17 June 2017

Kenya: From Showbiz to Politics - Will Fame Translate to Votes?

Kenya is in the middle of an election season and anyone with political ambition is out in the streets campaigning and meeting people in their homes in between strategy meetings.

Showbiz practioners and celebrities of all kinds are not left behind in the quest to win politicial seats. But whereas one would think the popularity of celebrities would make their bid for office a walk in the park, politics has time and again proved to be a dark and twisted game.

Over the years celebrities have vied for the various positions hoping to turn their fan base into votes with varying levels of success. Ronald Regan, the 40th President of the USA, was a successful TV and Movie actor before joining politics. He however transitioned from President of Screen Actors Guild, to governor of California before beating incumbent President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Two term California Governor and blockbuster actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and former Madagascar president Andry Nirina Rajoelina, a DJ, are examples of celebrities who have made the rocky transition.

According to John Kigada, a music leadership educator, showbiz and politics operate on similar but different wave lengths, and transitioning from one to the other is not automatic. He says many artistes at the apex of the music industry are famous (known by many people) and sometimes popular (liked by many) because they appeal to their fans level of education, cultural background and economic activity. But they may not be influential.

For him, influence has to do with having an impact on people until they are willing to submit their resources - time, money or gifts - to your cause, e.g., charity to orphans. Therefore, some artistes have plunged into politics confusing their popularity and/or fame with influence.

"Music has innate influence that the artiste may claim or confuse to be his/hers. Just because an artiste has a huge following on social media doesn't automatically mean that they are influential and can champion a political cause."

After finishing 8th in the 2011 Kitutu Masaba parliamentary by-election, Ringtone, real name Alex Apoko went after the Dagoretti North seat in 2013 but dropped midway. The experience opened his eyes to the reality that is politics.

"Your fans love you for your music, but you may not be what they are looking for in a leader. That is why many artistes fail in politics. However if you pick a party that is popular in your area you stand a better chance; the combination of a popular party and your fame may get you through."


His short stint in politics brought him face to face with the thin line between show business and politics. He met many people who totally loved his music but wouldn't vote for him. Additionally he learnt that his fan base were primarily teenagers and children below voting age. This combination of factors made converting fans to votes a daunting task.

P-Unit's Frasha is the latest in a long list of celebrities to join politics; he will on August 8 be hoping to clinch the Athi River MCA seat. He says his journey to the ballot begun with his charity work.

He explains: "For the last three years Frasha Foundation has depended on the donations of well wishers. We have been all over the country and done all kinds of projects. That ability to mobilise resources and support is a clear gauge of my influence."

Frasha, whose real name is Francis Hamisi, is confident that a combination of his track record, youth agenda and choice of party will deliver him victory. His choice to start his political journey with a smaller post is also strategic on his part.

"Get into it, that's where decisions are made. We need more artistes and creatives in politics to push our agenda. One day I will die and all that will be left is my legacy. For me politics is a platform to impact society positively and leave a better world for my kids," he advises.

As far as transitions go, Boniface Mwangi is all too familiar with the word. Covering the post-election violence of 2007-2008 moved him from the news desk to the streets. Over the years the photojournalist turned activist has made a name for himself as a man of action. And after being a sharp critic of the political class for years, it was shocking when he announced his intentions to run for the Starehe Constituency seat. His foray into politics has also been eventful; pioneering the concept of crowd funding in Kenyan politics.

"When I become a Member of Parliament, I will be an activist in the National Assembly," he explains. "I am the son of a hawker and I speak for the poor. Everyone should speak up when people are oppressed. I am not going to Parliament to become something else, I will be a legislator who will be pro poor."

His actions have always received mixed reactions from the public and it will be interesting to see how he fairs at the ballot. What is even more intriguing is that he is vying against another celebrity Charles Njagua Kanyi, known by his stage name Jaguar. After surviving a rocky nomination, Jaguar secured the Jubilee ticket for Starehe. With the backing of a major political party and a big name thanks to his music, it remains to be seen if his fame will translate to votes.

Former TV reporter Mohammed Ali of the Jicho Pevu fame and a host of other journalists are also in the running for various seats on August 8. And as we say about everything in the future, only time will tell whether success their fame and popularity will bring them votes.


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