First, a moderate to strong movie rental recommendation for Machine Gun Preacher [2011, on Netflix or DVD] starring Scottish actor and current cinema hunk Gerard Butler. It’s the rare big-budget feature film that paints the African struggle for democracy and human rights (in Southern Sudan in this case) in a somewhat nuanced way… despite yet another “great white hope” movie action hero being placed center stage, but we’ll get to that… more likely later in the week when we talk about Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, and the Hollywood-Third World violence connection.
The actual “Machine Gun Preacher” that the movie is based on is Sam Childers, a Western Pennsylvanian religious layman, carpenter, and former criminal who reformed his ways and –more or less independently, from what I can tell– established an orphanage in an African war zone. Childers had previously worked with some medical support ministries in Sudan as a short-termer, and did construction work in a region of Sudan where the “Lord’s Resistance Army” — often crossing over from neighboring Uganda– was wreaking havoc.
Yet the region in question is still shrouded in a sort of darkness and confusion — at least here in America. We have many blind spots, of course, but East Africa, with all of its tribal, ethnic (Arab vs. “black”), religious and/or political complexities is particularly challenging to get comfortable North Americans to focus on consistently.
The other problem is that South Sudan is not in the same situation as exists in Darfur, which is more to the west within Sudan. So while the genocide and struggles for justice in neighboring Darfur (Muslim on Muslim violence in most cases) got lots of much needed press in the early part of the last decade– thanks to the efforts of George Clooney and a number of well-intentioned European and North American people and nonprofits– the far-southern Sudanese are still struggling even today despite the U.N. intervention and re-drawing of borders in 2010 and 2011.
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So if you are even still with me, here’s some more bad news: in both Darfur and South Sudan, things are not necessarily better, just more quiet in the Western media.
For better or worse, here below is how Wikipedia puts the Darfur situation. [ If you don’t want to be depressed (and if you’ve read this far but don’t want to be convicted that you need to do something), then now would be the time to skip the italicized political stuff and the death statistics: ]
In June , a new Darfur Peace Agreement (2011) was proposed by the Joint Mediators at the Doha Peace Forum. This agreement was to supersede the Abuja Agreement of 2005 and when signed, would halt preparations for a Darfur [independence] status referendum. The proposed document included provisions for a Darfuri Vice-President and an administrative structure that includes both three Darfuri states and a strategic regional authority, the Darfur Regional Authority, to oversee Darfur as a whole. The agreement was signed by the Government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement on 14 July 2011.
As of September 2012, little progress had happened since, and the situation was slowly worsening.
Sudanese authorities claim a death toll of roughly 10,000 civilians.
In September 2004, the World Health Organization estimated that there had been 50,000 deaths in Darfur since the beginning of the conflict, an 18-month period, mostly due to starvation. An updated estimate the following month put the number of deaths for the 6-month period from March to October 2004 due to starvation and disease at 70,000; These figures were criticized, because they only considered short periods and did not include deaths from violence. A more recent British Parliamentary Report has estimated that over 300,000 people have died, and others have estimated even more.
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So that’s the straight dope on Darfur in early 2013. Still, not nearly as much information exists regarding South Sudan, where as we’ve said, it’s not any better, just quiet for the moment on the international stage. Yes, they’re rebuilding. But it seems there are still plenty of powerful thugs who tear a lot of it right back down on a regular basis.
There’s an upcoming documentary about Sam Childers and the Angels of East Africa effort that he helped establish. I think it is premiering soon in Los Angeles. But I need to get to bed, and the problems of one far-away nation are not going to be solved by one lone blogger anyway. Not tonight, at least.
I just thought you should know, in case you want to help out as well.
Tune in later in the week for more movie and international political discussion, including a look at the aforementioned Clooney, Don Cheadle, their pal Steven Soderberg, Mel Gibson, Bruce Willis, Forest Whitaker, and a handful of other cinematic difference-makers who are out to do more than just entertain us.