ASU alum votes to help his native Sudanese
Remember Christopher Zambakari?
Why would you? He’s not physically imposing. Never starred in sports, no film credits. His voice is a shade above a whisper, even when he’s excited about the subject. Not much of a pedigree, really. Unless you dig a bit deeper and pull out his New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences summa cum laude B.S. in psychology from Arizona State University in 2006, consider his 2009 MBA in international finance from the University of Buckingham in England, and the doctorate he is currently pursuing in law and policy at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies in Boston.
A memorable mouthful, indeed.
Today, four years after his December graduation from New College, Zambakari, a native of Sudan who emigrated to the States in 2001, is on a collision course. He is powered up and bearing down on what he determined long ago would define him – a deep caring for and a committed service to his fellow countrymen. What that looks like is a hard-boiled, be-everywhere-at-once, shout-it-from-the-highest-mountain effort to inform and motivate the Sudanese regarding the upcoming January 2011 referendum that will determine the future of Africa’s largest country.
“My ambition and dream to work in Sudan has never stopped,” says Zambakari, who graduated top of his class at Phoenix Alhambra High School after travelling to the Valley with his mother on an unforgettable trek through seven African countries and Belgium as a refugee from Sudan's bloody civil war. “For lack of a better term, it has gotten more intensive as I have grown emotionally and professionally.”
Since his days at ASU’s West campus, Zambakari has been busy attending conferences, speaking at conferences, and conducting research on political reform in Sudan. He has been working with a group at ASU that is reaching out globally to develop a platform to connect students, university faculty, community activists and governmental officials as they eye the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. He helped set up the section of the goals devoted to Sudan and, together with colleagues from Canada, Italy, England and Poland, presented the platform at conferences in Lisbon, Spain; Victoria, Canada; and Pasadena. Now he wants to get out the vote as the referendum in the northeast Africa republic nears. The work is not as simple as passing out leaflets or registering eligible voters.
“Through this referendum, South Sudan will make an important decision,” he says. “It will decide to unite with North Sudan to form a united Sudan, or it will vote to secede. We are looking at a potential unity in Sudan, something that is not really popular, or outright secession, which is the dominant view, or war.
“Either way, there are a number of issues yet to be resolved, the first being the education of the Sudanese – those inside the country in all the regions (North, South, Eastern Front, Darfur, Abyei, Nuba Mountains/Blue Nile), and those is the diaspora. We must teach them about this event, which is only months away. There is a deficit in education and awareness. Without the proper education of what is at stake, who can vote, where to vote, how to register, and what options are available, there are potential problems ahead,” he adds, rattling off such issues as citizenship, currency, public service, the status of military units, oil concessions, property rights and more.
“In essence, little thought has been given to the post-referendum period,” says Zambakari, who likes to tell people his dreams were born on African soil but that New College and its Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences gave him the tools necessary to achieve his goals. “The idea is to focus on the issues driving the conflict instead of the overly simplified version often heard in the media.”
The roadmap he has plotted is as exhausting as the one his family followed to escape a Sudan shattered by civil war; a journey that forced his nine brothers and sisters to scatter to Belgium, Khartoum, Kampala and Kinshasa. But he does not shy from the daunting task.
“The main venue for informing and educating the general public, predominantly those in the diaspora, has been through civil societies throughout the U.S.,” he says. “I’ve been trying to reach out to Columbia (University, where he is conducting his research on the legacy of colonialism in Sudan) to see if we can organize a conference that can bring together civil society organizations, academics and those currently involved on the ground in Sudan. I’ve been in touch with the International Rescue Committee and those who are responsible for bringing Sudanese refugees to the U.S. I will be working with the people at the Institute for Sustainable Peace to push for more information, workshops, conferences to be organized to reach the wider public throughout major cities where large numbers of Sudanese reside.
“The issue is that Sudan has been at war since 1955. People have been fleeing the country ever since, so the population outside Sudan is very large. Linking those people to the homeland is not just important, it is necessary if peace is going to be sustainable. They have to be part of the solution; they have to be mobilized.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that he is driven to inform and motivate relative to the upcoming referendum – his interests are keenly focused on the area of political reform after a political tragedy, as anchored in law. He has served as a national student rep for the Society of Community Research and Action and is a founding member who helped launch the international platform University Community Partnership for Social Action Research (UCP-SARnet).
Last month Zambakari spoke at Newbury College in Boston as a guest lecturer for a pair of global issues classes. It was one more opportunity to share the message.
“I focused my lectures specifically on Sudan in the global arena,” he says, adding, “Also, we discussed the importance of knowing what will take place in January, as well as the history of the conflict so that students can better understand current developments.
“Given that these were undergraduate students, I was very excited to be addressing them; they are the leaders of tomorrow, so giving them credible information is a good way to get things moving forward.”
Zambakari credits much of his drive to lessons learned while a New College student at the West campus. “New College enabled me to grow and develop my analytical and practical skills by giving me the opportunity to get involved in different initiatives,” he remembers. “From helping organize Cultural Week and Darfur Remembrance Day, and from engaging in interesting and meaningful debates to having an institutional structure that provides each student with a great team of faculty, the support I received was very important.
“I apply New College skills everyday and everywhere I go. I think globally and act locally while embracing change, I am an active participant, leading the revolution and transformation of the community from a bottom-up approach. I feel compelled to do something, to use my knowledge, my education and my skills to affect change in smaller increments.
“New College gave me a platform to stand on. Isaac Newton once said if he was able to see farther, it was because he stood on the shoulders of giants. I think I was provided a very good support and strong shoulders to be able to see and go farther.”
As he works on his doctorate, Zambakari has a final thought. His voice, he says, is his most effective weapon. He notes the words of African writer J. Nozipo Maraire: “Until the lion learns to write, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.”
For soft-spoken New College alum Christopher Zambakari, his actions are loud enough for all to hear. And appreciate.