ABC's Dana Hughes reports from Nairobi, Kenya:
In Africa people expressed shock at the death of Michael Jackson, who many Africans considered to be “bigger than Elvis.” Several radio stations are filling their airways with his music. Denis Ndavi, the commercial manager for Kenya’s Homeboyz Radio told ABC News that the station was interrupting its normal hip-hop programming to devote the weekend to Jackson’s music.
“Even though our audience is just in their 20’s, there’s a lot of shock, there’s grief even from them,” says Ndavi. “For a black artist, no-one had been that big ever. Everybody liked the fact that there was a black man running the pop charts. Bruce Springsteen was big too, but he didn’t resonate as much with Africans.”
Across the continent there reports of Africans devastated by the news. In Nigeria a local radio anchor broke down when she heard the news and couldn’t continue her program. In Ghana, a woman began wailing after a BBC reporter told her about Jackson’s death.
Here in Kenya, where old-school soul music remains extremely popular, the singer was more than an entertainer. Kenyans considered him a hero, and a great ambassador to American music and culture. A weekly show devoted to Michael Jackson and his brothers was shown on the local state-run television station in the 70's and early 80's.
"I grew up with MJ. I really loved him. A section of my childhood is lost "said Michael Kendege, 37, a financial consultant in Nairobi. “People felt a kinship to him, and to the family. He touched a lot of people’s lifestyles. He provided us with a sense of what was cool, what was not cool. There was a time when everybody in Kenya was wearing white socks because of the “Off the Wall album cover,” he said.
But Jackson’s popularity here has waned in recent years. Even an accusation of child molestation, particularly one that involves homosexuality, is sorely frowned upon in African societies. His molestation scandals, coupled with his ever-lightening skin and thinning nose has turned some Africans off. "I was shocked at his death,” said Ndavi. “However I was not as devastated as I thought I'd be. If the news had been delivered to me in 1985, I would have collapsed."
Ironically, one of the African countries where the death of the King of Pop isn’t making all the headlines is Ethiopia, the country whose 1984 famine inspired Jackson's "We are the World."
“It’s not big news in Ethiopia. I was in Addis for the last couple of hours. No-one’s said anything about it,” said one local journalist, who did not want to be named. Velis, a taxi driver in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital said that radio stations are playing his music, and people do know who Michael Jackson is but his death has not made headlines on state television news yet. Ethiopia has historically been sensitive to issues surrounding famine and given the country's insular culture it's likely unlikely the affect of the icon’s death will be as big as it’s been on the rest of the continent.