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Youssou N’dour Stands For President – The Arts, Entertainment And Politics: Ever A Good Mix?

Youssou N’dour Stands For President – The Arts, Entertainment And Politics: Ever A Good Mix?

Politics is a dirty game, an often Machiavellian business of back room maneuvering conducted in the language of deception. The world of the Arts and to a certain extent that of ‘entertainment’ is surely a more honest arena, a purer, cleaner calling.  So can artists and entertainers make good politicians? Should they even try? Can they bring change and cleanse the political atmosphere?

Of course there’s nothing new in artists, entertainers and celebrities entering politics. Ronald Reagan, a B-movie film star and sports commentator, became President of the USA (1982-1990); Jerry Springer, a US talk show host was a politician (before he disgraced himself somewhat); the former body builder and actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, became governor of the US state of California; and Glenda Jackson, an Oscar winning British actress became an MP while in Italy an ‘actress’, ex-porn star Ilona Staller, was elected as an MP for 5 years.

In Britain for many years political campaigns were enlivened by the antics of the Monster Raving Loony Party led by the minor pop star ‘Screaming Lord Such’. (How about a Kenyan ‘Raving Loony Party’? Perhaps it already exists in all but name).

There have also been political leaders who would probably have preferred to be artists and musicians. US President Bill Clinton probably hankered after being a saxophone player; recently deceased Czech leader Vlaclav Havel would certainly have preferred to have remained a poet and a playwright rather than become a president; and both former US Secretary of State Condolizza Rice and British Seventies Prime Minister Edward Heath were frustrated concert pianists.

Back here in Kenya we have also had a host of celebrities who have tried to dabble in the murky pool of politics but the likes of KJ (John Kiarie), Mudomo Baggy, Kajairo and recently in a by-election, musician Ringtone, have all failed to make it in the political landscape.


The latest artist to pitch his hat into the political ring is the Senegalese singer and musician Youssou N’Dour. He commands a fan base of millions both locally and internationally and is probably Africa’s most famous musician. N’Dour feels that his candidacy will bring the world’s attention to the West African nation’s election that have in the past not been exactly free and fair.

The Kenya Forum has its doubts about artists and entertainers entering politics.

Celebrity life is characterized by richness, comfort and a life as unreal in its own way as that of politics. Artists might write and sing of world of the common man but can they really understand it?

And there’s a factor that artists should remember, perhaps we all should. Politics may be a dirty business and politicians tarnished as a result (assuming they weren’t tarnished before they entered politics) but there is something leading politicians ultimately have to do that artists in many respects do not, they have to take decisions. It’s one thing to sing or write about the need for change, it’s quite another to say what you are going to do to change things and then deliver it.

There is however, a link between the spheres of politics and the Arts, two sides of the same coin as it were. Someone once said that, “politics is acting for ugly people”. We’ll leave it there.


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