Who are the most influential icons in contemporary African pop culture?
In September, I put out a request for nominations for a list of the 40 most powerful celebrities in contemporary Africa. Within three weeks, over 7,500 entries flooded in. This is the result of your choices. The debut list of The 40 Most Powerful Celebrities In Africa includes actors, cerebral authors, musicians, movie producers, supermodels, TV personalities and athletes, drawn from all across Africa and traverses the generational divide. Don’t be surprised to meet timeless artistic greats like Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe (ranked No. 1) and Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi listed alongside younger up-and-comers like famed Kenyan crooner Eric Wainaina, Ivorian soccer sensation Didier Drogba (No. 3) and Nigerian screen goddess Genevieve Nnaji. Perhaps not surprisingly, the list is dominated by musicians.
Determining the celebrities who exert the highest degree of influence in contemporary African pop culture involved sifting through the nominations for the individuals with the highest numbers of votes, and then measuring their media visibility (exposure in print, television, radio and online), number of web references on Google, TV/radio mentions and their general clout across the continent. Ideally, a robust social media presence would have been an invaluable yardstick in determining the intensity of influence these individuals exert over their enthusiasts. However, apart from Senegalese hip-hop act Akon, Nigerian beat maker Michael Collins A.K.A Don Jazzy and a handful of others who boast 6-figure followers on networks like Facebook and Twitter, an overwhelming number of Africa’s most influential celebrities have either a very small or non-existent social media presence.
These days, Africa’s favorite idols harness the “currency of celebrity” to impact social change on many levels. Take Liya Kebede, for instance: The Ethiopian-born supermodel has leveraged on her celebrity status to raise awareness about maternal health issues. She currently serves as the World Health Organization’s Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and child health. She also founded the Liya Kebede Foundation, which seeks to reduce maternal mortality rates in Ethiopia and around the world by funding advocacy, training and medical programs.
Ivorian soccer star Didier Drogba has also built on the cult-like following he enjoys at home to call for peace in his war-torn country. Cote D’Ivoire had been enduring a civil war since 2000. After he led the Ivorian national team to qualify for the 2006 World Cup, Drogba famously made a plea to the combatants, requesting that they drop their weapons in pursuit of peace. They listened. A few days later, there was a cease fire. Apart from playing a pivotal role in the peace process, Drogba also donated a $5 million endorsement fee he earned from Pepsi to construct a world-class hospital in his hometown of Abidjan.
A handful of celebrities on this list have done very little to support social causes, but make the list anyway because of the overwhelming number of votes they received and the immense acclaim they enjoy across the African continent and the world.
Here’s a serenade of Africa’s 40 most powerful pop icons. They are the greatest influencers on African pop culture and their ideas, skill and actions bring us gratification and inspire conversations.
Culled from Forbes Magazine.