Humanitarian Dispossession: Celebrity Activism and the Fragment-Nation of the Sudan

On March 8, 2012, Oxfam America invited seventy “women leaders” to spend International Women’s Day on Capitol Hill to celebrate the organization’s activism initiative “Sisterhood on the Planet.” A diverse group of influential women, including politicians, faith-based activists, and celebrities, answered the invitation to promote President Barack Obama’s global “Feed the Future” initiative, which assists women farmers in establishing land ownership and control over food resources.

The summit also highlighted the achievements of two women in particular: Kristin Davis, one of Oxfam’s global ambassadors and an actress known for her role as Charlotte York Goldenblatt in the television series Sex and the City; and Anna Oloshuro Okaro, a Maasai woman from Tanzania who battled social restrictions and fought for women’s rights to own land and livestock (fig. 1). During the summit, cameras turned to Davis as she explained her work with women farmers in Tanzania and her efforts to support their cause. She burst into tears as she talked about how her experience gave her life a different meaning and made her a better person. To be sure, by employing her celebrity image, Davis has helped to increase the likelihood that the world and policymakers will pay attention to an important case. On the other hand, Anna Oloshuro Okaro was given far less media attention, even though Oxfam sought to honor the achievements of both women. Anna’s presentation emphasized the significant lobbying efforts of Oxfam and its global ambassadors to eradicate poverty and empower women farmers.

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About Amal Hassan Fadlalla

Amal Hassan Fadlalla is associate professor of anthropology, women’s studies, and Afroamerican and African studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is the author of Embodying Honor: Fertility, Foreignness, and Regeneration in Eastern Sudan (Wisconsin, 2007), and the co-editor (with Howard Stein) of Gendered Insecurities, Health and Development in Africa (Routledge, 2012). She has written numerous articles on gender, identities, and transnational human rights and humanitarianism in the context of the Sudan. She is currently finalizing a book manuscript on Sudanese activism in the diaspora.