The Search for an African Idol

12 Oct

One of the current more popular TV programs among African youth is the Idol East Africa. As is characteristic of several things African, Idol East Africa presents a detailed imitation of the American Idol competition. Swinging between fake American and British accents, while desperately, but unsuccessfully striving to mask their African accents, one judge sits on the fence much like American Randy Jackson, another desperately tries to present himself as the mean Simon Cowell, while the third pretends to sympathize with the contestants just as Paula Abdul would.

As each contestant files in to perform, he is subjected to the judgmental glare of the eminent jurists. Depending on how Americanized the contestant’s general appearance is, s/he is either met with an appreciative eye dim by the male folks, a delightful squeal of ‘you look so cute’ by the female judge, or a condescending reception by the trio.

The case of the Dar es Salaam auditioning where majority of the contestants were more fluent in Swahili than English, is worth mentioning. Several of the contestants babbled along in incomprehensible grammar, mixing up their ‘l’ and ‘r’; as in ‘ploud’ instead ‘proud’ or ‘cereblate’ instead of ‘celebrate’. At such mispronunciation, the judges often burst out in laughter, ending with “apologies” to the contestant that even though s/he might have a terrific voice, s/he lacked global appeal, thus earning a disqualification. It should have been made clear from the onset that a perfect knowledge of the English language was the major criterion for entering the contest.

Another noticeable trend in the East African Idol is that the more skimpily dressed and ‘Westernized’ a lady looks, the better her chances of getting selected by the benchmen, even with a little more than a croak in the form of singing. The posh looking contestants were noticeably allotted more time than others. With ladies baring cleavages, navels and midriffs, and the men often appearing like street urchins; all comically try to gesticulate and modulate like American artistes. The few who dared to be original by performing African songs and dances or by trying a unique blend of African, Asian or European beats were almost booed by the judges and asked to go get their acts together.

Not surprisingly, the East African Idol competition represents the political, economic and social situation in Africa today; a predominance of the culture of self-deprecation and a servile worship of Europe and America. The unfortunate Euro-American hero-worship of certain crack addicts, men and women of shallow intellectual prowess lacking in moral values, whose only stake to fame and fortune is in their often cosmetically procured features, is gradually becoming the rave among African youth. Conversely, indigenous Africa places much emphasis on intellectual achievement, entrepreneurship and team work. Character building is highly regarded in African philosophy,  and talent without character is usually never acknowledged. Chinua Achebe displays this clearly in the Things Fall Apart with the illustration of the great flutist Unoka, Okonkwo’s father.

While there is nothing inherently wrong in borrowing a foreign platform to showcase African talents to the world, caution must be exercised in ensuring that what is presented to the world is not a façade, an inferiority complex laden show that strives to mask the true African values, personality and culture. A show submerged in a Euro-American model that has mostly failed its youth, leaving them often depressed and even suicidal.

The urgency is for the present generation of Africans to push back the ravages of Western domination on the African mind. Globalization has de-mystified Europe and America and Africans are slowly, but steadily beginning to transcend the Hollywood veneer presented as American reality. From the cyber centers in Africa, youth are now privy to the routine marginalization and discrimination of Blacks in the West, they are able to catch a glimpse of the hardships encountered by several Westerners who are up to their neck in debt and suffer from severe loneliness and depression.

What Africa needs is a re-discovery of its real and authentic self through proper education –formal and informal. Indigenous African values, beliefs and knowledge systems must be used as the foundation to develop a modern system that can hold forth as a unique global brand.

First published in June 2008 by NewsAfrica London 


Posted by on October 12, 2011 in Essays


Tags: , , , , ,

8 responses to “The Search for an African Idol

  1. Lanre

    October 13, 2011 at 12:24 am

    Chika, nicely written.Your article, ties in with the previous one on Language and Knowledge and I believe there is an identity problem for many Africans. I link this to (among other things) bad and inept governance which makes many in Africa wish to live outside of the continent and copy behavior patterns from other cultures. You have highlighted some of those patterns in this write-up.

    What do you think of the Mo Ibrahim Leadership Prize?

    • chikaforafrica

      October 13, 2011 at 7:00 am

      Thanks, Lanre. I really think we need more awards in Africa. Award for everything; writing – fiction, non-fiction, poetry, academic – fashion, scientific innovation, technological breakthrough, cleanliness, integrity, sports, leadership etc. I believe wealthy Africans should institute more awards if they want to make the continent better. Groups of people could also come together and combine resources to set up awards. It will greatly help to kickstart innovation and creativity in different spheres, and encourage young people to invest time, effort and resources towards improving thier skills and talents, knowing that they stand a chance of being recognized.

