By Cody-Leigh Mullin
Adam Abakar stood in Jack Baskin Engineering behind the podium in front of over 70 students last Monday; but just years ago he was in the midst of the genocide in Darfur.
“The Sudanese government marginalized the region; they do not want to spread the technologies or the education tools,” Abakar said. “They want them to stay like that. If they are educated, they will have more of a desire to move forward and get knowledge.”
Abakar, a native Darfurian, addressed James Davis’ Technology Targeted at Social Issues class about how the lack of technology in Darfur keeps its citizens from getting an education and ultimately, from combating the Sudanese government.
Abakar worked alongside the African Union (AU) for over two years as a translator and non-governmental organization affiliate. During that time he was privy to technologies that played a large role in his documenting and recording the events that occurred during his fieldwork. He has since been studying computer science and is touring college campuses, while on his own summer vacation, in the hopes of sparking interest and action within the student community.
According to Abakar, the soldiers in Darfur do not have adequate transportation, logistical support, or technology to adequately protect the Darfurian people.
The Sudanese government is being run by the Arab immigrants who support the Janjaweed militia, a band of nomads subsidized by the government to kill rural, black Darfurians. Ultimately, the objective has been to obtain the oil to sell to China, and this has caused severe detriments to those where Abakar comes from.
“They are draining oil without any development in Darfur and without taking care of its people,” Abakar said in his address to the class. “There is no equality. We have no one to represent us.”
Davis invited Abakar to speak to the class in order to address certain entrepreneurial opportunities and create a connection between activism and technology while “thinking like an engineer.”
“You can explicitly choose to solve a problem rather than protest,” Davis said.
Foremost, Abakar’s visit was intended to expose a social issue that has been receiving coverage, but without inspiring change that would make direct effects to the Sudanese people. Less than 15 percent of the Darfurian community has access to technology, a statistic which is disturbing not only to Abakar, but to others who are invested in the issue.
Judy Bernstein, co-author of “The Lost Boys,” an account of three young Sudanese men, has been traveling with Abakar and has been working with Sudanese refugees since 2001.
“We’re trying to accomplish something where it needs to be accomplished,” Bernstein said. “I wish it would accomplish something [in Darfur], now. But in the long run, I think it’s important for young people to be aware of these things in general and be aware of the consequences of all of our actions and be compassionate about what’s going on.”
Bernstein encountered Abakar in North Carolina while working with the co-authors of her book. Abakar instantly expressed his desire to speak out against the Sudanese government to people who have the power to make changes.
Technology has played a substantial role in Abakar’s journey through Sudan and to the United States as an AU worker. While working in Darfur, Abakar relied on several technological advances such as Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, the satellite phone, and cameras.
GPS allowed Abakar and his team to navigate the Sudanese terrain, and satellite phones gave the AU a point of contact and an easy way to report on attacks and safe spaces within the region. However, the camera has proven to be Abakar’s most reliable ally as he documented many atrocities within Sudan while working with the AU.
“Technology has helped me document a lot of things, to take pictures, to report and let the rest of the world know about the serious issues of Darfur,” Abakar said. “A lot of people do not know what’s going on. I tell the people about the truth.”
Julio Miles, a second-year student in Davis’ class, listened to Abakar’s presentation and took away a greater understanding of the situation in Africa and how things which are taken for granted in the United States, such as education and technology, are not even implemented in Darfur.
“[Abakar’s story] makes you realize what you take for granted,” Miles said. “It brings everything into focus to our pampered existence.”
The genocide in Darfur has been publicized through media and popular culture — avenues which Bernstein supports if talk is generated about the issues.
“Without celebrity publicity there’s nothing. They do bring attention to the cause,” Bernstein said. “I don’t care what their motives are, I just care what their actions are. Besides, it was people like the Beatles and Bob Dylan who played a part in ending the Vietnam War. [Darfur] is a fad; I wish it were more of a fad. I wish it were a huge fad!”
Abakar recommended that students speak out against actions in Darfur and the Sudanese government, while also being proactive and putting pressure on local congressmen.
“In my viewpoint, students are powerful tools,” Abakar said. “They can convince [the] world and put the pressure on the U.S. government to stop the Sudanese government and stop the genocide in Darfur. Action is the only solution.”