Social media special: The Messi shirt Bashir fell for

In Sudan, little news spreads faster than on social media. And so, two stories were extensively hailed and torn down during what became turbulent media days for President Omar Al Bashir. Radio Dabanga highlights the voices heard in the social media storm.

In Sudan little news spreads faster than on social media. And so, two stories were extensively hailed and torn down during turbulent media days for President Omar Al Bashir. Radio Dabanga highlights the voices heard in this social media storm.

It started on Thursday 28 July. A representative of the Spanish football club FC Barcelona announced to bring Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir several original football jerseys, signed by top player Lionel Messi. Al Bashir was more than happy to receive her. Photos of the President, team representative Alissa Plasco and the ten exclusive T-shirts in the presidential office spread rapidly in the news and social media.

Sudanese media outlets and government officials attended the meeting, where Plasco told the president that Messi greatly admires him for his excellent leadership. In turn, Al Bashir said he considered “the honouring of him by Messi, the best football player of the world, an honouring of all Sudanese people”.

The honour did not last long. It turned out not much later that the shirts did not belong to Messi. El Jazeera TV reported that the famous footballer strongly denied having signed shirts for Al Bashir, and would take up the issue with his lawyers (video in Arabic).

And Alissa Plasco? She pretended to be a representative of the famous team in order to secure a meeting with the Sudanese president, to expand her company’s investment possibilities in the country, according to the Huffington Post Arabi on 2 August.

A day after the presentation of the shirts, Al Bashir travelled to Ethiopia for an honouring ceremony at the Addis Ababa University, organised by the African Initiative for Pride and Dignity. This is a group of academics from African countries that claim to have established the forum to preserve the freedom and dignity of Africa.

The initiative recognised Sudan's efforts for the development of Africa and prosperity of African people. Again, photos widely circulated in the news and Sudan's social media platforms, this time of a crowded conference in Addis Ababa where Al Bashir – wearing a red robe decorated with gold thread – was the centre of attention.

The two events, although one more legit than the other, were in favour of an incumbent president who is indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2009 for committing crimes during the war in Darfur. They brought about a myriad of comments and denunciations from people in Sudan and Sudanese in the diaspora. Radio Dabanga asked listeners of its programme 'Social Media' and Facebook followers about their opinion, and received a large amount of responses.

The first media story 

On Facebook, Abdelaziz Yahya replied that he is a FC Barcelona fan but considers the gift of the shirts “unacceptable. This [Al Bashir] is the biggest perpetrator of crimes against humanity in history. Is such a gift to Al Bashir appropriate?” 

A large number of people pointed to the naivety of the Sudanese president who seemed not to realise that the signatures on the FC Barcelone shirts were fake. “That the president of a country can be tricked in this way is unbelievable. This shows how the Presidency in Sudan is working,” a listener said.


A member of the ruling National Congress Party, Dr Mohamed Muhyidin El Jemeabi, expressed his sympathy for Al Bashir. He denounced “these media people who brought this woman to the president”, and demanded an investigation into the fraud.

Many Radio Dabanga followers considered the story about the football shirts “ridiculous”. A great deal of them thought it was a hoax from the beginning; as why should such a famous footballer care about the Sudanese president?

“Don't believe the lies of the intelligence service,” Osman Yahya wrote. “This is nonsense. What Messi gave a shirt? He has never heard about a country called Sudan. And you, Al Bashir, are a criminal and a fraud, [..] an imaginary president.”

Political propaganda

A number of people considered the events “political propaganda”.They think that the “hypocrites ruling the country” have arranged the ceremony to promote President Al Bashir, and “to downsize the people's hatred for him”.

Others took it as a joke. Mohamed Jallab believes that “Messi has now joined the Janjaweed”, while Fateh Abdelrahman suggested that “FC Barcelona just wants a Sudanese trainer”.

The second media story

The honouring of President Omar Al Bashir by the African Initiative for Pride and Dignity in Addis Ababa received extensive press coverage in Sudan. Dr El Tijani Sese, head of the Darfur Regional Authority, commented by saying that it was “the greatest honouring by African leaders possible”.

Is it legit?

Yet, it seems that the connections the academics of the African Initiative for Pride and Dignity say to have with a number of African institutes, including the University of Addis Ababa, do not exist. Moreover, Sudanese activists discovered that the website of the African Initiative was launched three days before the honouring ceremony took place. Others stated that the Initiative itself was established three days before the honouring.

Radio Dabanga's Social Media programme, referring to an article by Sudanese journalist and activist Lubna Ahmed Hussein, pointed out that a number of institutions are allegedly affiliated with the African Initiative, but in reality have nothing to do with it.

What happened, according to Hussein, is that the African Studies Network in Dar El Salam, Tanzania, and the Khartoum-based Peace and Human Rights Study Centre organised the honouring ceremony. The leader of a Sudanese theatre group hired a hall of the Addis Ababa University, and implemented the event.

Former judge Seifeldawla Hamedallah called the ceremony “a clear fraud case” in an article on the internet. “This case does not need any research to know it was fake.” Hamedallah further alleged that the event was financed by “some rich people in the region, not by African leaders”.

No dignity

Most of the station's followers denounced the honouring of Al Bashir. Many of them pointed to his indictment by the International Criminal Court. Under the Rome Statute Article 25(3)(a), Al Bashir faces five counts of crimes against humanity, two counts of war crimes, and three counts of genocide, during the conflict in Darfur that started in 2003. The investigation into the crimes in Darfur by the ICC have been put on hold, however, owing to a lack of action by the UN Security Council.

Many reactions speak about the absurdity of honouring Al Bashir for his efforts to realise prosperity in Africa. “What dignity are they speaking of,” asked Mohamed Sa'ih. “What about the widespread oppression, the hunger, the gagging of the press, the spread of corruption, and drugs… They honoured the worst president in the world!”

By Nouska du Saar, Radio Dabanga

Other Social media specials:

Sudan’s objections to Radio Dabanga draw flak on social media (16 February 2016) 


This article was written based on the comments by listeners and followers of Radio Dabanga on Facebook. By responding to the topic by telephone or online, they automatically gave their consent for the publication of their comments.