Do you know Omar al Bashir?

I recently ask students in a graduate class I teach on ‘media, culture and international affairs’ to do an experiment: take a camera, go outside (really downstairs on the New School ‘campus’) and test people’s knowledge of Darfur and Eastern Congo. Quick context: We had been reading and discussing Mahmood Mamdani’s Saviors and Survivors as well as viewing the film, “Darfur Now.” (The contrast between the two texts could not be more obvious of course. Mamdani’s book is a takedown of Save Darfur, while the film is essentially a fundraising and recruiting tool for the American activist group and its supporters.)

Anyway, we figured we should target students about their knowledge about Darfur (and Congo) since organizations like Safe Darfur (and the Enough Project) claim to have had the most success with young people. It also made practical sense.

Copying an advertising campaign for the Johannesburg Apartheid Museum which tested the knowledge of young people on the Wits University about popular culture and South African popular history (to build awareness about the museum), my students would either ask respondents a series of questions about the conflicts or show them some photographs of media figures associated with a conflict.  For example they’d show them images of famous people associated with Save Darfur’s campaigns: George Clooney, Don Cheadle, basketball player Tracy McGrady and Mia Farrow. (Clooney has briefed Obama twice on Sudan; Cheadle has written a book with Save Darfur’s chief campaigner; Farrow threatened to go on a hunger strike; and McGrady traveled to a refugee camp in Chad.) They would then show them a picture of Omar Al Bashir on them. The president of Sudan has been the focus of most of Save Darfur’s campaigns. We wanted to see how many people could recognize Al Bashir.

Now you may object that the sample is not representative, that The New School is not an ordinary campus, etc., but I think the results are interesting in their own ways.  So watch here, here, here and here. The last video is on the DRC.



Sean Jacobs

Also goes by Hasan Wazan. Life President.

  1. Interesting that the interviewer calls Darfur 'the country in Sudan'! And I love the answer, Amin… and those who simply say 'Angelina'. First name terms for the stars. Interesting project.

  2. I don't understand what the students were trying to do in this class…. None of their targets (the people being questioned) had professed an interest in Sudan, so obviously they would recognize Hollywood stars before they'd recognize Bashir. If you asked me to identify the president of Indonesia, I sadly wouldn't be able to…. Hell, I wouldn't even be able to point out the president of Sri Lanka, with everything that's happened in that tiny country this past year….

    Perhaps the take-away point of these students' interviews is that Save Darfur wasn't nearly as ubiquitous as some people thought….

    As an aside, I find it unfortunate that Mamdani's Saviors and Survivors is being taught as an authoritative text in college seminars. For the record, I'm not affiliated with the Save Darfur Movement in any way, but I find it worrisome that such an esteemed academic (and a social scientist, no less!) would publish such critiques about an advocacy movement without taking the time to interview individuals formally associated with it (that is, the people on its payroll — those responsible for creating its political strategy).

    In Mamdani's index, George and Nick Clooney come up twice, Nick Kristof a full seven times, but Salah Gosh — the head of Sudan's national intelligence, and the architect of Khartoum's Darfur strategy — is mentioned not once.

    And who's obsessed with Hollywood?

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