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The Wisdom of Surveilling Sudan from 300 Miles Up

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, January 7 2011

Coming out of the British diplomatic world, Carne Ross says that there a couple of things he finds potentially unsettling about the George Clooney-spearheaded Satellite Sentenial project that we took note of yesterday:

...The first is that most experts believe that any conflict between North and South is unlikely to consist of the mass movement of troops or tank formations over the border for instance, or an invasion by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) of the oil fields in the border areas -- military activities that can of course easily be identified by satellite.  Conflict in Sudan is instead much more likely to take the form of sporadic highly-localised violence perhaps involving militias working as proxies for the Khartoum government (such as the Janjaweed in Darfur).  Another possibility is of local inter-tribal conflict incited by government provocation and fuelled by supplies of arms, including heavy weapons.  Reports say that the satellite will focus on the tense and disputed region of Abyei, but can it distinguish between the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya tribespeople most likely to come to blows in that troubled province?  One suspects that it cannot, thus undermining its credibility as a deterrent.

My second concern is that this initiative, like so many others in these technology-obsessed days, promotes a "tech-heavy", expensive and -- needless to say -- fashionable solution above existing mechanisms that exploit that rather under-utilised, unfashionable and ignored resource, local people. The "Satellite Sentinel" project will apparently cost at least $750,000, donated by the Not on Our Watch group of film stars, including Matt Damon, Don Cheadle and others.

Jonathan Hutson of the Enough Project, one of the partners in the effort, responds:

We at Satellite Sentinel Project agree that high tech is no substitute for field reports and crowd-sourced information, which is why we're offering a series of multi-media field reports from journalist Tim Freccia, and using Google Map Maker, and why we've already been talking with Ushahidi about providing additional reports from the ground, including those from Sudan Vote Monitor.