As the saying goes, “he that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.” It’s a saying that often comes true when one is found guilty by association in the court of public opinion. Politicians of any ideological following come in all shapes and sizes and often with plenty of fleas.
They come into heat once every five years during the election cycle, advertise their readiness to mate, mark their territory, growl and spit furiously when they feel threatened and search for a partner to engage in kubonga.
The lineup of Ugandan artists at the infamous Munyonyo retreat formed a classic breeding pair for the incumbent who once again awoke to continue sowing the thirty year old mustard seed.
Celebrity endorsements are not a new occurrence, in fact many politicians in the United States and across the globe court celebrities during campaign season. Clint Eastwood gave the famous empty chair speech at the Republican National Convention in support of Romney and likewise President Obama had his own lineup of celebrity endorsements including Oprah, Ben Affleck, George Clooney and frankly the majority of Hollywood.
Like any citizen, they too have the right to voice their political opinion.
The marriage between politicians and celebrities is a new frontline in Uganda’s politics with leaders eager to drink from the well of pop culture and populism instead of relying on traditional campaigns. Politicians find this river more navigable towards building credibility and support among the youth rather than face scrutiny from a policy perspective.
It’s more effective and entertaining to hum the Tubonga Naawe tune than explain why Uganda’s unemployment continues to linger in double figures or why Mulago hospital is a disgrace. The abundant celebrity social capital offers influence and a bully pulpit exploited by politicians to champion their cause.
This is not an attempt to muzzle or discourage Ugandan celebrities to openly express their political views but to rather highlight the circumstances at hand from which public outrage sprout. If Uganda were a beacon of democracy flooding with freedom of political expression, we would be having a different conversation.
However, Ugandans are living in times when opposition candidates cannot walk an inch out of their homes without engaging the Uganda police. Likewise the idea of tax payer’s money being squandered on celebrity artists in a country with a malnourished public sector is preposterous.
There is certainly a legitimate cause for outrage when images and headlines of celebrities dining and launching a re-election campaign for the incumbent are superimposed against those of opposition candidates behind prison bars while journalists and supporters also face police harassment on the streets.
It’s important to highlight that there is a tradition of celebrities playing a critical role in the struggle for freedom on the continent of Africa. Miriam Makeba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Hugh Masekela’s music galvanized the anti-apartheid movement and shed light on the impact of state sponsored racism and disparity on the lives of South Africans.
Such important contributions demonstrate that there is indeed a role for artists to champion social justice and causes that improve the lives of the masses. However there is also a danger posed by a celebrity culture that is often symbolized by wealth and extravagant lifestyles that are far distant from the realities of the wananchi.
The state of celebrities being out of touch explains the rampant resentment and occurrence of “they don’t speak for us” push back.
As Ugandans including celebrities engage in the political process, it’s imperative that we take the time to chew, digest, vomit if necessary and understand the issues especially if our intention is to influence others. Popularity, intellect and persuasiveness should always be preceded by being well informed and versed with the candidates and what they stand for.
Time will tell if coming out of the political closet will impact the lives and careers of the Tubonga Naawe crew that includes Juliana Kanyomozi, King Saha, Rema, Iryn Namubiru, Chameleone, Bebe Cool, Mun G, Radio, Weasel, Pr Bugembe, Haruna Mubiru and Judith Babirye, beyond the bruising they incurred from the social media beat down.
The relationship between politicians and celebrities is often symbiotic, serving both parties at the expense of the populace. The celebrities get the attention and recognition while the politicians further their own careers. What is left for the people?