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Letters to the Editor

In Support of Divestment


Mustafa Dafalla’s Dec. 1 letter attempts to explore the possible negative impacts of divestment in relation to MIT’s potential divestment from Sudan. Dafalla, however, chooses to focus his arguments on “economic sanctions” as opposed to the actual issue of divestment per se. Since divestment and economic sanctions are not equivalent, his ensuing arguments are unfortunately made irrelevant.

Targeted divestment is different from economic sanctions in two important ways. First, as its name implies, it is not a blanket measure as are economic sanctions. It can be specifically targeted to minimize the negative impact on the civilian population and maximize pressure on the government, thus serving as a tool for positive change. For example, based on the Sudan Divestment Task Force targeted model, of the some 400 international companies doing business with Sudan, only about 28 of the “worst-offender” companies are selected for actual divestment, a mere seven percent of the total number. These 28 companies qualify for worst offender status because they provide negligible benefits to the civilian sector, their business directly supports the government’s ability to wage genocide, and they have flagrantly ignored inquiries into their irresponsible behavior (for a complete list of these companies please email info@sudandivestment.org). In any case, the potential benefits that might trickle down to the Sudanese people from investments in such companies may well be illusory: According to the annual report of Transparency International, Sudan ranks as 156 of the 163 most corrupt governments in the world, with business profits predominantly benefiting government circles and the insulated privileged few. Therefore, money from these companies does not reach the average Sudanese citizen but is rather funneled to large military expenditures that help perpetuate the genocide in Darfur. In addition, the targeted model excludes all socially beneficial economic sectors such as agricultural (which employs 80 percent of the population), pharmaceutical, and any enterprises of humanitarian nature. Therefore, comparing this targeted divestment model to the Iraq sanctions is like comparing apples to oranges.

Secondly, divestment, unlike sanctions, is not a governmental policy imposed on another government, but rather is a decision taken at the individual level. It basically boils down to a personal or institutional choice: do we or do we not support a company whose business helps prop up a corrupt, genocidal government? And let us not lose sight of this basic fact — the divestment argument is not about inflation, GDP numbers or of the macroeconomic policy in Sudan, it is about the government of Sudan perpetrating a deliberate and systematic murdering of its civilians in Darfur. Therefore, we stand at the crossroads of a fundamental question: do we take a stand against genocide by divesting from companies that help support a Sudanese regime that has killed, by UN estimates, 400,000 of its own population and raped and tortured countless others? Or do we stand idly while such actions continue unabated with impunity? It is our strong belief that MIT should divest itself of even symbolic acquiescence in this moral outrage.

Further, let us not forget that a moral stance need not only be symbolic: Rosa Parks’ decision not to give up her seat on a Montgomery public bus on December 1, 1955 was not based on a sense of pragmatism but was a personal choice to take a stand against injustice. That heroic choice and personal sacrifice in turn inspired the Montgomery bus boycotts, a targeted divestment campaign against the city-run bus companies that helped levy enough pressure to lead to the eventual repeal of the unjust segregation laws.

We note, finally, that while the opponents of divestment are eager to highlight the potential negative outcomes of a Sudanese divestment campaign, we simply point to the definite outcome of inaction: the killing of what the World Health Organization estimates as 10,000 civilians a month in Darfur. We sincerely hope that we at MIT will not hesitate to act until the time when there are no Darfurians left to help.

The divestment petition can be found and signed online at http://www.petitiononline.com/divest.

Kayvan Zainabadi G

Steven E. Ostrow, Lecturer in History

Franklin M. Fisher, Professor Emeritus in Economics