African viewpoint: Fame and influence


In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, London-based Ugandan writer Joel Kibazo considers the power of the famous.
There are some things I can never fully understand. One such thing that continues to baffle me is the ever-growing fascination with the rich, famous and powerful.
There is a whole industry to chronicle and inform us of the activities of the stars and those in the public eye.
What they had for breakfast, their clothes and who they are dating or even many aspects of what should really be their private lives are all part of the everyday tale in fame land.
But what does it do for us? Is it that we all want to be like them?
Or is it that such people affect our lives in some direct way?
When asked, many people say they just want to be famous.
That is not to say I have never been star-struck.
Mandela embarrassment
A lifetime in journalism, diplomacy and business brings a ringside seat to some of the biggest events in the world with some of the most famous and well-known people.
Bill Gates pictured in 2007 Is Bill Gates one of the most influential people in Africa?
To this day I remain embarrassed about the first time I met Nelson Mandela.
This was one journalist who forgot every question he had always wanted to ask when the great man suddenly appeared before me.
But hey, this was Nelson Mandela, maybe I can be forgiven for becoming speechless.
The other day as I passed a magazine stand, a cover stopped me in my tracks.
The 2012: 100 Most Influential Africans screamed the cover.
Curious, as ever, I decided to have a peep.
The list was broken down into sections including sports, business, politics, civil society and so forth. The list even included traditional leaders.
To me this was simply a roll call of the usual suspects: Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa; Nigerian businessman Aliko Dangote – said to be Africa’s richest man; while the arts and culture section included the Nigerian literature Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka and Senegalese musician Youssou Ndour.
Footballer Didier Drogba from Ivory Coast was among the sports people listed.
But the list got me thinking.
What exactly does the term “influence” mean, especially in this context?
My understanding is that influence is the ability to get things done particularly through persuasion.
Aid purses
What is more, such actions can only affect you if you happen to be in a particular country or area of work.
I admit there are some people on the list that can bring their influence to bear in certain areas but I very much doubt it is across the board”
Yes the leaders of powerful countries such as the United States, or many of the European countries do have an influence on many of us Africans by virtue of their big purses and the aid they grant us.
One only need look at how the UK last month suspended aid to Rwanda amid concerns about its role in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Next door in Uganda, international donors lined up to announce they were suspending aid programmes following a corruption scandal in the office of the prime minister.
A few days ago the Uganda Central Bank governor said if the threatened cuts were pushed through, there could be a reduction in the country’s growth rate.
The actions of the donor countries could affect millions of people and the country as a whole.
I admit there are some people on the list that can bring their influence to bear in certain areas but I very much doubt it is across the board.
With all due respect, I really do not see how Didier Drogba, fantastic football player that he is, can be classified as influential or for that matter Youssou Ndour, much as I love his music.
These people are famous or well-known for having achieved great things in their particular fields, in many cases things that have touched our lives in many different ways but influential in the true meaning of the word? I just don’t think so.
One famous individual that has crossed that barrier into being influential is Bill Gates, who started the world’s biggest private foundation dedicated to improving health and reducing poverty thereby touching the lives of millions particularly in Africa.
What this list shows is how the fascination with fame and the famous continues and newer ways of showcasing them are being invented all the time.
This is simply another example of getting us to read more about those of whom much has already been written.


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