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Uganda’s celebrity culture is burning

by Editorial Team
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By Alex Balimwikungu

At the dawn of May, Judith Heard was crowned Miss Elite Africa 2021 – 2022. Miss Elite is an international beauty pageant competition and it was held in Cairo, Egypt.

The 34-year-old Judith Heard beat 31 contestants from across the continent. The mother- of three competed against popular models, singers, and other celebrities in their 20s from other African countries.

For waving the Ugandan flag internationally, Judith Heard received a rather muted response back home when she returned almost a fortnight later.  The silence was too deafening with congratulatory messages far and few between. Judith Heard took to social media to sarcastically reminded the nation:   “Thank you Uganda and the entire world. Allow me to reintroduce myself: I am Miss Elite Africa 2021-2022,”

For starters, Miss Elite is not just another rundown contest.  It is an international beauty pageant. Founded by Lebanese entrepreneur Stefano Douaihy, it had representatives from Morocco, Kenya, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Greece, India, Colombia, Lebanon, and many more.

In video clips she shared on her timeline, JH as she is famously called blew the panel of judges away.  The panel that consisted of renowned icons was impressed by the Nalongo’s physique, potential individuality, intellect, beauty, and most importantly the ability to captivate the audience with her ethnic representations.

A drum roll and a red carpet?  There was nothing of the sort.   She slithered in quietly into into one of her personalized cars.    It was a far cry from how Ugandans have feted other celebrities. The pandemic has disrupted relations among the masses, the elites and the celebrities who liaise between them. There is a certain wave of apathy towards them.

Judith Heard represented Uganda and won the Miss Elite Africa contest but she later fumed at getting no plaudits from fans and government (photo: courtesy)

Flash back.  September 2003.  Gaetano Kagwa received a heroic welcome after his exploits in the Big Brother House.  His claim to fame was having sex on live TV.  Gaetano never won the money as he came fourth.  You should have been around to witness the furore his home coming caused. 

The traffic jam he caused on Entebbe road can only be compared to that of Lucky Dube and Dr. Kizza Besigye.  The jam Gaetano and Abby Plaatjes caused was so profound; President Museveni who was canvassing for votes upcountry gawked at the crowds and airlifted the love birds to one of his campaign rallies.  Then there was Bebe Cool and Jose Chameleone competing to compose Gaetano praise songs.  That was 17-years ago. 

Radio personality Gsetano Kagwa was feted after his exploits in Big Brother Africa House in 2003

Today it appears Ugandans ‘don’t want to know’.  Whether it is a case of grappling with the unimaginable circumstances caused by the Covid-19 but they don’t give two hoots about a rich and famous person like Judith Heard wins.

            Among her celebrity friends, it was fellow contestants to took to her socials to congratulate her.  Pastor Wilson Bugembe also weighed in. “Congratulations my sister Judith Heard  … She called me a few days ago and we prayed. God answered this prayer,” he wrote.

Largely though, Judith Heard’s victory has in a way been treated with ridicule and anger, so much so that her handful of followers is involved in a social media outburst of sorts. 

“If you know you never voted for Judith Heard, stay in your lane.   Thanks to everyone who didn’t vote for us thinking we wouldn’t make it,” they rubbed salt in the nay-sayer’s wounds

Has Covid-19 turned Ugandans cold towards celebs?

With their means of gaining attention dwindling during the Covid-19 pandemic, it appears our celebrities are in panic mode and have chosen to clutter social media with any facet about their lifestyles.  Have we moved on?

          Stephen Malwadde a social critic and entertainment entrepreneur admits that the fans of these celebrities have since moved on since it is over a year since they were thrust in our faces. 

          “Coronavirus disrupted the entire means of interaction between celebrities and the public. There were no more premieres or red carpets, no parties or late night chat shows.  It was bound to happen,” he says.

          As for Judith Heard’s muted congratulations, he partly faults the top model saying that over the years, Judith Heard has built walls around herself and postured as someone living in the lap of luxury.

          “When you flaunt wealth in a country where majority have nothing to eat, it becomes a turn-off.  People quietly beef you and do not want to celebrate you,” he argues.

          There are certain winners and losers in Uganda celebrity conundrum.  With our celebrities no longer bound to a cycle of meet and greet parties, what we have are now ordinary people who have sought attention and somehow become a mainstay on the gossip mill.

          Who ever imagined that an erstwhile little known deportee would become a mainstay on our televisions spewing venom?  Whatever Isma Olaxxes’ claim to fame is apart from having an acerbic tongue, your guess is as good as ours.  He is on replay on almost all televisions.  He has replaced the likes of Bebe Cool and Chameleone.  

Judith Heard returned to Uganda after to no red carpet. She later threw a tantrum (Photo: courtesy)

These orchestrated TV appearances   have also thrust the likes of Jennifer Nakanguubi (Full Figure) with her profanities. The likes of Daddy Andre, Nina Roz with their stunts have somehow become mainstays due to their synchronized stunts.

They represent an ever increasing number of celebrities who have no skill, no talent and are valueless in terms of giving the public anything other than sensation.   

The attention seeking stunts in form of self-created content and stunts has somehow connected them to the audience.  Take Juliana Kanyomozi for instance. She fizzled off the scene, got pregnant and gave birth to a son, Taj and has made it a habit to unveil him in bits.  Toe, finger, back…. By the time she unveils his face, her fan base will have increased ten-fold. 


Ugandan celebrities who have returned to a warm welcome

Ugandans, over the years have returned to a warm welcome.  These have however been drawn from the sports and political arena.

Athlete Dorcus Inzikuru returned home from the World Athletics Championships to a hero’s welcome in 2005, with her steeplechase gold medal.

It was Uganda’s first gold at a major international tournament for 33 years and hundreds lined the streets as she travelled from the airport with a police escort.

MPs debated how best to honour her and the government announced the 23-year-old would receive a house, a car, a diplomatic passport and have her education paid for. There was talk of a street named after her.

Fast forward.  Inzikuru recently came out to complain that she received a house without a land title.

When Stephen Kiprotich, won Uganda’s first Olympics gold medal in 40 years, he returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Kiprotich, 23, was virtually unknown in Uganda before he stunned his Kenyan challengers, who were heavily favored to win the marathon during the London Olympics.

His unexpected win sparked excitement. Throngs flooded the airport to honor Kiprotich. A fundraiser raised over sh500m.  President Museveni was among the excited group. 

“I need to salute Kiprotich and those people who helped him to train,” said President Museveni, who had breakfast with him y at state house in Entebbe.

          The arts and entertainment have not been so lucky. When the Ghetto Kids aka Triplet Dancers triumphed at the African Entertainment Awards USA and BEFFTA awards in the UK, they revealed that they expected to hero’s welcome when they return to Uganda.  They got no love.  

 It is so bad that say, if Ugandan born British actor Daniel Kaluuya rescinded his British citizenship and chose Uganda, few would line up in Entebbe to catch a glimpse of his impressive awards.  It has nothing to do with social distancing.  We have moved on.  The limelight of stardom has dimmed in Uganda. Pray it is only a temporary flicker.


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