Entertainers turned politicians: An actor, two musicians and a footballer jump into the ‘dirty game’

The trip from the sports, music or film stage to politics is littered with banana peels, but the fortunes of those who try is beginning to improve.

ONE of Nollywood’s leading actors, Desmond Elliot, was elected to the Lagos State House Assembly in the April 11th Parliamentary elections.

The Nigerian actor who has starred in at least 200 films and series including Saints and Sinners and Behind Closed Doors and also co-produced and directed several others, is a member of incoming President Muhammadu Buhari’s party, the All Progressives’ Congress (APC).

He will represent Surulere Constituency I after defeating closest rival Bayo Smith of the outgoing People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by 23,141 votes to 12,546.  

This is not the first time entertainers have put the arts on hold to dip into politics.

Rochereau, Tshala and N’Dour

In July 2000, then Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) president Laurent-Desire Kabila appointed two of the country’s top musicians to the 300-member National Assembly; late rumba king Tabu Ley Rochereau and Tshala Muana, known for her colourful costumes and seductive dance moves (often with her intimate bits showing through her high-slit dresses), to serve as cultural deputies.

The latter, who has 25 albums to her name, took a three-year hiatus from music to fulfill her ministerial duties. Previously, she had served as ambassador of her native Kasai culture.

She has since returned to performing, holding concerts across the continent and beyond.

Senegal’s Youssou N’Dour was his country’s minister for Tourism, Culture and Leisure until 2013. The 2005 Grammy Award winning artiste (for his album Egypt) is widely considered Africa’s greatest living musician and decided to use his popularity to make a difference after it became apparent that Senegal’s former President, Abdoulaye Wade, was grooming his son Karim who’s now serving a six-year term for illicitly amassing a billion dollar fortune, to succeed him.

Youssou N’Dour in performance with Idylle Mamba.

 N’Dour wanted to run for president in the late February 2012 election, citing the need to curb gross inequality in the country as one of the reasons for doing so, but was forced to pull out after he failed to secure the required number of signatures to back his candidacy. Still, he participated in protests against Wade’s bid to run for a third term, calling on his countrymen and women to demand free and fair elections, which were eventually won by current President Macky Sall after a run-off a month later. N’Dour was invited to serve in the new government. 

Football champions

Former footballer George Weah also joined politics following the end of the Second Liberian Civil War. The former striker who played for several top European clubs including Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan and Chelsea in the 1990s was the first and only African to win the European and FIFA World Player of the Year awards in 1995, was also named African Player of the Year thrice in 1989, 1994 and 1995.

 Despite all those feats though, his political journey has been anything but smooth. He first run for office in 2005 and his Congress for Democratic Change Party polled the most votes, 28.3% in the first round, pitting him against current President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who came second with 19.8% for a run-off, which the latter went on to win with 59.4% to Weah’s 40.6%.

Some put his defeat down to inexperience and lack of formal education, compared to his Harvard-educated opponent who had not only worked with the United Nations and the World Bank but also served as Minister of Finance.

Weah returned to the drawing board, attained a Bachelor’s in Business Administration at DeVry University in Miami and later declared his intention to challenge Sirleaf in the 2011 election. He however failed to forge effective alliances with other opposition parties and instead settled for vice presidential candidate with Winston Tubman as the presidential contender.

When their ticket failed to win an outright majority, he boycotted the run-off, only to return again in 2014 to contest the Montserrado County Senate Seat, which includes the capital Monrovia. He faced a couple of hurdles, most notably the Ebola epidemic that ravaged his homeland, killing at least 3,600 and forcing the elections initially scheduled for October to be postponed to December 16 before eventually being held on December 20th.

There was also his main challenger who happened to be President Sirleaf’s son, Robert. Weah won with 78% over Sirleaf’s 11%. Many see his most recent attempt to get elected as preparation for a second presidential bid in the country’s next presidential elections slated for October 2017. 

Which raises the question; how is it that universally popular musicians (N’Dour) and sportsmen (Weah) don’t convert that into outright political success as presidential candidates?

One possible reason is that music and sports fame cuts across party and ethnic divides, but running for political office is a partisan undertaking, and immediately cuts off your supporters who are loyal to other parties.

Elliot and Weah’s success, when they aimed beneath the presidency, suggests that it is in the legislatures, that Africa’s musicians and sports people will make hay.

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