updated Nov 3, 2011
Mfonobong Nsehe worked as a reporter for Business Daily, Kenya’s largest business newspaper, for two years covering technology and venture capital. Born and raised in Nigeria, Mfonobong lived, studied, worked and holiday-ed in various parts of Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
In September, this Forbes contributor summoned his readers to submit nominations for a list of the 40 most powerful celebrities in contemporary Africa.
Within three weeks, over 7,500 entries flooded in. The debut list of The 40 Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa includes actors, cerebral authors, musicians, movie producers, supermodels, TV personalities and athletes, drawn from all across Africa and traverses the generational divide. Timeless artistic greats like Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (ranked No. 1) and Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi are listed alongside younger up-and-comers like famed Kenyan crooner Eric Wainaina, Ivorian soccer sensation Didier Drogba (No. 3) and Nigerian screen goddess Genevieve Nnaji.
The list is dominated by musicians. Steppes in Sync expert and contributor thinks this is for a reason: the penetration of TV and other video-related media is still not big enough to overtake the music personalities. This is why the image stars that made it on the list mostly stem from such countries as Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, where image-based media (like TV) are more developed than in the rest of Africa. Especially if you talk about Sub-Saharan Africa.
Evidence of this trend were shown by the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ South African Entertainment and Media Outlook 2011-2015.
The Kenyan-born media queen Patricia Amira (#40) is one of the continent’s most popular talk-show hosts. Her daytime talk show, The Patricia Show is broadcast in over 45 African countries and watched by over 10 million people. The show focuses on indigenous achievements and human interest stories across Africa. Amira contributes to a range of organizations including; ONE.org, African Leadership Network, Free World Generation and Kuona Trust.
And Neill Blomkamp (#21) the South African movie director and scriptwriter shook the world with District 9, Africa’s first sci-fi which tells the story of a bunch of extraterrestrial refugees who find themselves in a South African slum. The movie attracted rave reviews from international critics and raked in over $200 million from the box office. Blomkamp is currently working on a new movie, Elysium, scheduled for release in 2013.
Methodology applied: sifting through the nominations for the individuals with the highest numbers of votes, and then measuring their media visibility (exposure in print, television, radio and online), number of web references on Google, TV/radio mentions and their general clout across the continent. Ideally, a robust social media presence would have been an invaluable yardstick in determining the intensity of influence these individuals exert over their enthusiasts. However, apart from Senegalese hip-hop act Akon, Nigerian beat maker Michael Collins A.K.A Don Jazzy and a handful of others who boast 6-figure followers on Facebook and Twitter, an overwhelming number of Africa’s most influential celebrities have either a very small or non-existent social media presence.
Impact on society: these days, Africa’s favorite idols harness the “currency of celebrity” to impact social change on many levels. Take Liya Kebede, for instance: The Ethiopian-born supermodel has leveraged on her celebrity status to raise awareness about maternal health issues. She currently serves as the World Health Organization’s Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and child health. She also founded the Liya Kebede Foundation, which seeks to reduce maternal mortality rates in Ethiopia and around the world by funding advocacy, training and medical programs.
Ivorian soccer star Didier Drogba has also built on the cult-like following he enjoys at home to call for peace in his war-torn country. Cote D’Ivoire had been enduring a civil war since 2000. After he led the Ivorian national team to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, Drogba famously made a plea to the combatants, requesting that they drop their weapons in pursuit of peace. They listened. A few days later, there was a cease fire. Apart from playing a pivotal role in the peace process, Drogba also donated a $5 million endorsement fee he earned from Pepsi to construct a world-class hospital in his hometown of Abidjan.
A handful of celebrities on this list have done very little to support social causes, but make the list anyway because of the overwhelming number of votes they received and the immense acclaim they enjoy across the African continent and the world.
- Chinua Achebe: Nigerian, Novelist
- Youssou Ndour: Senegalese, Musician
- Didier Drogba: Ivorian, Soccer player
- Angelique Kidjo, 51, Beninoise, Musician
- Akon, 38, Senegalese, Musician
- Wole Soyinka, 77, Nigerian, Playwright
- Salif Keita, 62, Malian, Musician
- Yvonne Chaka Chaka, 46, South African, Musician
- Oumou Sangare, 43, Malian, Musician
- Femi Kuti, 49, Nigerian, Musician
- Toumani Diabaté, Malian, Musician
- Oliver Mtukudzi, 59, Zimbabwean, Musician
- Haile Gebrselassie, 38, Ethiopian, Athlete
- Khaled Hadj Ibrahim, 51, Algerian, Musician
- Samuel Eto’o, 30, Cameroonian, Soccer Player
- Alek Wek, 34, Sudanese, Supermodel
- Liya Kebede, 33, Ethiopian, Supermodel
- Dobet Gnahoré, 29, Ivorian, Musician
- Genevieve Nnaji, 32, Nigerian, Actress
- Koffi Olomidé, 55, Congolese, Musician
- Neill Blomkamp, 32, South African, Movie Director
- Souad Massi, 39, Algerian, Musician
- Baaba Maal, 58, Senegalese, Musician
- Hugh Masekela, 72, South African, Musician
- K’Naan, 33, Somali, Rapper
- Amadou and Mariam, Malian, Musicians
- Awilo Longomba, Congolese, Musician
- Eric Wainaina, 38, Kenyan, Musician
- Binyavanga Wainaina, 40, Kenyan, Author
- Ngugi Wa Thiongo, 73, Kenyan, Author
- Freshlyground, South African, Musicians
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 34, Nigerian, Writer
- Rokia Traoré, 37, Malian, Musician
- Tuface Idibia, 36, Nigerian, Musician
- P-Square, 29, Nigerian, Musicians
- Don Jazzy, 30, Nigerian, Music Producer
- D’Banj, 31, Nigerian, Musician
- Neka, 31, Nigerian, Musician
- Asa, 29, Nigerian, Musician
- Patricia Amira, 33, Kenyan, TV Personality