How Hollywood Cloaked South Sudan in Celebrity and Fell For the 'Big Lie'
Film stars have been speaking from a flawed script about the newest nation. Daniel Howden points a finger at those who have failed to grasp the awful reality
by Daniel Howden
When violence erupted two weeks ago in the world's youngest country, one of the first
voices to speak out, before the US president or the head of the United Nations, was that
of the Hollywood actor George Clooney. There was nothing particularly objectionable
about his counsel, which in any case was more likely authored by the American activist
John Prendergast, with whom he shared a byline. It spoke of the need for a robust UN
response and, even as tens of thousands of civilians fled ethnically motivated death
squads, of the "opportunities" present in South Sudan.
This is a country, not yet two and a half years old, whose birth has been soaked in
celebrity like no other. As well as Clooney, Matt Dillon and Don Cheadle have been
occasional visitors who have tried to use their star power to place the international
public firmly in the corner of this plucky upstart nation.
Unsurprisingly, the actors were highly effective at communicating a narrative about the
new country that borrowed from a simple script. The south had fought a bloody two-decade
battle for its independence against an Islamic and chauvinist north led by an indicted
war criminal. The cost of that war, regularly touted as two million lives, meant that
the south would need huge development support to lift it from the impoverished floor of
every quality of life index published.
The great threat in this narrative was the vile regime in Khartoum, the capital of rump
Sudan, which would seek to undermine its southern breakaway, or march back to war to
reclaim some of its lost oilfields. . . .
The pursuit of separation at all costs made it harder to admit certain truths such as
ethnic divisions and created the need for the "big lie", as one senior UN official calls
it. "The big lie is that there was no ethnic problem in South Sudan. There is a
political problem." . . .
[Industry officials say oil output has fallen to about 150,000 barrels per day, down 40
per cent from before the start of the conflict, which has killed thousands and displaced
900,000 people.--Katrina Manson and Javier Blas, "South Sudan's factions vie for control of oilfields,"
ft.com, February 24, 2014
[Nearly half the population of the world's newest nation, South Sudan, is in danger of
going hungry. New atrocities are reported almost every day. And more than 1.5 million
people have fled their homes--Marc Santora, "As South Sudan Crisis Worsens, 'There Is No More Country',"
nytimes.com, June 22, 2015]
[Five years ago, pushed by an odd coalition of movie stars and conservative Christians,
the United States midwifed the birth of a new African nation, South Sudan.--Stephen
Kinzer, "The cost of short-sighted missionary
zeal in Sudan," bostonglobe.com, July 24, 2016]