The marginal impact of celebrity on humanitarian campaigns | 

George Clooney arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, DC.

George Clooney arrested in front of the Sudanese embassy in Washington, DC.

Celebrities are often used as eye candy for charity campaigns and giant advocacy efforts.

Remarks from actress Angelina Jolie are released alongside comments from the UN on the number of Syrian refugees surpassing the 2 million mark this week. Mia Farrow vocally campaigned against China in the run up to the 2008 Olympics in response to their support of the brutal regime in Sudan.

George Clooney also made Sudan his point of focus, Ben Affleck has the DR Congo, Princess Diana campaigned to end landmines and Bono wants to end extreme poverty.

Using celebrities does have an impact, but not how you may have expected.

They do have a small impact on humanitarian events, but generally serve as amplification tools for existing organizations and campaigns. In some way, the Hollywood set use their celebrity to reach audience by putting their ability to represent an idea created by someone else to the public. It is a lot like acting in a film. Continue reading

Pro-South Sudan activists put pressure on President Kiir | 

Salva Kiir
Salva Kiir

The men who spearheaded US support for South Sudanese independence used the country’s second birthday to urge President Salva Kiir to end attacks on civilians.

An open letter from Roger Winter, Eric Reeves, John Predndergast and Ted Dagne strongly encourages Kiir to stem corruption and root out commanders that allow for attacks to continue.

[T]hese atrocities are not isolated incidents but among many deliberate measures taken by soldiers on the instruction of senior commanders and government officials. Some may argue that the failure here lies in the chain of command, but the evidence makes clear that these orders are indeed coming from senior commanders. We urge you to take swift and decisive action against not only those who carried out these heinous acts, but those who gave the orders.

And there must be justice. Crimes by government officials often go unpunished. Many attacks against civilians, including the killing of foreign businessmen, a teacher from Kenya, South Sudanese journalists, and many others, have gone unpunished. We have authoritative reports that government security forces have abused those who allow themselves and their cars to be searched. Many people, including government officials, have faced harassment and have been beaten up by security forces. Again, no one has been held accountable. This inevitably creates a climate of impunity.

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George Clooney’s campaign against some other war crimes in Africa | 

George Clooney, who has praised the Stop Kony campaign aimed at ridding east-central Africa of warlord Joseph Kony, is trying to make sure our focus on such efforts isn’t too singular.

The actor and human rights advocate has long been focused on the ongoing atrocities in Sudan and recently testified in Congress to draw attention to the killings, conflict and suffering. He recently snuck into a dangerous part of the country and produced this powerful, disturbing video.

While there’s no denying the criminality and terrible legacy of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, Kony’s ability to inflict death and destruction is fairly limited these days. Clooney’s efforts in southern Sudan should serve as a reminder that there are many fronts in the war on those who commit crimes against humanity.

Some related stories

GlobalPost George Clooney says Sudan government guilty of war crimes

Washington Post Clooney urges Congress to take action to stop South Sudan war crimes

Foreign Policy The Other Sudanese Civil War

NOTE: Clooney’s video has had about 26,000 views on YouTube as of this writing. That compares to something like 70 million so far for the Stop Kony video.

Brett Keller debunks the story behind: Machine Gun Preacher | 

Brett Keller asks Who is Sam Childers?

At first, I said to myself: Who cares?

But I do like Keller’s stuff, so I read on:

He goes by many names, Reverend Sam and the “Machine Gun Preacher” amongst them. If you haven’t heard much from Sam Childers, you will soon. To date he’s been featured in a few mainstream publications, but most of his exposure has come from forays into Christian media outlets and cross-country speaking tours of churches. In 2009 he published his memoir, Another Man’s War. But Childers is about to become much better known: his life story is being made into a movie titled Machine Gun Preacher. It hits the big screen this September, starring Gerard Butler (300) and directed by Oscar-winner Marc Forster (Monster’s Ball, Quantum of Solace).

In answer to my question, why should you care, Keller says:

If you’re concerned about Africa (especially the newly independent South Sudan), neutrality and humanitarianism, or how small charities sometimes make it big on dubious stories, Childers is a scary character. By his own admission Sam Childers is a Christian and a savior to hundreds of children, as well as a small-time arms-dealer and a killer. And, as far as I can tell, he’s a self-aggrandizing liar who chronically exaggerates his own stories and has been denounced by many, including the rebel group of which he claimed to be a commander.

The impending Hollywood celebration and promotion of Childers has Keller concerned, so he is going after his claims — and the dangerous implications of making him a heroic figure.

Brett Keller

Keller has broken his examination of the Machine Gun Preacher into two parts, the link above being the first in a five-part series. Or you can read Keller’s whole treatise here.

It’s fascinating, and disturbing.


On Libya, the Arab revolt and the national interest | 

Flickr, Messay Shoakena

Anti-Gaddafi protests in Libya

The popular revolt in Libya began in Tunisia, gained force in Egypt, and is continuing its spread across much of the Arab world.

Libya is different mostly in that we are supporting the rebellion militarily, which has raised other questions.

The Arab revolt appears to be re-writing the political power grid in the Middle East and yet some continue to argue that none of this is in our national interest. Why then has Egypt been one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid?

Those who contend the Arab revolt has nothing to do with our national interests appear to have their heads in the desert sand. Geopolitically speaking.

But as a humanitarian issue, if this popular revolt continues to spread and grow, as some think it will, one question we need to ask is if we would intervene again.

Would we take action in another Arab country if there is a similar risk of large-scale, violent government retaliation? Is there a moral obligation, a precedent being set here, that will shift the discussion beyond the ever-debated political calculus focused simply on whether or not it is in our interest?

That’s what I wondered after hearing the question being asked by NPR’s Jackie Northam in a report today, Will U.S. policy in Libya spread to other nations? Continue reading

Two views on George Clooney, statesman | 

Flickr, nicogenin

Newsweek recently published a profile of actor George Clooney’s work in the Sudan, where he and others assisted in providing oversight of the referendum vote for independence in the south. Said Newsweek:

Clooney has been leveraging his celebrity to get people to care about something more important than celebrity. South Sudan’s January referendum for independence was quickly followed by uprisings that toppled North African and Arab dictatorships, with power moving away from centralized political bureaucracies and toward broader popular engagement. In this new environment—fueled by social networking—fame is a potent commodity that can have more influence on public debate than many elected officials and even some nation-states.

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