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Celebrity Dilemma: Thin line between securing the bag, remaining relevant

 A collage of Jaguar, Njugush and Jalang'o.

In 2017, Jaguar, was so popular that 52,132 people in Starehe Constituency chose to give him the seat over ODM’s Steve Mbogo's 32,357 and former Pulse photographer and prominent civil rights activist Boniface Mwangi’s 13,413.

The Starehe seat was a showbiz battle, as the three had made a mark in the showbiz space for artistry and flamboyancy, and journalism and activism for Mwangi.

Jaguar’s win, besides whatever he promised Starehe people, was also based on his fame as an artiste. From 'Kigeugeu' to 'Kioo', he castigated politicians for greed and forgetting their mandate, while critiquing society for always taking advantage of those in need.

"Mwanasiasa aliniomba kura akiniahidi yote atatimiza, baada ya miaka tano anarudi na kitambi bila kutimiza", he sings in 'Kigeugeu', more than five years before he would run for office.

He even performed the song during the Jubilee party launch. And Raila Odinga named it his favourite local song.

Once in Parliament, however, he will be remembered more for his physical altercation with another youthful member, Paul Owino Ongili, better known as Babu Owino, than for helping artistes and the youth.

To the artiste, who recently released a song with Bongo’s Rayvanny, he thinks otherwise.

“As an MP, I was just not a musician, which I will be for life, but a representative of all constituents,” he told Pulse.

“I woke up each day to represent these many demographics. It’s hard to push for one agenda instead of many. I had to think strategically and holistically.”

He says most celebrities easily forget what they advocated while on the other side. 

"It's sad that when some of us are given the opportunity to serve, we forget what we are known for and instead disappoint simply because we want to impress our bosses," says showbiz personality Miggy Champ, who contested for the MCA seat for Magenche Ward, Kisii County.

Miggy thinks that whenever a celebrity sells out, especially in the political space, they make it harder for the masses to trust others with the same ambitions. 

"When they disappoint, it affects some of us who are aspiring to be in leadership positions... We will not be trusted because of their track record."

When he lost the 2022 UDA ticket, Jaguar wrote on Twitter, “The people of Starehe were denied their democratic right to go to the ballot again for the nominations and choose their leader. The party decided to carry out opinion polls to decide whom to award the nomination certificate and it has been done.”

He believes he is now in a better place to represent the industry, and the youth in particular, as a Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS) Ministry of Youth Affairs Arts and Sports.

“Right now, once the court case (in regards to the legality of the position) is concluded, I am better placed to work for artistes. In fact, I plan to sit down na wasanii to see a way forward,” he said.

But Jaguar is not the only entertainer to cross the floor to the 'dark' side.

In the 2022 general election, comedian, businessman, and radio host Jalang’o crossed to the political side, elected as Lang'ata MP. Less than a year in, it remains to be seen how his time in Parliament will play out.

Creatives have often lamented that their counterparts whom they thought understood their plight best and would seek to make things better for the industry rarely do so. 

Take the case of long-running disappointment with artiste collective management organisation (CMOs). Nearly all have had musicians, actors, producers and promoters in their management boards. Yet they seem to never move the needle to address the plight of the people they represent.

In August 2019, during the burial of Benga maestro John De Matthew, former President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to clean up CMOs, to honour the departed artiste. 

Many artistes and industry insiders have made the move to politics and governance, from the late Bruce Odhiambo, Sabina Chege, John Kiarie, and the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Ronald Reagen, Jerry Springer, among others.

Even beyond this, the creative industry has always had friends in high places. 

“People don’t understand how politics work, or how hard it can be to make a difference. Mostly because people just like complaining,” said an insider who was friends with a retired governor from the Coast region.

“You can have a politician’s ear, say a governor, but so do hundreds of other people. He can create policies that can change the game, but not everyone in a county is an artistes or producer. Think mama mboga, doctors, accountants, farmers, and the rest.”

He says those who can carve out their niche to get the most interest will benefit.

“It’s business. If I’m the best artiste from the region, I will always be in performance line-ups. And that, to me, is what every artiste should aspire to be. Not friends with politicians, but harder to ignore.”

Miggy sees the pull celebrities have for power as a will to represent those they consider fans and supporters.

“We share and express opinions of the masses through art. And the beauty of it all is the freedom that comes with it. So, we always want to take it further through power that can change the society,” he says.

Besides politics, some celebrities have also danced on the fine line of representing brands, in ways that have raised eyebrows from their core fans.

In early February, a bank was the talk of town after customers expressed their frustrations. Comedian Njugush faced the full wrath of Kenyans on Twitter when he jumped into the fray, on his client’s side.

Njugush deleted the post after, before posting a half-hearted apology, explaining the whole situation.

"Guys, there is nothing as sanitizing. Actually, it was a scheduled post, but the agenda must agend, right?” Njugush asked.

Interestingly, Njugush has been one of the most conscious celebrities when it comes to current happenings. Not once has he critiqued politicians for absurd policies or announcements that touch on the cost of living, or policies.

Recently, he was singled out, standing next to fellow comedian Eddie Butita, as making more money than the President.

With a tax proposal aimed at content creators in the works, more than a few of their fellow creatives must have breathed a sigh of relief when it came out that there was the possibility that it would be rethought.

“Thank you His Excellency President William Ruto for recognizing the effort we put into the creative economy,” Butita tweeted later. “… most importantly we are happy today as an industry for listening and assuring us that the Digital Tax issue in the finance bill will be taken care of and the creators' voice has been heard.”

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