (the area is the size of Dubai!).
I tried looking at this deal objectively, really, I did. But really? Really!? On the one hand Mr. Heilberg is a private citizen and entitled to do as he damn well pleases. If he wants to buy land in a country where the government is responsible for the slaughter of thousands and thousands of individuals (and from a warlord, no less!), sure, go right ahead. I don't question his right, only his judgement. Moreover, I do recognize that such purchases may assist in Sudan's renewed development (and there is little deying that it it needed - and quite badly), but really?
This purchase seemingly comes as a backhanded slap in the face to countless investors and activists who have been hard at work, attempting to aid victims of the genocide and terminate it altogether. If this was some small land deal, I would perhaps be inclined to let it slide. But this is the continent's biggest private land deal since the end of the colonial period. Think about that. What kind of a message does this send? And what a fantastic example of the classic free-rider problem: Well, um, you guys go on ahead and divest. Me? I'm just going to buy myself here this nice plot of land...
Maybe he never got the memo.
What happened to the zeal that defined early divestment efforts? Where is the outrage? Since when did concern over humanitarian crises become a passing fad? What did I miss?! Maybe we all need to sit down and re-watch The Devil Came on Horseback (in my humble opinion among the best documentaries on the subject) to remind ourselves of the ongoing terror. Maybe this isn't as big of a deal as I'm making it out to be. Or, maybe, it is.