Originally posted on Storymoja
I have always been fascinated by fame and popularity. Not the people who hold them, but rather the effect it has over those it influences. People who hold fame could get away with anything, trivializing the most serious of incidents and making grave occurrences to be just an afterthought. Even as a child, I was too aware of such people who yielded so much power and wondered if this people even knew of the magnitude of their influence.
Back in preschool when I possessed the social skills of a monk, I had a best friend called Steve. Steve was two years older than the rest of the children in our age group and, thus, more experienced in the ways of the world. He was the popular kid on the playground due to his smart mouth and above average footballing skills. Conversely, till that time, my social contact had been limited to my extended family and this was perhaps the reason why our friendship worked. One day I confessed to him of the crush that I had on a lovely girl called Njeri. Njeri was not the most beautiful girl, but I really liked her. She was smart, kind and I even thought the gap between her front teeth was cute. Steve went ahead and did the unthinkable; he told her HE liked her. I felt betrayed, and as hard as I tried to argue my case to Njeri, the die had been cast. With that heartbreak in mind and the betrayal of my closest ally, I reverted back to my own cocoon and found solace in story books and novels. It was in this that I discovered the escapades of heroes and villains who used their super powers for good and evil, and I could not help put the two together. Steve was the real life version of a super villain, using his powers for evil.
In the past two decades, factors that have made people more specifically in Africa to be famous have evolved at a considerable rate, with the new media playing a massive role. Whilst in the 80s and 90s fame was a purview of politicians and musicians, the 21st century has created a new generation of celebrities whose fame has come about by accident rather than purpose. This new generation of celebrities has grown to wield so much power and influence that social scientists could not really explain. Their every move is recorded, people on the streets recognize them, people accept their views on social media as law and, once you cross their path, they will set their fans on you with hash tags and retweets. From concerts in pubs and restaurants to events in conference centers and stadiums, these celebrities have acquired a cult-like following in society and their followers are willing to part with a small fortune just to see their idols.
New age celebrities are emerging everyday across the continent mostly due to sensationalism and propaganda. The perfect example could be of my second favorite comedian from South Africa Julius ’Juju’ Malema. Malema has perfected the art of propaganda and is always on national television whenever a crisis arises in South Africa. His facetious way of addressing people and the media makes him lovable and he always speaks his mind knowing very well the people are behind him. African music has also enabled the fame and influence to cut across the borders with West African and South Africa being the most notable exporters of popular music. This people have developed a huge fan following such that their influence cuts across their field of expertise. Marketers and politicians are spending sleepless nights courting these people all in an effort to secure the huge fan base these people hold. Everywhere you look from the billboards to the TV ads you will see your favorite artists promoting a product and making a killing out of it.
During political campaigns you will see these people hand in hand with politicians while others have gone the extra mile and vied for political seats In Kenya we have seen the rise in prominence of bloggers such as @XtianDela and Robert Alai who command a huge following among the Twitterati. People all over the country readily pass on information to these people on the click of a button. Such information is passed on to their thousands of followers leaving traditional media houses playing catch up. These people are instantly transformed into opinion shapers and offer a voice for the voiceless. We also have artists like Juliani, who has been busy promoting the benefits of agriculture to the youth as a means of alternative source of income.
This approach is similar to the one witnessed in the West whereby the concept has really evolved. Artists have been heralded for the huge role they have played in the development and growth that has been witnessed in these countries. Celebrities such as Bono have been using their influence to advocate for social justice for many years. Such artists have also been anchored in the fight for human rights and equality and organizations such as the United Nations have adopted these people as ambassadors to great causes so as to capitalize on their influence. By the same token, there have been many artists who have always strived to serve their own selfish needs and sold negative sentiments to their fan base with the knowledge that people will subscribe to these ideals and will not care for the consequences. They sow the seeds of extremism for the purpose of a small fortune disregarding the knock-on effect it would carry.
There are people who have used their celebrity status to cause havoc and mayhem. From a war of words on social media to bar fights. During the election period, it is evident that the songs are laced with words meant to belittle and insult people of other communities or against some personalities. Some make the situation worse by the kind of lifestyle that they lead. As much as people will claim that they are leading their lives, if you are a public figure you hold a lot of responsibility and much more is expected of you. I now know that real life superheroes don’t exist but the truth of the matter is that celebrities are the closest we are going to get. And with all the influence they carry and their ability to convince people of a certain idea makes them Africa’s’ best hope for evolution. Going against the commonly propagated narrative may see some of these celebrities lose a tidy sum of money or even allies, but the effect they have on others is the best currency there is and their legacy will extend beyond their fields of talents and affect the coming African generations.
Nelson Mandela is an enigma, and calling him a celebrity would be an insult to the late president. However, here is someone who went against the popular choice back in his day and fought for the equality of both blacks and whites in South Africa. When he got into power, there was heightened pressure from his supporters to rid South Africa of the white folk but he ostensibly refused. He set the perfect example and went for the hard decision. To me, Mandela will always be my super hero.
It is no secret that Africa still carries the tag of the ’dark’ continent and no amount of help from the East or West will emancipate us from our problems. This is not a rallying cry for people to conform to what the society has set for us as the norm, but rather an appeal that we define for ourselves what is right and true. If these new age celebrities can be the main proponents of the right idealism, the easier it will be. Njeri will always remain the one that got away and Steven the villain of my childhood. The New Age Celebrities should make the right decisions so that future generations remember them for the right reasons.
Over to you.