The hash tags #FreeVanessaMdee and #IStandWithVanessaMdee got social media on overdrive this and last week. As at the time of going to press, they still were.
Vanessa Mdee, the 28-year-old celebrated Tanzanian and sister to former KTN Str8Up host Tero Mdee has been behind bars for over a week over what started off as a joke (or so guys thought it was).
And as she remained locked up on alleged drug-related issues, alongside a dozen of other famed Tanzanian artistes being probed by the Tanzania government, fellow artistes from across Africa and thousands of her fans stood to show solidarity with her.
It all started last month when the Dar es Salaam Regional Police command released names of top artistes who were linked to drugs. As fans reeled in shock at the bold move by the police, four celebrities – the curvaceous former Miss Tanzania Wema Sepetu, Zeze singer TID, Dogo Hamidu, and Babuu wa Kitaa, along with ten security officers were questioned at the Dar es Salaam Regional Police Station.
The four were part of seven celebrities linked to a global drug syndicate, with the police ordering the arrest of the other three. Others named included faded superstar Ray C, controversial rapper Nay wa Mitego and BBA Hotshot 2014 winner Idris Sultan.
“One drug dealer is in Dubai right now seeking to connect to China. Furthermore, we are aware that there are drugs being imported to Dar-es Salaam next month from China. We have already alerted the immigration department and airport authorities,” said Dar Regional Commissioner Mr Paul Makonda.
But the questioning and locking up of Ukimuona singer Vanessa Mdee caught many by surprise.
The fast-rising star, arguably the biggest female star in East and Central Africa at the moment, surrendered herself to police, who proceeded to lock her up, a treatment different from the rest of artistes questioned. Her house, in Kunduchi, had been thoroughly searched by police, as the artiste was away when the summons came out.
But why would such a big star get involved in a trade that could potentially derail her buzzing career?
Unlike Kenya, where most celebrities tied to the trade are more of drug users than on the distribution end, bongo has had ties to the trade for long. When Tanzania stars started pitching tent in South Africa under the pretence of shooting videos, allegations became rife that the artistes were being used to transport drugs to Tanzania. Tens of bongo big hits in the last couple of years were shot in SA, and as much as the quality was superior, the allegations pointed to a budding business going on.
In 2013, the rap world lost popular Mikasi star Albert Magwea aka Mngwair to an overdose in South Africa. At the time he was confirmed dead, another bongo artiste Mgaza Pembe was hospitalised in a South African after an overdose. They had travelled together.
The case of Ray C has taken years, since the days the sexy singer wowed Kenyans with her sensual singing and provocative dancing. Maliza Umaskini is not the first outfit to try to revive the career of the artiste, as others, including Coast-based promoter Ring Ring have tried to get her to do shows at the coast, and faced a no-show.
“You know most dealers use artistes, models and celebrities because of their (celebrities) constant travels abroad,” said a source who has brought a few bongo artistes for shows in Kenya. “These people are always travelling for holidays, shows and shoots and customs officials sometimes relax on doing a full scrutiny on them. Others use chartered flights than can ferry drugs easily across borders.”