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Refugees and displacement

John Prendergast: The Enough Project and South Sudan

To end mass atrocities, focus on fighting kleptocracy.

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Chief Innovation Officer, International Rescue Committee
Director of Innovation Strategy, International Rescue Committee

South Sudan’s slide into violence is even more alarming in the context of the high hopes many had for the oil-rich nation when it gained independence in 2011. Despite the massive foreign assistance committed to South Sudan by the international community, the country rapidly descended into civil war resulting in enormous human suffering. Since 2013, over 50,000 people have been killed, and 4 million people are displaced.

George Clooney and John Prendergast, co-founders of The Sentry, during a meeting with Sudanese elders. Photo: Matt Brown/Enough Project

“It was shocking how fast the deterioration of the enterprise was,” John Prendergast tells Displaced hosts Grant Gordon and Ravi Gurumurthy. Prendergast had agitated behind the scenes for American assistance to South Sudan’s rebels for years. He pegs corruption as crucial to understanding why conflicts in resource-rich, governance-poor countries like those in Central Africa are so hard to end.

Prendergast is the founder of the Enough Project, a nonprofit disentangling the global financial flows that, he says, entrench violence in places like South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic. Contrary to popular perception, conflict-wracked countries in Africa are “actually fabulously wealthy places with gold and oil and diamonds and incredible raw materials,” he says. A “small group of people have hijacked...the governing institutions of the country and repurposed the state to privatize that wealth.”

Prendergast reflects on his evolution from an outspoken advocate for intervention in African conflicts to a more strategic thinker, conscious of how those interventions can go so badly wrong. And he elaborates on the necessity for celebrity advocacy in a political environment where humanitarian NGOs are forced to sell a story of suffering. Today also marks the Enough Project’s Day of Action on Sudan, an initiative to press the U.S. government not to remove the country from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

The one common denominator is not that people don’t care about these human rights atrocities, these famines and wars that are unfolding on the continent of Africa, but that the political will to actually utilize the policy tools that could actually make a difference was very low.


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Opinions and views expressed by guests are their own and do not reflect those of the International Rescue Committee.