      I have tremendous regards for Mo Ibrahim as an individual and of course for the leadership prize. Pedro Pirez did a good job in Cape Verde, and although a small country, the organizers of the award made it clear that he was very successful in transforming the country into a “model of democracy, stability and increased prosperity.” I think it is fair enough. Last year there was no African leader deserving of the award, so the prize money remained with the bankers (hopefully not Wall Street!)… But, what do you think about the award?

  2. Lanre

    October 14, 2011 at 2:43 am

    The award is a great idea. Considering there are quite a few dollar billionaires in Africa, Mohammed Ibrahim has decided to institute a significant award. An award in an area where Africa appears to be lacking or deficient. It is commendable.

    • chikaforafrica

      October 14, 2011 at 11:53 am

      So, if you should become a dollar billionaire today – assuming you are not one already – what award would you be inclined to establish?

  3. Lanre

    October 15, 2011 at 12:10 am

    Well, Chika I would borrow a leaf from some of the ideas for awards you gave up there. It would be a good idea to be an African Alfred Nobel. (Even though for personal reasons I’d rather be a notable politician laying and building on a Foundation of Exceptional Service to the people). Being a Wealthy Philanthropist in Africa, if one established awards in the same fields as Alfred Nobel did, it could spur more creativity among our scientists, researchers and thinkers.
    But definitely, Mo Ibrahim’s prize takes the cake. Chika, Leadership is Africa’s main headache. There are no “idols” to “worship” in Africa. Or what do you think?

    • chikaforafrica

      October 15, 2011 at 10:14 am

      You are right, Lanre. Leadership is Africa’s greatest challenge. I am happy that you are interested in politics. Perhaps, much more than anything else today, Africa needs honest, enlightened and empathic politicians. While I am not remotely interested in that sphere of life, I do have the highest respects for well meaning people who aspire to be politicians in sub-Saharan Africa. I wish you the very best.

      Do we have “Idols” in Africa? I hesitate to describe certain people as ‘Idols” but surely, I would say that we have had some well meaning, committed and dedicated leaders in the past; Thomas Sankara, Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumuba, Wangari Maathai etc. Unfortunately, some of these men were cut short in their prime by the centripetal forces that Africa must overcome if it wants to record progress. For others, they are not celebrated well enough as role models. It is part of our challenge in Africa, that while we are quick to celebrate Western role models, we very easily denigrate our own achievers, making us feel as we have nobody to look up to. It is a feeling that generates hopelessness. We really need to search out our heroes/heroines and constantly hold them up to the younger generation (and older generation, too). When there is ladder of success already established by someone, it becomes easier to climb up on it. That is why Americans, for instance, never cease to celebrate their own founding fathers and heroes. This builds up the morale of their citizens, making for strengthened national consciousness. In Africa, we join Americans to celebrate their own heroes, liberally quoting Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington etc in our speeches, articles and write-ups, and never our very own leaders…

  4. Lanre

    October 16, 2011 at 3:19 am

    Well Chika, there you have it. You conceptualize the situation with this quote “That is why Americans, for instance, never cease to celebrate their own founding fathers and heroes. This builds up the morale of their citizens, making for strengthened national consciousness.” That to me is the conclusion of the matter. Despite immigration, the situation you described with the Americans is easily replicated with the British, the French, Germans (Much of Europe), the Japanese, the Chinese.
    To take things slightly further. If one looks at the two main ideological schools of thought (its been a while from school so please feel free to correct me, lol) Marxism identifies a base (substructure) – the economic, upon which a superstructure (the political) is imposed. What is Africa’s Superstructure? What is it based on?
    The other school of thought (Liberal Western Political Ideology), recognizes the freedom of man to engage in social contracts, for the State to protect the individual from harm, for everyone to pursue the pleasures of life, liberty and happiness. If Africans cannot cut a path through these (main ideological schools, the Scandinavians are reputed to have a middle course) and build model societies, we will continue groping in the dark. That is my summation from my experiences so far. Thanks once again for sharing.

  5. Obiamaka Onyebum

    February 23, 2012 at 10:23 am

    Funny, touching but true all the same


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