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Celebrity or just popular? Identifying the Zambian celebrity and their display of economic and political power

Elastus Mambwe

The field of Celebrity studies has generated a lot on interest and debate. But since becoming recognized as an area of academic study, firstly following the publication of Star in 1979 by Richard Dryer, and then the subsequent growth of research on this unique field, the field has grown and continues to attract more and more scholarly work due to its fascinating, multi-faceted, dynamic and interdisciplinary nature. While most scholars in the field, particularly those from the west, grapple with decriers that see this field as being irrelevant or as being form of fixation or a ‘guilty pleasure’ (Marshall, 2006), the situation for countries such as Zambia is different. In fact, the fight is not in dealing with critics, but rather at the very basic level: identifying who fits the bill of celebrity. For Zambia, that the idea of celebrity is still in its conception and it is one lost in interpretation. Whereas the understanding of who is and is not a celebrity is commonplace in the developed world as well as their role in media economy, and sometimes politics, the ‘who?’ and ‘why’ in Zambia is imprecise, and their role, if any, in the media economic and political landscape is largely unclear. This paper asks questions such as: what in terms of characteristics qualifies one to be a celebrity in Zambia? who fits this description? what power (if any) do these individuals’ have in shaping public opinion? what role do celebrities play on the economic and political landscape? Drawing from various ideas in Celebrity studies, and using quantitative and qualitative methods in data collection such as structured interviews, in-depth interviews, media monitoring and review of literature, this study sought  to provide the answers to the questions raised in the hope of identifying the Zambian celebrity and their display of economic and political power. The study also wanted to show what role celebrities play in breaking down barriers, regional, political or economic, that exist in Zambian society. The study, in addition to identifying and understanding this emerging social phenomenon, sought to provide a sound foundation for future research in celebrity culture in Zambia and open up doors to perhaps defining a unique brand of ‘celebrity.’



  1. The idea of celebrity, while it exists, can not be viewed in the same way as it is generally seen in most cases of the word.
  2. Defining who a celebrity is in Zambia is still difficult as it is generally, but in Africa, the definition of who the celebrity will most likely include a perception related aspect based on the personsmoral disposition and the nature of influence they exert, mostly positive.
  3. There is need for more research in this area in Africa so as to establish regional framings of the concept and better understand its spatial implications on social, economic and political power.


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