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Sunday, 28 July 2013

#BBATheChase: Does Nigeria's BBA Voting Threaten African Peoples Unity?

This week’s Big Brother Africa eviction voting is an uncommon fierce inter-regional popular battle after the recent acrimonious AU inter-governmental election brought Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to the top office in Addis Abeba. It looks like a test of African peoples’ harmony – beyond just unity....

For the first time, there are only three on the eviction ballot and they are from the three most influential sub-regional blocks south of the Sahara: Elikem (Ghana, WA), Annabel (Kenya, EA), Sulu (Zambia, SnA). BBA viewing, commenting and voting weaves an unprecedented Africa-wide online, twitter and TV text bar network of 20 million, generating intense conversation among the continent’s peoples in ways never seen.

With inklings of geo-political jostling and amid raging passionate and acrimonious IT debates, plus with evident voting along national and sub-regional lines irrespective of housemates’ personal qualities, Africa is thus put to test over which sub-region’s population actually carries sway and how much that can reveal of the continent’s diverse population feeling as one people.

The main sponsor of the show this year Airtel runs a slogan “one Africa” which is echoed by Big Brother to housemates during daily Diary Sessions. And, yes, the annual reality show now in its eighth edition is a veritable melting pot of housemates from countries across sub-Saharan Africa, showing off at the same time the continent’s diversity and its sameness on live television 24/7 for three months. But, oh, the acrimony around voting!

So even what appears to be wayward child’s play can mean a thing with far-reaching implications, looking at the vital indicators. That is, beyond the moral concerns over likely promiscuous talk and deeds on primetime TV, and beyond the chase towards the $300,000 prize money, BBA is still a huge billboard emitting a strong revealing message to Africa.

The winner take all voting formula means country votes are equal irrespective of national population size; from Nigeria’s mammoth 170 million through Ethiopia’s 70 million and South Africa’s 50 million to a meagre two million each for Namibia and Botswana. Yet, in case of a tie on number of country votes, national population size may have a bearing on Africa-wide percentage average, the tie breaker.

Who Nigeria votes for may easily win the percentage average. Plus, Nigeria’s huge migrant population across the continent, with noted enthusiasm for BBA voting, may also influence host country votes against the citizens’ voting preferences.

Nigeria’s population alone slightly surpasses all East African participating countries put together and by far all of southern Africa, despite their superior country count (seven out of 14 participating countries). Population size also offers a bigger consumer market for the various businesses involved: M-Net, DSTv, Channel O, Multichoice, Africa Magic, Airtel especially, and others advertising on the show. Could this – as some ranting fans claim – also be influencing BBA policy somehow? Some fans are calling for a change in the voting formula. Nigerians have dominated the show since 2009.

Perhaps that accounts for the semblance of inferiority complex towards Nigerian housemates. It looks like the most realistic alliances are stitched around Nigerians. Botswana’s Oneal was incensed when his Tanzanian soul mate Feza told him that she was advised by friends back home to associate with a Nigerian guy – just any in the house – to enhance her game plan.

“To associate” does not exclude having an amorous relationship, but there is no certainty if Angelo’s hookup with Nigeria’s Beverly followed that calculation. However, Namibia’s Dillish, shadow girlfriend of Nigeria’s Melvin, has won the Nigeria vote two of the three times she was up for eviction. She only lost it once to Bassey from neighboring Sierra Leone.

Generally, other housemates seem to strive to be jolly towards Nigerian housemates, perhaps to keep a good face with Nigerian voters. Hardly are Nigerian housemates nominated even in the secrecy of the Diary Room. Even Beverly, considered in a wave of opinion from home as wayward and a weak link, has never featured on the eviction ballot and has pulled only a sprinkling of individual nominations across nine weeks.

Though Melvin, apparently Nigeria’s hope this year, has been nominated twice, those only came when he was Head of House and fellow housemates, lost for choices, generally said they believed he would use his Save and Replace discretion to redeem himself. Once he even maintained himself on the ballot but won a landslide to survive eviction!

