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The trouble with Clooney's Sudanese crusade
17/03/2012 00:00:00
by Takura Zhangazha
Campaigner ... George Clooney
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AMERICAN Hollywood celebrities are good to watch in the movies. In recent years, like celebrity sportsmen, they are now also involved with international humanitarian organisations’ efforts, such as UNICEF, in increasing global awareness of the many disasters that afflict our shared global world.

But some Hollywood celebrities may have probably decided that it is not enough to just be Goodwill Ambassadors for these important international relief organisations. On occasion, they have decided to wade into the choppy waters of ‘liberal interventionism’ in aide of one political cause or the other.

The latest example of such a celebrity has been the famous American actor, George Clooney, who seems to have made it a personal endeavour to represent some of the people of Sudan at the highest levels of international diplomacy and/or American government.

Clooney was arrested with half a dozen others in Washington DC while on a picket about the civil war in the Nuba region of Sudan (not to be mistaken with the Republic of South Sudan). It also turns out he has been involved with issues around the Sudan for some time now, particularly in the Darfur region.

Clooney’s activism is not without its own controversies. An eminent Ugandan academic, Professor Mamdani has previously argued that a campaign on the Sudan that the actor was involved in was not necessarily based on historical and political fact. Regardless of these controversies, it is a given that Clooney is within his right to express his opinion on what he perceives to be human rights violations occurring in Sudan.

Indeed, reports of these violations have been many, but in the aftermath of the Kony 2012 video, it would be necessary to advise the American actor to be cautious of becoming the central public American narrative on the plight of the Nuba region in the Sudan. This is because at this rate, he may become the global spokesperson for the people of Nuba Sudan, particularly those that he insists are facing ‘systematic killing’ in the same country. This while he is in the comfort of his home country!

It is obviously a role that Clooney takes very seriously given the fact that he has visited the Nuba region recently and been arrested on behalf of the same region. It is, however, also indicative of an unfortunate trend wherein famous individuals from the north/west are beginning to exhibit problematic quasi-messianic streaks on behalf of people who might not or will never know who these people ‘fighting’ on their behalf are.


Whereas in the African struggles against colonialism international attention and acts of solidarity to repression and human rights violations were generally the collective act of many citizens of the West, the newfound tendency by movie or music celebrities to almost singularly seek to bring attention to contemporary sites of political conflict is borderline ‘feel good’ political activism. It may bring global/American attention to perceived atrocities but in the long run may compromise long term African political solutions to the same.

The primary solution to the Sudanese crisis resides in the ability of the Sudanese people to address the crisis in the Nuba region. To seek to bring attention to it in Washington DC is not a bad thing and given the fact I neither have the celebrity status nor the backing of a global power’s media hegemony, I would be mistaken to dismiss his actions outright. I can, however, only argue from the point of view of an African.

Clooney’s actions are instructively indicative of the missionary functions of yesteryear wherein by default , he simultaneously  seeks to claim the moral high-ground on what indeed may be actual human rights atrocities and at the same time do so on the basis of having urgently come from Africa (read as the ‘dark continent’).

This would include, like the missionaries of old, calling upon the all powerful metropolis of origin or centre to take to arms and go forth to go save the ‘natives’ by (eventually) conquering  the ‘barbarians’.

Of course, Clooney could not have gone to the African Union immediately as this would be less befitting of his status, and in any event if he has limited locus standi to do so it is least likely he would have pursued that path with as much urgency.

It would, however, be helpful to instruct Western celebrities that Africa is not a playground for intermittent demonstrations of their assumed moral or political uprightness when they cannot at the moment demonstrate reasonable commitment to their own country’s poor and disadvantaged.

Indeed, celebrities like Clooney are representatives of the global cultural dominance that is Hollywood, but they must understand that while they may mean well, Africa and African problems are best resolved by cooperation and not missionary exhibitionism.

Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity. He is a human rights activist based in Harare, Zimbabwe

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