The debut list “40 Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa”: dominated by musicians+overwhelming number has a very small social media presence+some did very little to support social causes

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.

Number 16: Alek Wek, 34, Sudanese, Supermodel

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.

PricewaterhouseCoopers’ South African Entertainment and Media Outlook 2011-2015 expects a decrease of 3.8% in the nation’s music industry

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.

Number 18: Dobet Gnahoré, 29, Ivorian, Musician

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.

The List:

  1. Chinua Achebe: Nigerian, Novelist
  2. Youssou Ndour: Senegalese, Musician
  3. Didier Drogba: Ivorian, Soccer player
  4. Angelique Kidjo, 51, Beninoise, Musician
  5. Akon, 38, Senegalese, Musician
  6. Wole Soyinka, 77, Nigerian, Playwright
  7. Salif Keita, 62, Malian, Musician
  8. Yvonne Chaka Chaka, 46, South African, Musician

    Haile Gebrselassie, 38, Ethiopian, Athlete – Number 13 on the 2011 “40 Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa” list
  9. Oumou Sangare, 43, Malian, Musician
  10. Femi Kuti, 49, Nigerian, Musician
  11. Toumani Diabaté, Malian, Musician
  12. Oliver Mtukudzi, 59, Zimbabwean, Musician
  13. Haile Gebrselassie, 38, Ethiopian, Athlete
  14. Khaled Hadj Ibrahim, 51, Algerian, Musician
  15. Samuel Eto’o, 30, Cameroonian, Soccer Player
  16. Alek Wek, 34, Sudanese, Supermodel
  17. Liya Kebede, 33, Ethiopian, Supermodel
  18. Dobet Gnahoré, 29, Ivorian, Musician
  19. Genevieve Nnaji, 32, Nigerian, Actress
  20. Koffi Olomidé, 55, Congolese, Musician
  21.  Neill Blomkamp, 32, South African, Movie Director

    Number 30: Ngugi Wa Thiongo, 73, Kenyan, Author
  22. Souad Massi, 39, Algerian, Musician
  23. Baaba Maal, 58, Senegalese, Musician
  24. Hugh Masekela, 72, South African, Musician
  25. K’Naan, 33, Somali, Rapper
  26. Amadou and Mariam, Malian, Musicians
  27. Awilo Longomba, Congolese, Musician
  28. Eric Wainaina, 38, Kenyan, Musician
  29. Binyavanga Wainaina, 40, Kenyan, Author
  30. Ngugi Wa Thiongo, 73, Kenyan, Author
  31. Freshlyground, South African, Musicians
  32. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, 34, Nigerian, Writer
  33. Rokia Traoré, 37, Malian, Musician
  34. Tuface Idibia, 36, Nigerian, Musician
  35. P-Square, 29, Nigerian, Musicians
  36. Don Jazzy, 30, Nigerian, Music Producer
  37. D’Banj, 31, Nigerian, Musician
  38. Neka, 31, Nigerian, Musician
  39. Asa, 29, Nigerian, Musician
  40. Patricia Amira, 33, Kenyan, TV Personality
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