Does the World Need More ‘Politainers’?

From Donald Trump to Lillian Mutambo, it's now common for entertainers to go for political seats.

Does the World Need More ‘Politainers’?

Historically, politics and entertainment are known to have a comfortable camaraderie. And in the past five years, we have seen this camaraderie slowly evolve into a marriage. It is becoming more and more common around the world to see an entertainer vying for a political seat. But in Zambia in particular, a political candidate who announced their candidacy both surprised and amused the public. This is the story of Lillian Mutambo.

On 27th June 2020, the Zambian United Party for National Development (UPND) opposition party leader, Hakainde Hichilema - who is running for President at the August 2021 elections - congratulated Lillian Mutambo, a 36 year-old Zambian vlogger and national gossiper, for reaching 70,000 subscribers on YouTube. The reactions that followed were mixed, with some people displeased that Hichilema was praising the growth of a ‘malicious’ YouTube gossip channel. One comment following the congratulatory message particularly caught my eye: “We see who will be thriving and buying plots and Range Rovers for nothing in HH’s government.” This user’s comment was a glimpse into the coming weeks. 

On 24th July 2020, Mutambo officially announced on her YouTube channel that she was standing as a potential member of Parliament for Munali Constituency. The area covers over 6 residential areas in Zambia’s capital, Lusaka. But the announcement didn’t end there: she would be running under Hakainde Hichilema’s UPND in the Presidential elections this Summer. But the question on everyone’s lips remains: who really is Lillian Mutambo, and is her place in politics?

According to her biographies on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, Lillian Mutambo is a Zambian social worker who has lived and worked in the UK, as well as a professional singer and songwriter, farmer, youth advocate, and blogger. “I am a social worker. I have worked with different people in the UK,” she said in her announcement video. She added that people have mocked her since she announced her candidacy. 

In an intimate piece in the Zambian Observer in December 2020, Mutambo also candidly shared how she “stepped into the cohabiting life of Britain and had kids with a man from Ghana” when she was only 22. The relationship ended, but the experience made her who she is now “that part of my life just feels like a pinch because I have achieved so much alone”.​

I learnt about Lillian Mutambo through my sister, who watches Zambian vloggers religiously. In the first video I watched on her channel, Mutambo was talking extensively about a Zambian musician’s wife. My first impression was that she was a chaos creator, or drawn to chaos. If you want to know what is going on in Zambia, especially in the famous Zambian people’s lives, the Lillian Mutambo channel will give you the details. My current opinion of her is that she is someone who creates entertainment out of everything, even if it may hurt someone in the process. But this is how entertainment works. Sometimes it crosses boundaries, and the audience depends on that fine line.

Mutambo’s YouTube channel audience had over 103,000 followers at the time I was writing this article, and is growing by the hundreds every day. But her political aspirations might not be as far fetched as some Zambians think. Lillian Mutambo is very convincing, passionate, and is indeed entertaining, which are qualities voters identify with across the globe in surprising ways,and the Trump ‘success story’ is a perfect example of this phenomenon.  

In 2015, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy in the United States Primary elections, the internet was swift in mocking him. One comment on Twitter read “The biggest lie in the Trump announcement so far, he keeps saying he has friends.” Perhaps people should have believed what was coming out of Trump’s mouth as something he shared with half the voting population of the United States. The mocking, the jokes, and the disbelief that this was a potential candidate under a major political party that left the other half blindsided after the elections.

When you look at Trump’s case, the rise of Lillian Mutambo in politics is not an anomaly. And entertainment and politics are probably going to stay entangled for years to come, because politainment - the mixing of the two -  is now an entire business entity, and people have shown they now want ‘realness’ from their governments. Some voters want their politicians to be entertaining first, and capable second. Politainment is now a crowd favourite because Politainers break down the political jargon into simpler concepts, which in the case of Trump, validates people’s personal beliefs or biases. You don’t have a job because your factory closed down? Trump said it’s because of those ‘Mexicans flooding our country! They are stealing your jobs!’ Now, his statement may not sound true to someone who understands that a factory closing down has nothing to do with migrants coming into a country to work in jobs that are relegated to immigrants. But the politainer used an easy target to explain why the voter lost their job, validating their bigotry in the meantime, and gave them a specific person to blame. Trump is not a joke to the millions of voters who elected him. ​

Lillian Mutambo might be mocked now and seen as a joke by some people, but she has got a solid education in entertainment and knows how to draw a crowd. The Munali constituency is currently under the ruling party, the Patriotic Front, with Nkandu Luo, a seasoned politician and member of parliament. Unseating Nkandu Luo will be a battle; whether uphill or downhill will depend on who the opposition will adopt as candidates. Under the UPND, there is one candidate Lillian Mutambo has serious competition with, Mutinta Mazoka. Mazoka is the daughter of Anderson Mazoka, the founder of the UPND, a once-beloved opposition leader until his death. Will Lillian Mutambo pull through against a woman with one of the most recognizable surnames in Zambia? It would come as no surprise if the UPND officially adopted Mutambo as a candidate for Munali, when politainment has become a craft that is based on celebrity. We now know that a well-known face comes with an audience filled with potential voters, and what happened in American politics can now be replicated in other parts of the world. Only time will tell how far Lillian Mutambo will go in her political career, and what shape the world will take in the era of politainers.