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Art meets politics: Celebrities who tossed their hats into the ring

Kenyan celebrities who have tried their hand in politics.

Walter Mong’are aka Nyambane was the first presidential aspirant to be cleared to run in the August 9 elections.

Together with his Umoja Summit Party members and supporters, the former Director of Youth and Development in the Office of the President was an elated man as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairperson Wafula Chebukati handed him over the clearance certificate to run for the presidency.

However, within hours, like a false alarm, Mong’are’s clearance certificate was revoked.

He is not on the list of presidential contenders. He argues that the final outcome is yet to be arrived at even as he remains optimistic he will be on the ballot.

The creative who rose to fame through comedy as he mimicked former president Daniel Moi together with his Redykyulass crew is the first popular Kenyan creative to eye the presidency.

He has been viewed as a daredevil seeking to take the gamble of creatives seeking political elective positions to a new level.

“We want to change the narrative that only the older generation can lead. I am not here as an alternative. I am here to represent a generation that is seeking answers to the real issues affecting them.

I come from this generation and have lived the kind of life we look forward to changing. It is not about the youth. It is about the dynamics…the way we look at life,” Mong’are told Saturday Standard.

His campaign team comprises scores of singers, music producers, deejays, actors, fashion designers, and a host of young influencers who have been building the numbers through the digital space through innovative ideas.

And it is not just him. The August elections have seen more creatives show their interest in joining active politics than ever, some of whom have been cleared by IEBC with the majority falling by the wayside.

“It is impressive to see all these creatives, who happen to be the role models and opinion leaders of the youth make these moves. The fact is that not all will go through, probably, not even half will.

But the fact is that they are beginning to knock on the door and give warning that the future of politics will be dominated by young people,” says hip hop icon turned entrepreneur Hubert Nakitare, popular as Nonini.

“The challenges are enormous. That is for a fact. From financial support to corruption at the party nomination level. From changing the perception that the youth can’t lead and that only financially capable people should lead, the youth and political agenda remains a major topic. Just like it is the case with women, there are many milestones to cross,” he stresses.   

The last decade has seen more youth trying out their luck in politics, with celebrities being at the forefront in a bid to bring change.

From actresses, artistes to comedians, these creatives are competing with seasoned politicians. The popularity of these celebrities and their huge following on social media is believed to be a major motivation in making them believe they can win. 

Youthful politicians such musician Charles Njagua (Jaguar) and comedian KJ of Redykyulass (John Kiarie) threw their hats into the ring and made their way into Parliament.

Jaguar and KJ claimed victories in the 2017 General Election in Starehe and Dagoretti South, respectively. Also, the entry of other youthful and popular parliamentarians such as the Embakasi East Constituency MP Paul Ongili aka Babu Owino, former media personality and current Nyali MP Mohammed Ali, former KBC journalist Naisuula Leesuda, as well as Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja, gave youthful political hopefuls believe that time has come for the youth to take active roles in political leadership.

While Leesuda clinched victory as Samburu West MP, another media personality Sabina Chege, a former actress and radio presenter, is currently serving as the woman representative for Murang’a County.

Big Brother Africa

Former actress and Kenya’s one-time Big Brother Africa representative Millicent Mugadi also pulled a surprise when she joined politics and took the Ziwani/Kariokor Ward Member of the County Assembly (MCA) slot.

Mugadi’s transition into politics seems to have been a success, as the former actress is now serving her second term and still gunning for the same position in this year’s General Election. The politician has achieved several milestones and focused her attention mainly on policies around the education sector.

“I feel that my two terms have been people-centred. We have managed to be felt in every sector. During my tenure, I have managed to support over 6,000 students with bursaries.”

“As the chairperson of the house committee on education, it is during my time that we brought new regulations that increased MCA bursary from Sh5,000 to Sh50,000 that a student can benefit from individually unlike before when the Sh5,000 ceiling meant that the MCA bursary did not do much to needy students.

Today, an MCA can pay a full year’s school fees to a needy student,” said Mugadi during a previous interview.

In Uganda, singer and actor Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine, has also had his fair share of success in politics. In April 2017, Wine announced his candidacy for parliament in a by-election for Kyadondo County East constituency and attracted masses in Uganda and abroad with his door-to-door walking campaign.

The singer won the elections by a wide margin, beating two seasoned politicians, Sitenda Sebalu and Apollo Kantinti.

His fame intensified in 2018 as he championed the victories in most of the by-elections by the candidates he campaigned for.

Madagascar also elected Andry Rajoelina, a former DJ, and club promoter, as their leader in 2009, making him the youngest president in Africa.

Hundreds of entertainers worldwide have tried their luck in politics and gained varying degrees of success. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, famous for his big-screen movies such as Commando, Predator, and The Terminator series, clinched victory as a governor in California, US, in 2003.

In 1981, Americans voted in former Hollywood star Ronald Reagan, known for his role in The Killers and The Hasty films, as their 40th president. In 2016, real estate mogul and star of the TV reality show The Apprentice Donald Trump surprised many after taking over from President Obama to be America’s 45th president.

Elsewhere, in Eastern Europe, Ukrainians voted for Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a comedian, to lead the nation as their sixth president.

His victory inspired many, including our very own Walter Mong’are.

“For a moment, Zelenskyy imitated the president and he became one. I imitated the President and I, too, am becoming one,” said Mong’are during his campaigns.

The successes of these young politicians seem to have driven more youth into joining politics, given the rising number of celebrity candidates each political season.

For instance, this year, a new crop of youthful politicians is contesting for seats, hoping to undo the wrongs of their predecessors.  

Radio presenter Jalang’o, real name Felix Odiwuor, was recently cleared by IEBC to vie for the Lang’ata Constituency MP seat. Singer Kevin Bahati has made his aspirations clear about being the next MP for the Mathare Constituency.

Davidson Ngibuini aka DNG, has shown interest in representing residents of the Woodley/Kenyatta Golf Course in the Nairobi County Assembly.

Jackson Ngechu Makini, alias CMB Prezzo is campaigning to be MP for Kasarani Constituency.

Hurdles

However, politics is not for the faint-hearted and it’s not been a bed of roses for most of these youthful candidates, despite their fame and huge social media followings.

For instance, in April, singer Bahati broke down at a media briefing after being urged to drop his parliamentary bid in favour of an ODM aspirant days after receiving his nomination certificate.

“I did not come to politics because I wanted a job because I already have one. The people of Mathare want someone that can understand their problem,” said Bahati.

Comedian and TV host Jasper Muthomi aka MC Jessy also addressed the challenges facing first-time politicians, saying finances play a key part in politics, adding that he was lucky he got support from his community.

“Support the young people. Vote for them…they are going through so much but might not talk about it. It is not an easy journey,” he said.

MC Jessy was forced to vie for the Imenti South MP seat as an independent candidate after failing to get a UDA party ticket.

“We were in the race and everything was going very well with UDA and everybody knows what went on there,” said MC Jessy, adding, “Now my community has called upon me. They are the ones who brought me up and educated me.

With only two months to the polls, the hopeful celebrity candidates are busy intensifying their campaigns via social media.