Melvin is a good looking gentle soul with fine manners, no doubt, but he is neither entertaining nor eloquent nor adventurous, if you get the point. His presence in the game creates no drama and generates no suspense. Fans don’t switch on their TV anxious for Melvin’s next move, or something happening around him. But he is Nigerian and many fans across the continent are frustrated that that counts.

Yet, it was Melvin’s swap of Hakeem to the gallows, leading to the hulky Zimbabwean’s eviction that made the East and Southern Africans match together in battle amour. “According to Nando and Bimp, Melvin saved the sexy Ghanaian ‘Selly’ because she comes from West Africa where he also comes from and he put up Hakeem for possible eviction because he comes from the Southern part of Africa,” states a write up on BBA website. The opposition – East Africans, Nando (Tanzania) and Bimp (Ethiopia) and southern Africans Cleo (Zambia) and Oneal (Botswana) discussed an anti-West Africa plan after a Channel O party.

Nando, Bimp and Zambia’s Cleo have since then consistently nominated Melvin for eviction. Oneal and Pokello went the extra mile with sulfurous on-camera declarations against West African domination of BBA, but it is Oneal who has spilled more hate literature. From “I’m no longer impressed by this West African pageantry”, Oneal later said he is so put off by West African superiority airs, he won’t wear West African cloths nor dance to West African music. “General” Oneal might simply have been whipping up morale among “his” intimidated troops. But how far can he go?

Pokello may have already paid the price. She lost the Nigeria vote she had won many times over. Now West African voters are calling the war by its name, crying for Oneal’s blood and lining up behind theirs. Nigerians have particularly taken it badly. Ahead of Pokello’s eviction, a Nigerian fan commenting on BBA website said, “Pokello is ungrateful. She has bitten the finger that fed her. Naija/WA vote Pokello no more. Oneal, we’re waiting for you on the chopping block.” It is obviously thanks to her man Elikem that Pokello still pulled Ghana even on her eviction.

This feeling of Southern African betrayal is a replica of what obtains on the diplomatic scene. Nigeria often thinks it deserves more and feels betrayed, especially by Southern Africa, with particularly acrimonious rivalry from South Africa. Commentators often recall that during the apartheid challenge, Nigeria left the comfort of far away West Africa to voluntarily join Southern African countries in the trenches as a “front-line state”, putting its might and national resources in the struggle to liberate South Africa and the entire sub-region.

Before the call to arms, West Africa had hardly really shown any block vote. Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria had been more akin to follow their hearts, scattering their votes sometimes as their representatives’ amorous interests go. This week’s vote is their first test on unconditional sub-regional solidarity.

Now, so much bad blood spilled has left fans across the continent lamenting that the dynamics of the game were tending to divide the continent, thus negating the beauty of the game – “just a game,” many insist – and its underlying objective of uniting African peoples. This may only get worse towards the finale.

This week, Ghana’s Elikem can count on Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria (WA) and very likely break out of his sub-region to grab Zimbabwe, home country of his lady Pokello who back home, has been campaigning for him. That makes four sure country votes, at par with Sulu’s assured Southern Africa Botswana, Namibia, Angola and his home Zambia. Annabel may thus trail them with her three traditional East African votes from Tanzania, Uganda and her home Kenya. She has only pulled Ethiopia once. South Africa, Malawi and Ethiopia could be tie breakers. Yet the regional fault line is telling. It is West against East against Southern Africa, and that could leave long-lasting blisters, even scars on African peoples.

The spirit behind the conception of the Africa Union (AU) was the quest for the unity of African peoples, a step up from the shortfalls of the defunct OAU’s elusive quest for unity of governments. Nothing more than BBA voting puts to test African’s perception of each other across national boundaries and sub-regional blocks. Can this be the litmus test for sociopolitical temperature in a dream United States of Africa?

By Franklin Sone Bayen (Freelance Journalist in Cameroon) / Sierra Express Media

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