Jalango. Faya Mama Njambi. Ronald Karauri. Jamal Gadaffi. Loise Kim. MC Jessy. Rufftone. Eko dydda . Prezzo. DNG. Frasha. Xtian Dela. Proff Hamo. Anita Soina. Karen Nyamu. Gabu Gubugubu. Alex Mwakideu… Celebrities? Controversial? Politicians? All the above? Yet a new title awaits those among them who will pass the first past the post test come the 9 August 2022 general election – mhesh.
What’s Happening: The celebrity as a politician is officially a thing (preceded by the bizarre the-politician-as-a-celebrity epoch of bling bling hookah smoking honourables). And so many are abandoning the mic as they seek to blur the line between showbiz and the once-upon-a-time hallowed halls of power, with most riding solely on name recognition more than anything else. For others—maybe for most—success as an entertainer means having had to jump through all manner of hoops, so that making it eventually—whatever that means to different people—means one has earned their stripes and some semblance of credibility, and have built resilience, all factors which when put together start explaining the allure of politics. And oh, there’s the element of the big bucks too, so life on the fast lane can be sustained. And no, we aren’t hating, for it is indeed everyone’s democratic right—and we mean everyone’s—to seek public office.
When celebrities move into politics, thanks to their years spent navigating fame, the assumption is that the mechanics of what is required to make the transition are already in place. What aspiring politicians would need to spend years building–recognition, a platform, fan support and some loose pocket change (hopefully)—a celebrity already has.
Why It Matters: A good number of these celebs fit that typical political rags-to-riches folklore, the kind of humble beginnings they often lay claim – the ones who trekked kilometers and slept hungry and started with literally nothing but a dream while they worked their way onto the A-list. Their inexperience — which goes far beyond merely being “outsiders”— is also essential to their appeal—they aren’t tainted, or so the voters think.
The Other Side: It’s one of those can’t-seem-to-agree questions: the celebrity as a politician. This seems to me a mostly fruitless endeavor, not least because the relationship between politicians and the public is very overtly transactional. Ditto celebrities and fans.
Across The Borders: Donald Trump’s victory represented a paradigm shift, going straight from the tabloids of New York to the presidency, with no previous experience; and getting voted out four years later. In 2010, the Philippines elected boxer Manny Pacquiao into the national legislature. As perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter of his generation, the “Pac-Man” rose from poverty to global superstardom, dividing his time between lawmaking duties and training for his next bout. Nigeria has elected celebrities Desmond Elliot whilst Ini Edo, Tony Tetuila and Mercy Johnson were appointed into political positions. Uganda boasts of the well-known political case of Bobi Wine. Further down in Tanzania musician Professor Jay and talent manager Babu Tale flexed their political muscles. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, an actor and comedian with no political experience other than playing the role of president in a TV series, won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s 2019 presidential election.
Of Note: Riding on a wave of fame, it is almost always hard to find any discernible manifesto from the celebrities, maybe a barrage of feel-good nebulous entities with canons of half-understood policies, promising ‘Change’ and to ‘Put the people first’, and a ‘New Dawn’. It’s the dogma of where power and privileges are the rock-and-roll of an emerging democracy—or at least its aura. Euphemism? To a certain extent, yes, but also a demonstration of how out of touch with reality they (celebrities) can be.
But, but, but: The tragic flaw of democracy is that we seek the same qualities in candidates for political office as we do in the movies. Celebrities have name recognition. They are easy on the eyes. They have mastered show-and-tell. But precisely because both the actor and the politician revel in the attention that comes with being on stage, Plato did not think it wise that actors should have a political role in The Republic. Celebrity is make-belief: Whereas the actor performs to entertain, the politician performs for office.
The Bottomline: Elvin Lim, author of the Anti-Intellectual Presidency posits: celebrities no not leaders make. They are a means to an end, like the horses in a numbers racket. There’s no real evidence that we’re entering some sort of golden age of celebrities becoming our political saviors. But the simpler Occam’s razor explanation is that celebrities are just really ambitious and doing whatever it takes—no matter how controversial—to get the power.
Whether celebrities are genuine or simply testing the waters, citizens must accept their own complicity in this, because they have come to expect a degree of deception from politicians, just as they worship at the altar of make-belief (politicians make, and citizens believe). The country is oscillating between a rock and a hard place: Either stop allowing celebrities to buy and hoodwink their way into politics, or don’t complain when they fail to live up to their big-screen gimmicks.