The TV reality show, Big Brother Africa started its eighth season recently. This one is called “The Chase”.
The show started in Europe and came to Africa three years later. Perhaps that is one of the reasons it is still big here.
However, the Big Brother Africa creators did something clever that the Europeans and North Americans didn’t — they turned it into a rivalry between the African countries from which the contestants are drawn.
That provides the emotion that keeps the show alive in the continent.
But that would not have been enough, because the viewership is probably no longer the reason Big Brother is alive. It is the voting.
When we Africans get a cellphone in our hands, we can’t stop talking or texting.
The record numbers of Africans who vote every week to evict or help keep in their favourite contestant puts millions of dollars into the pockets of Big Brother and mobile phone companies from the premium charged on text messages.
So Big Brother Africa has become like a casino — the house always wins.
However, the show itself is interesting as an anthropological study of the African, and our different regional temperaments.
For example, a pattern seems to have been established in recent years. Ugandan or Kenyan contestants, or both, are always the first to be evicted.
Secondly, after Tanzania’s Richard Dyle Bezuidentout won in the Big Brother 2 season in 2007, no other Eastern African (Kenyan, Ugandan, Ethiopian) has got to the finish line.
Cherise Makubale, a Zambian, won BBA 1. Tanzania, as already noted, won BBA2. Ricardo Venancio of Angola won BB3, BBA4 was won by a Nigerian, Kevin Chuwang. BBA All Stars in 2010 was again won by Nigerian Uti Nwanchukwu, and Karen Igho, a Nigerian also took the money in BBA5.
Then Wendall Parsons, a Zimbabwean, bagged BBA6, and Keagan Peterson, from South Africa, ran away with the prize last year.
Now you understand why Bezuidentout won BBA — it is partly because Tanzania is also a Southern African Development Community (SADC) country.
It seems there is bloc SADC voting, and the Nigerians leverage their massive 150 million population to clinch victory.
The fact that Uganda’s Denzel and Kenya’s Huddah Monroe (and the fact that some Kenyans celebrated Huddah’s eviction) tells us that East Africans are not so emotionally committed to having one of their own win the BBA money like the Nigerians.
Secondly, Eastern Africans don’t vote as a bloc, unlike SADC.
Otherwise, with Ethiopia’s 90 million, and another 120 million or so from the countries that send contestants to BBA, we would be able to mobilise enough SMS votes to bring the money to the East side.
So why doesn’t it happen? I think it is because the rest of Africa hates East Africans.
A few weeks ago, for example, Kenyans and Nigerians on Twitter had a mudslinging match.
Here was Kenya with a population of 42 million, poking the eye of a giant with 150 million people. Yet, it seems that Kenya won that name-calling contest.
Then the East Africans did something that was considered impossible, and which the mighty American army failed to do — send in troops to restore order in Somalia.
While the East Africans put their lives on the line and rescued Somalia, down in South Africa, xenophobic mobs are killing Somali shopkeepers in a frenzy of jealousy.
Meanwhile, the West Africans fidgeted as Mali was burning, until France sent in its army to kick out the extremists. I guess the rest of Africa asks: “Who the hell do you East Africans think you are?”
There is also something else more profound, though. The two most eccentric housemates ever were Tanzania’s Mwisho, and Uganda’s Denzel in the latest episode.
Denzel became the first African man to suck the toes of a woman he had only known for three days on live TV.
In a past episode, Ethiopia’s Yacob fell into a strange “unAfrican” emotional torment.
What BBA has tended to suggest over the years is that East Africans have developed differently from other Africans.
Our individualism seems higher. Our sense of patriotic duty to our own is weaker. And the threshold for our heroes is higher. Again, I see the rest of Africa asking: “Who the hell do you East Africans think you are?”