Nairobi – Please don’t call her an influencer: Elsa Majimbo prefers “comedian and social media sensation”.
At the age of 20 Majimbo is a digital diva with a carefully cultivated image courted by international brands and praised by Rihanna and Beyonce – all just over a year after launching her career with a smartphone and a bag of chips.
In March 2020 as the pandemic swept the globe and people everywhere lamented the sudden loss of human interaction, Majimbo posted a video of herself noisily munching on snacks and declaring she didn’t, in fact, miss anyone.
“And those people keep on telling me ‘I miss you’,” she teased in her debut video about pandemic life.
“Why? Why? Why? Why? Why? Do I pay your school fees? Do I pay your rent? Do I provide food for you? Why are you missing me?”
The offbeat but honest take on a bleak new reality struck an immediate chord with housebound viewers.
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Other humorous clips on everything from face masks to her taste for rich men – all while eating chips – made the university dropout an overnight celebrity.
“I am a professional bragger, it’s my talent,” she said bluntly in an August post last year, sporting a pair of thin-framed black sunglasses that for a time was her signature look.
“Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat: so many platforms to remind people you are better than them.”
In a year, her Instagram account swelled from fewer than 7 000 followers to 2.3 million.
Practice makes perfect pic.twitter.com/1hNpyZ9H0E
— Elsa Majimbo 🇿🇦 (@ElsaAngel19) July 27, 2021
The international press has rolled out the red carpet for Majimbo, with profiles in the New York Times, CNN and Teen Vogue.
In March Forbes Africa named her one of its Women of the Year.
Months of discussions between AFP and her Los Angeles-based agent resulted in no interview nor photoshoot — but plenty of advice on how she is to be portrayed.
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This included the rejection of the “influencer label” and her preference not to lean on her Kenyan origins or solely be seen as someone who “made it out of Africa”, but rather be recognised for what she has achieved.
Majimbo has faced some online backlash in Kenya, with feelings hurt by her adoption of the South African flag in her personal profile (she says it’s the country where she first broke through).
But the young black comedian has broadly proven a hit across the African continent.
“Elsa Majimbo is only 19 years old. She is smart, sassy, confident and unabashed,” Kenyan activist Boniface Mwangi said earlier this year.
She has also attracted the attention of global icons in the world of fashion, music and politics.
Rihanna – her self-declared “best friend” – asked the young Kenyan to promote her Fenty eyewear last September.
In March Italian fashion house Valentino published a book with her “for her first foray into the world of luxury”.
Beyonce listed Majimbo among a dozen women who inspired her, along with household names like Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and legendary actress Jane Fonda.
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These days her comic videos are rare and her feed is a mishmash of the high life and teen life, mixing business class flights, skateboard and pizza sessions, commercial partnerships and numerous selfies.
“I can’t believe I get to be Elsa Majimbo. Me. I’m Elsa Majimbo. This is like the lottery and I won,” she wrote recently as she flitted between Johannesburg, Dubai and Kigali.
Anyiko Owoko, a public relations expert, said Majimbo “is now becoming her own brand. She is the girl next door who got global”.
Majimbo has also used her new platform to back social causes that dominated a tumultuous year, speaking out in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and sexual rights for all.
In January, as part of a series called Strong Black Lead, Netflix devoted a short film to Majimbo and her love of chess, comparing her to the heroine of its hit series “The Queen’s Gambit”.
In it, Majimbo discusses the burden of colourism, or discrimination against darker-skinned people.
“I am a very, very, very proud young African dark-skinned woman… I did not think I deserve less. I thought I was badass,” she said.
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