By: Kingsley Okeke

Amidst a global pandemic that has put the world in a sombre mood, one song seems to be on the lips of most people – Jerusalema. The smash-hit, as at August 27, 2020, has garnered over 100 million views on YouTube – with different groups across the globe joining the #Jerusalemadancechallenge.

With over 32 million cases and 982,718 deaths, as at September 24 2020, COVID-19 has setback the wheel of development by many years. Some economies and countries are only reopening, after a prolonged shutdown occasioned by the pandemic – causing a spike in the rate of suicide; depression and other mental health issues. 

A recent McKinsey Global Survey on the economy shows the magnitude of the challenge currently plaguing the world, especially in a specific region. According to the report, North America and in developing markets, the company’s executives have become less hopeful since early June about their countries’ economies and more cautious than others in their views on potential scenarios for COVID-19 recovery. A July 2020 report by the Center for Disease Control, CDC, states that public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely. It can also increase stress and anxiety.  

Put together, the pandemic sent shockwaves across the globe, leading to fear and despair. Then came a simple African song composed by a South African singer, songwriter and producer – MasterKG.  

To celebrate South Africa’s Heritage Day, the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa called on South Africans to take the dance challenge as a form of celebration. In his words, “There can be no better celebration of our South African-ness than joining the global phenomenon that is Jerusalema dance challenge. So I urge all of you to take up this challenge on Heritage Day and show the world what we are capable of.” 

South Africans fully embraced this call as citizens have continued to share videos of their performance. The president’s call has sent the country into a frenzy, after months of COVID-19 induced shutdown. 

From nurses to lawyers, as well as artisans the response from groups and individuals to the president’s call, has been overwhelming. A nurse said, “for a moment, I forgot my battle with COVID-19, as I enjoyed the dance.”  

The world anthem, which is originally in isiZulu, one of South Africa’s 11 languages is now in a variety of languages, including English. 

 The chorus in English says: 

“Jerusalem is my home Guide me

 Take me with You

 Do not leave me here

 Jerusalem is my home.

 Guide me

 Take me with you

 Do not leave me here

 

 My place is not here

 My kingdom is not here

 Guide me

 Take me with You

 My place is not here

 My kingdom is not here

 Guide me

 Take me with You

 

 Guide me

 Guide me

 Guide me

 Do not leave me here”.

 Indeed, the song has guided many through these tough times and has yet again underscored the importance of Africa’s rich, but, untapped soft power reserve.  

While the developed economies like the U.S., China and the U.K. are increasingly becoming adept in the use of soft power in foreign policy, Africa appears to be lagging. Soft power which involved trying to influence other countries using culture, values and systems, has been a source of interest of many African policy experts.

According to recent research by the firm Brand Finance, titled The Global Soft Power Index, U.S. is seen as a global force due to its soft power. The study maintained that, though the Trump presidency has hurt the country’s reputation globally, it is still ranked top. 

The Global Soft Power Index surveyed more than 50,000 consumers in 87 countries to rank countries in terms of their familiarity, reputation and influence, among other measures. The U.S. came in top, with Germany, the U.K., Japan and China following. France, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden and Russia make up the rest of the top 10. From the report, no African country is in the top 10.  

Some analysts have argued that South Africa is one of the African countries that has taken advantage of the opportunity that the use of soft power presents. Nigeria, on the other hand, has been unable to harness the benefits of soft power, despite its impressive soft power capabilities. 

Nollywood is one of the most potent promoters of Nigeria’s cultural soft power. The movie industry has no doubt outpaced Hollywood and Bollywood as the most critical movie industry in Africa. It’s now the world’s second-largest producer of films after Bollywood.

Its visibility demonstrates its increasing appeal in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean. Among African viewers, Nollywood’s influence can be heard in how other Africans are mimicking the Nigerian accent, growth of Nigerian pidgin English, and Nigerian fashion.

The country’s music industry has also made inroads. For example, Nigerian musicians have dominated the MTV Africa Music Awards since their inauguration in 2008. And many black British and American artists are of Nigerian origin. Some, such as Jidenna and Simon Webbe, have used their fame to promote Nigerian culture and to challenge negative stereotypes of their ancestral home.

Both Nollywood and the music industry provide the platforms to challenge the negative portrayal of Nigeria and its over 200 million citizens as purveyors of corruption, drug-trafficking, terrorism, fraud, and internet scams.

Collectively, Africa and Africans can deploy soft power towards changing the negative narrative that has dogged the continent’s rise to prominence. 

So, as we jibe to the tunes of Master KG in South Africa, or Burna Boy in Nigeria, or even Shatta Wale in Ghana, we must push the materials of these creative geniuses. Policymakers and academics must engage the continent’s soft power resources for meaningful progress and reshaping the continent’s future.