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Opinions of Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Columnist: Dominic Aboagye

Do Ghanaians need more celebrities and to what extent have they influenced the youth of today?

#FixTheCountry #FixTheCountry

Years ago, the opposition parties in Ghana were louder and imposing more pressure on sitting Presidents, with young and veteran Journalists like Kwaku Baako and Kwesi Pratt, playing significant roles.

One can always recount the 1995 ‘Kume Preko', anti-government demonstration with an estimated 100,000 participants, which was led by Charles Wereko Brobbey, aimed at opposing the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT), under the Rawlings administration.

However, demonstrations initiated and led by opposition parties, seem to be diminishing, as the youth of this country prefer to push their concerns through Celebrities. With its evolving trend, social media is becoming a key democratic tool, not only in Ghana but almost in every country. Social media is broadening the participatory principle of Ghana’s multiparty democracy. But who are the key drivers leading the youth in voicing out their concerns?

Over the years, political campaigns have been increasingly saturated with celebrities endorsing it. Should the voters rethink through and sometimes blame celebrities for misleading voters, to rather vote for leaders instead of allowing voters to do this, based on their own assertions. Ghanaian celebrities like Lucky Mensah, Tracy Boakye, Mzbel, Bulldog, Daddy Lumba, Clement Bonney (Mr Beautiful), Agya koo, among several others, have thrown their support for key political parties in recent elections.

Though celebrity endorsements have convinced voters to take a particular voting trend during elections, are Ghanaian celebrities able to effectively push leaders to fulfil all campaign promises made to the youth?

Though not tentatively defined in Ghanaian context, the word ]celebrity is widely adopted as a common street language with diverse opinions about the exact definition of who qualifies to be called a celebrity. Each celebrity is well known from different backgrounds like business moguls, professional athletes, and musicians made famous from the Internet.

As celebrities (such as Sarkodie, Stonebwoy, Shattawale etc), most of them have gone through extremely difficult times for many years of creating businesses, making songs, taking up continuous roles in movies, training hard to gain the status of a professional footballer, etc.

Some have also creatively gained this status overnight such as the famous Dr. UN who scammed top public figures numbering over 20 including renowned rapper, Sarkodie, some government officials, appointees, politicians, academics with fake UN award. Other overnight celebrities including Honorable Aponkye, broken-hearted Sammy, etc.

Wilberforce Dzisah in 2018, conducted research on the topic "Social Media and Elections in Ghana: Enhancing Democratic Participation". In his study, he found that access to new communication technologies such as the Internet and mobile telephony are promoting democratic discourses and enhancing participation through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, YouTube etc.

With a higher majority of youth either creating content for money, for fun or sharing ideas on key issues, Ghana, though a small country relative to the population of most countries, is well represented on most social media platforms.

A well-known Ghanaian celebrity, Efia Odo, recently promoted the hashtag called “FixTheCountry” which was initiated by a young man called Kalyjay. Over the past few weeks, “FixTheCountry” has gained attention on almost all social media platforms.

Though this campaign has been met with high opposition among key members in the ruling party and others accusing the celebrity of getting motivation from the opposition party (National Democratic Congress), Efia Odo has received praise from the youth for this dauntless act and for initiating this campaign.

It seems quite vivid that the celebrities in Ghana have a huge positive influence on the youth by pushing the government to tackle issues such as unemployment, poor power supply (“dumsor”) and other common social issues prevailing in Ghana.

Another intriguing part is how many Ghanaians in the diaspora contribute to issues in the country. A celebrity who seems to have gained massive popularity among the youth on social media, Twene Jonas, a young man who currently resides in the U.S.A. is sometimes rude to the leaders of Ghana, especially the insults raided by him on the leaders for underperforming. Twene has been the origin of common street jargons like "glass nkoaa" meaning glasses only, "24/7 the system is working",, "every 1-minute biaa aban bus nan mu" meaning government bus is available every one minute, "didi free" meaning eat free.

Consistently, Twene tackles social issues like illegal mining "galamsey", unemployment, poor infrastructure, among several others. By gaining high popularity among the youth, it might seem the influence of Twene on the society is taking a certain dimension, especially the pertinence of topics he discusses.

Akuapem Poloo, a sensational social media celebrity who was sentenced to 90 days imprisonment for posing nude with his underaged son, caused the youth to fight thoroughly by initiating the hashtag campaign #FreeAkuapemPoloo. This campaign led to the release of Akuapem Poloo signifying how the youth cherish their celebrities.

Also, Captain Smart, the host of Angel FM's morning show has also become another celebrity spearheading the youth to put more pressure on the President Akuffo led NPP government to deliver all promises made during his campaign.

The dominance of social media platforms could be seen as a challenge to most TV and Radio stations, which I will praise our Ghanaian Media houses for creating Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages, where they either stream or upload recorded programmes for their listeners to also follow. Social media as a participatory and mobilizing platform for electoral democracy does not take away the vital role of traditional media in Ghana’s democratic process.

Without celebrities in our society today, many things would be kept unheard of and brushed under the rug. Considering the trust the youths in Ghana put in their celebrities, it is salient for our celebrities to always consider the youth at the receiving end by not misleading them into things that will destroy their future.

With social media becoming a key tool in our democracy, I think we need to make provision for a social media representative in our parliament to brief cabinet on important trending issues for discussions, during their sittings. Social media and our celebrities have come to stay, I believe as Ghana keeps battling unemployment, some youths such as Zionfelix, Kofi Adoma etc have created their own job on social media which serve as a source of income for them.