“Until I hit play on an old-school Walkman last month, I had forgotten that it was possible for my full name to be said with so much love. ‘This is for Rebecca Jane Hamilton.’ My Dad’s words crawled above the whirring of the cassette. It was the first time I’d heard his voice in nearly 25 years.”
What an opening. In a New Yorker blog post as engrossing as it is moving, Hamilton, normally found writing on Sudan for Reuters, describes dusting off an old tape marked “never to be erased”, found in her mother’s garage in New Zealand.
There wasn’t a lot on the tape, says Hamilton, who lived in New Zealand until she was 15. Only a few minutes, recorded by her father in his last days. His closing words: “I can hear things mentally changed … I can hear them fussing already.”
The recording clicked off.
I sat for the next forty-five minutes as the rest of the tape played out in silence. I turned over and played through the other side. Silence.
I went back to the start, where he told me I brought him more love and happiness than he ever thought would be possible. “As I go on,” he said, “I’m sure that you’ll understand all that I mean with this.”
Now based in New York, Rebecca Hamilton lived in New Zealand until the age of 15, when she moved to Australia.
She is the author of Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide. The book addresses the efficacy, and lack of, of citizen outcry and public campaigns in the west to halt the bloodshed in Sudan – a theme that had a dramatic echo in the recent controversy over the Kony 2012 video and the guerrilla leader Joseph Kony’s impact in neighbouring Uganda.
It’s a topical strain. Here, via Public Address, are Hamilton’s thoughts on the links between the Kony episode and the partly fabricated Mike Daisey This American Life episode on Apple factories in China, as told to Reuters’ Felix Salmon:
To build a mass movement quickly, it helps to have an over-simplified, emotive narrative with a single demand. It also helps to tells people that by doing easy tasks – sharing a link on Facebook, buying a bracelet — they can save lives. Central to the formula is that the agency of local actors gets downplayed to hype up the importance of action by outsiders.
But all those ingredients inevitably lead to eventual failure when the simple solutions can’t fix the complex reality. The movement walks away, disillusioned. And in the meantime untold resources have been expended on solutions that have been out of step with what local activists need.