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East Africa:Artists Shaping the New Face of East Africa's Politics

By Paul Owere

Dar es Salaam — Being a politician has become so much like being a pop star - it's all about performance, and style over substance - that it's brainer so few other musicians have stood up to be counted

This year, Uganda and Kenya became the latest East African countries after Tanzania to vote active musicians into the legislature after Tanzania bringing the number of prominent artistes to four in the region. Bobi Wine and Jaguar joined Tanzania's Sugu aka Joseph Mbilinyi and Prof Jay aka Joseph Haule to make history in the East African states by becoming legislators.

Though not the first time that artistes have crossed boundaries by swapping the stage for the August House and in the process changing personality. Bobi Wine the self professed Ghetto president has since shed off his dreadlocks for a completely different look, Sugu and Prof Jay gave up the jeans for three piece suits.

These were chart toppers in their countries who led the local population into consciously accepting local content on the airwaves, something that was once taboo.

As musicians they were critical of the governments of the day and politicians who only used voters as means to get to top political positions only to forget them.

Sugu aka Joseph Mbilinyi was very critical of police brutality in his 'Mikononi mwa Polisi', Prof Jay in his debut album 'Jasho Machozi na Damu' had a hit single 'Ndio Mzee', whereas Jaguar got popular with his hit single 'Kigeugeu' across East Africa. These have now become firebrand members of parliament in their respective countries thanks to a massive following by their legion of fans especially in this day of social media.

Of the four apart from Jaguar's fist fights with Babu Owino recently, and Sugu's being thrown out of parliament, it is Bobi Wine aka Robert Kyagulanyi who is attracting headlines in Kampala.

His participation in the anti-age limit campaign that led to a fight inside the Ugandan Parliament was one that has drawn him admirers especially the young and slated by old guard in equal measure. "I have grown up during this regime but I want to see change, that is why I am part of the change that I want to see," Bobi Wine told his fans on Saturday night at a heavily guarded concert. And as things stand, he has emerged as the face of the opposition in the current Red Ribbon campaign against the removal of the Presidential age limit which is currently capped at 75.

"This country has never had a peaceful handover of power and this is our only opportunity of having a peaceful change as opposed to the bloodshed that we have seen in the past," he said. He has also emerged as serious critic of the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni something that prompted the President to write an open letter in the Daily Monitor recently in which he didn't seem very happy. In reply the 35-year-old was even more sarcastic saying the president's letter had several contradictions.

"I don't speak for myself but for millions of Ugandans, young and old men, women and children, who want nothing but a better country for themselves, their children and the generations to come," he wrote.

A decade ago this could have been a mere wishful thinking in East Africa, for politics was not a thing for a certain class who were raised through the party ranks to serve the established order. But the question that many continue to ask is what really makes these artistes turned politicians tick?

According to one pundit, as opposed to an ordinary folk who is joining, artistes such as Prof Jay or Bobi wine in this case has a fan base that he has already built during the 15 years of performances across the country.

"The artistes resonate with millennials who share a common vision and probably even aspirations, that is why they are even ready to pay a certain amount just to watch him," says James Balita who is an avid follower of Bobi Wine.

He says that some of the issues that rappers Sugu and Prof Jay sung about in their compositions are the realities that most young men continue to grapple with.

"In the situation of Uganda it is even worse with a population which has 60 percent of its people are below the age of 35 there is certainly room for artistes like these ones who mix art with activism," he says.

The old guard in most cases have not helped the situation either as they continue being dismissive of these type of politicians forgetting that they are operating in a digital age with platforms such as Instagram, Whatsapp,Snapchat and Facebook are a click away.

There is a thin line between their works as artistes and politicians which sometimes remains blurred to their adoring fans.

But even then this should not take away the gloss for they remain committed to the cause of the people whom they are the very product of.

It will therefore be no wonder to see more artistes join the fray in elections especially parliamentary and who knows may be even the presidency some day.


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