'Most-followed' Africans on Twitter: Presidents don't rule here, its musicians, comedians, models and sports stars

Twitter mirrors a very diverse Africa. Egypt is very serious on it, and in the rest of Africa the stars are not what you would ordinarily expect.

FACEBOOK and Instagram went down early Tuesday morning as a major snowstorm hit the Northeast of the US. There were reports that Tindr and Hipchat were also down. 

Users worldwide were affected by the outage, and many took to Twitter - where else? -  to express their outrage and poke fun at social media sites in general.

You would think that, given Africa’s high-stakes, cutthroat political arena, where a portrait of the president – as a symbol of his power – still adorns business premises and public offices,  African presidents suffered the most loss of visibility on social media in the outage, because they are the most influential individuals on the continent. Not so, says Twitter.

Looking at the Africans with the most followers on Twitter - excluding companies and organisations - reveals that the attention of tweeting Africans is not on their political leaders, but on their musicians, comedians, models and sports stars.

Kenya, Rwanda odd men out

The only African countries in which the president is the personality who has the most followers on Twitter is Rwanda (Paul Kagame has 787,000 followers) and Kenya (Uhuru Kenyatta has 716,000 followers).

And, Burkina Faso, until recently, before they kicked Blaise Compaore out.

The African with the most followers on Twitter at 3.7 million is Egyptian satirist and TV host Dr Bassem Youssef. A former heart surgeon, he hosts the hugely popular Al-Bernameg satirical news show; in 2013, he was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

Egyptians make up nine of the top ten “most-followed” Africans on Twitter, dominated by political activists, politicians and civil society leaders.

That makes Egypt unique in Africa, underscoring just how much Egyptians are wired, and how big a role social media plays in driving Egyptian society - and perhaps also that social media thrives where there is repression.

The one non-Egyptian who edges into the top ten isn’t a musician, politician, model or footballer.

20-year-old South African Twitter king

He’s a 20-year-old South African named Caspar Lee with 2.32 million followers, who has built his celebrity status entirely on the Internet, posting short videos on YouTube.

His first video was in 2010 when he was aged 16, a funny video of himself in the bath talking in an exaggerated South African accent.

Today, he’s barely out of his teens, and his YouTube channel Caspar has 3.6 million subscribers and over 160 million video views.

French-speaking Africa tweets much less than Arabic and English-speaking Africa does, perhaps not so much because of the language per se but because of relatively poor communications infrastructure in Francophone Africa.

But one thing French-Africa does produces much of is internationally successful footballers, and so football stars tend to dominate their respective countries’ most followed lists, including Samuel Eto’o in Cameroon (729,000), Didier Drogba in Cote d’Ivoire (521,000), Frederic Kanoute in Mali (213,000) and Emmanuel Adebayor in Togo (137,000).

Even in Liberia, two football stars are the most followed on Twitter – Ola John, with 31,000 followers who plays for Benfica in Portugal, and Darlington Nagbe with 12,000 followers, who plays for Portland Timbers in the US’ Major League Soccer.

The Morocco surprise

The only African country where all top three of its most followed are women, surprisingly, is in Morocco. The three are celebrated musicians and pop stars – Salma Rach (688,000), Sofia Essaidi (202,000), and Shatha Hassoun (177,000).

It seems that although Moroccans may be conservative in some ways, when it comes to their music and culture, women have all the room to be superstars.

Intriguingly, the most followed person in Zimbabwe is a Muslim preacher, Ismail bin Musa Menk, who’s the Grand Mufti of Zimbabwe. With 450,000 followers drawn from Zimbabwe and around the world, his tweets aren’t overtly Islamic in tone, instead, they read like motivational quotes and pop wisdom, the kind that everyone can agree with. 

Sample this from January 21: “Once in a while, it pays to get out of your comfort zone; perhaps spend time with new friends. It may open your eyes to how lucky you are.”

Opposition owns Tanzanian Twitterdom

And Tanzania and Uganda stand out too. Tanzania is the only country to have an opposition politician as its most followed person on Twitter.

Zitto Ruyagwa Kabwe, 38, is member of parliament for Kigoma North and chairman of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee with 219,000 followers. A vigorous shadow finance minister, Kabwe has tabled several damning reports in parliament detailing high-level corruption in President Jakaya Kikwete’s administration. 

He had been widely tipped to be the main opposition party’s candidate in this year’s election, but fell out with the top leadership of the Chadema party that accused him of plotting to topple party chairman Freeman Mbowe.

In Uganda, it’s a businessman

And Uganda stands out for having a businessman as its most followed personality on Twitter, Ashish J. Thakkar with 723,000 followers. Thakkar’s family was forced to leave Uganda with the 1972 Asian explusion ordered by Idi Amin, he was thus born in Leicester, UK in 1981. 

But in the 1990s his family returned to Africa, to Rwanda, only to be flee again with the 1994 genocide. After escaping Rwanda, the family settled once again in Uganda.

As a teenager, he began selling computers and accessories in Uganda, and that was the beginning of his hugely successful company Mara Group.

Today, Mara Group operates in 21 African countries, a diversified business with interests as wide-ranging as telecoms infrastructure, packaging manufacture, hotels, conference centres and shopping malls, a paper mill, and thousands of acres of prime agricultural land.

At just 31, he’s been called “Africa’s youngest billionaire” . To help the next generation of entrepreneurs, he also runs a social enterprise called the Mara Foundation, which provides mentoring and other support to people starting their own businesses.


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