Booker blasts lack of focus on Sudan: ‘Defining the soul of our nation’

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) on Wednesday condemned the American public’s lack of focus on the crisis in Sudan, which has displaced about 8.8 million Sudanese people, subjected millions to risk of famine, and left thousands dead since its start in April 2023.

“We are defining the soul of our nation, as Americans, by how we are allowing, frankly, such a nightmarish scenario to go undiscussed and unfocused,” Booker said Wednesday at a Center for American Progress panel on the “forgotten war.”

Booker was joined by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and U.S. special envoy to Sudan, Tom Perriello, on the panel.

“The urgency is not captured the way it is spoken about, if not spoken about at all,” Emtithal Mahmoud, a prominent Sudanese American poet and United Nations Refugee Agency ambassador, told the panelists. “For those of us in the diaspora, the silence has been deafening.”

The civil war has been overshadowed globally by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Israel’s war in Gaza, which began after Hamas’s terrorist attack on Oct. 7.

Yet the war in Sudan rages on, and this week the rebel Rapid Support Forces (RSF) reportedly killed 150 people, including 35 children, after storming an unguarded village. The total death toll from the war is estimated at 15,000 but may be far higher.

Perriello expressed disappointment at the lack of foreign engagement with the crisis, specifically attributing blame to a growing interest in “anti-imperialist” critiques.

“It means when the U.S. is not the bad guy, there’s a lot less interest around the world,” he said.

He advocated a more aggressive approach to pressure Sudanese officials to let humanitarian missions across the border to deliver aid and facilitate peace talks.

While U.S. attempts to advance talks between Sudanese leaders stagnate, Jayapal and Booker pushed for alternative U.S. approaches to handling and halting the conflict.

“It’s really important to think about all of the tools that we have because often sanctions end up hurting the people at the bottom, but not the people at the top,” Jayapal noted.

Jayapal has co-sponsored a bill with Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) to halt military aid to the United Arab Emirates until they commit to cease arm sales to the RSF, which is warring against the Sudanese Armed Forces for control of the country.

The legislators also advocated for direct U.S. aid to indigenous efforts to help Sudanese people on the ground.

Specifically, Jayapal encouraged support for youth-led emergency response rooms (ERR), which deploy teams of volunteer medical staff, engineers and other emergency responders to help those impacted by war.

Haitham Elnour, a Sudanese American human rights activist, echoed a call for U.S. investment in homegrown Sudanese initiatives.

“We are claiming that we are supporting the modality of the ERR — we need to actually up that support,” he said.

Booker also took a moment to critique the lack of U.S. engagement with the African continent more broadly, noting that “China does four times the amount of trade with Africa than the U.S.”

“Dollars invested now in stability, invested in civil society, in youth, in democracy, will bear a harvest not just for our country, but for stability and growth on the African continent,” he said.

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