A gleaming white Mercedes Benz, a Range Rover Vogue and lavish quarters at Rose Park Apartments off Rose Avenue in Nairobi befits the status of a prominent media personality like Louis Otieno.
For somebody who has earned a six-figure salary for the better part of his media career, many expect Louis to have a luxuriant lifestyle. He has the money.
So many of his admirers were left in a dilemma when he was associated with a young woman who was found dead in her apartment in controversial circumstances.
Police are investigating the cause of the death but Louis has denied any involvement.
The woman, Careen Chepchumba, who was found dead in her Santonia Court apartment on Valentine’s Day, allegedly owed different people an estimated Sh3 million.
Police are in possession of a hand-written note, believed to have been Careen’s, with a list of the people she owed cash, totalling about Sh500,000.
Earlier claims reported in sections of the media indicated that most of the cash the 26-year-old had borrowed from friends and organisations was to sustain a flashy lifestyle.
Such an apartment would cost the tenant about Sh100,000 per month, including the cost of electricity, water, garbage disposal and security. So the tenant would be expected to have a good, steady income.
But this isn’t so for many young people especially those living in urban areas. Fake it until you make it seems to be the motto for some – especially musicians and sports celebrities.
Glamorous and chic
They will go to the extremes to make sure that they look glamorous and chic, even if it means living in an empty room and starving. Dress to kill and drive the sleekest cars.
Take the Kigeugeu hit singer Jaguar for instance. There was a time he would shop for second-hand clothes and shoes at the Gikomba market. But today he drives top-of-the-range cars and lives large.
“There were times when I used to stay at home all day because I didn’t want to be seen using a matatu or negotiating bus fare, simply because I didn’t have,” he told Lifestyle.
Driving an expensive Range Rover Sport and a BMW 7 Series, Jaguar is one of the most flamboyant musicians in the country at the moment.
“With a song like Kigeugeu being a hit across the region, how would my fans look at me if they saw me driving a cheap car? I would do anything to get a top-of-the-range car. It comes with the status,” Jaguar said.
“I used to go to Gikomba early in the morning to look for the latest pairs of jeans and Timberland boots, pretending that I’m going to sell. They all ended up in my wardrobe,” Jaguar added.
Gospel musician Ringtone, who drives a Range Rover, shares these sentiments.
“Imagine a scenario where a fan who looks at you as a role model buys your music or attends your concerts, then you a board a matatu with them?
They would feel discouraged, so we do our best to look as glamorous as possible to give them hope,” Ringtone said.
Award-winning songbird Amani says artistes’ lives are public.
“Media and fans will know what car you drive, where you buy your clothes or even where you live. Since that’s the situation, I only put a barrier when it comes to going inside my house. It’s the only private place I have and I do my best to protect it,” she said.
Her counterpart Avril has been forced to make really tough choices as a public figure.
“I either have to use a cab or I hire a car. Many times I have had to close my eyes and use the money I have just because I don’t want to use a matatu,” she said.
Kenyan celebrities – sports, radio and TV personalities – are going to great lengths to satisfy their fans’ expectations with a life in the fast lane.
Many times they have been forced to spend money they didn’t have in order to fit the celebrity billing. There are some who live with their parents to avoid paying rent, but have also to be flashy when they appear in public.
But at what expense? Fakii Liwali, a Nairobi-based artistes manager, says musicians should “be real”.
“It is true that fans expect them to live a celebrity life, but are they ready both financially and mentally?” Fakii asked.
“Many times I have managed artistes, where they get paid about Sh50,000, then they lie to their friends that they were paid Sh150,000. They spend Sh20,000 on two pairs of jeans and another Sh20,000 on drinks for friends and hangers-on.”
In a recent interview, the self-styled King of Bling CMB Prezzo said there were times he would spend all the money he earned at a concert to entertain his friends and fans.
“I used to have so many people hanging around me everywhere I went to perform. I’d buy them drinks all night, spending all the money I had been paid, and that was life,” said Prezzo, who recently relaunched his singing career.
As far as dress is concerned, Ringtone says there were times he would send people to shop for him at cheap markets.
To keep up with her status, Avril says she has been forced to hire a designer who will be choosing clothes for her.
Fakii says the flashy lifestyle lasts as long as the gigs. When they fall off the charts and stage life becomes “stressful”.
“If an artiste doesn’t lose friends, they move houses to cheaper ones to avoid being kicked out due to lack of rent,” he said. Sociologists say it is dangerous to take life as a on-day affair.
Dr Francis Kerre of Kenyatta University says: “They (celebrities) think that if they are able to perform today at the Carnivore and get paid Sh100,000, it will be the same tomorrow. They don’t ask themselves hard questions like how often they will get such an amount and what they can invest in as a fall-back plan.”
But not all Kenyan celebrities have fallen into that trap. NTV news anchor Nimrod Taabu is one of them. “There is that pressure of being in the public eye,” he said.
“When you become famous, you must change certain things – like how you talk or dress. I cannot make some comments since people might think those are direct comments from my employer. How I dress also reflects how the company I work for takes care of its employees.”
But he says where he lives or what he drives have never bothered him.
“Before I bought a car, I used matatus like everybody else. My parents live in Kitale and I have never driven there. I always take a bus like everybody else. It’s cheaper that way,” he said.
Many young celebrities live from hand to mouth, but there are some, like Jaguar, who have invested their earnings in business.
Jaguar says that when he released his first song, he thought he would make lots of money, but it didn’t happen.
“I had to do more songs before even getting performances. That’s when I decided to invest in different businesses,” said the artiste who owns a garage, a fleet of taxis and a security firm.
Sociology lecturer at Pwani University Dr Halimu Shauri advises celebrities to structure their success path in a way that they can handle the pressure that comes with the status.
“That’s where our celebrities go wrong. They lack the education on how to handle the pressure of being a celebrity, and it’s not just about going to class to study but also life education,” Dr Shauri said. Since success itself is not structured, it’s the individual that needs to manage it, he said.
He said many celebrities buy things that don’t matter, forgetting the basic needs. He says society does not pressure anyone to act in a certain way.
“What celebrities have created is what I call false consciousness – a situation where they must do certain things to be regarded as celebs, like buying expensive cars, living in big houses, buying the most expensive clothes,” Dr Shauri said.
“A celebrity is a role model who has an impact on those who look up to him. The moment you create a barrier between you and your fans, you start losing them,” he said, adding that celebrities should use public transport like their fans and eat in the same restaurants.
“Soccer star McDonald Mariga’s fans would feel more connected to him when they get close to him by even shaking his hand or use the same means of transport.
“This is different from him driving fast past them in a Hummer with the tinted windows rolled up. Let that fan see and feel that you are a human being like them and they will be inspired,” Dr Shauri added.
He gave the examples of Mother Teresa and Martin Luther Jnr, who mingled with and inspired many people despite their celebrity status.
As police continue investigating the death of Careen Chepchumba and allegations that it could have been related to debts incurred to finance a lavish lifestyle, many are wondering if such living is worth dying for.