Kenya’s Rising Meme Culture

Article by Oliver Nash
Posted: October 21, 2020  

Laughter is said to be the best medicine and Kenyans love to take their dose every day – which is why short-form mobile video platform, TikTok, has continued to grow in popularity amongst locals. Instead of its content focusing purely on traditional comedic skits, TikTok has taken its entertainment up a notch by providing a platform where creating videos based on popular memes is a huge part of users’ experience.

In the past, TikTok has mainly been associated with dancing trends. However, the platform is now home to a variety of viral content, and of late, has especially taken hold of the meme space. Meme culture has grown so rapidly on TikTok compared to other social platforms. This has been attributed to the virality of which videos possess the potential to appeal to a global audience. Some of the most viral global meme videos include #dontleaveme, #DNATest and #HariboChallenge.

So, what is a meme?

While there is no outright definition, it is safe to say that memes have become a new way of cultural expression that comes in the form of an image or video portraying a particular concept that is shared via various media. Memes are described as cultural shorthand concepts with original ideas being replicated, altered or built upon to evolve into something else that fits into the context within which it is being shared.

Boniswa Sidwaba, TikTok Content Operations Manager in Africa says, “TikTok has been a breeding ground for dozens of clever, funny videos that have turned into memes. The platform’s innovative tools and special effects enable users to create powerful storytelling scenes based on a specific topic or relatable hashtags. A few good local examples include challenges like the #africancheck and #dontrushchallenge – these challenges birthed incredibly funny videos.”

Sidwaba adds that currently, 38% of the viral meme trends on the platform are effect-based.

Meme culture in Kenya

Kenya traces its meme culture back to 2009 when Makmende, a fictional Kenyan superhero character enjoyed a popular resurgence after appearing in a music video by Kenya’s renowned musical group, Just a Band, for their song “Ha-He”. The video became the first viral internet sensation to originate from the country. The term “Makmende” was however coined pre-internet in the early 1990s to describe people who acted tough or who thought they were superheroes.

Since then, meme culture has evolved and has become an indelible part of the Kenyan culture. There is never a dull moment as local content creators are constantly capturing interesting incidences, trending topics, educational information and current affairs in hilarious ways that can only be better expressed through memes. Today’s tech-savvy generation coupled with cultural, social, political and economic diversity has made memes a greater part of our society.

Meme culture has grown so big that there are several pages dedicated to memes on TikTok – the most popular Kenyan page being #kenyamemes, which boasts over 1.2 million views. On the global aspect, #memes has amassed over 42 billion views.

Locally, trending memes include content about troubles experienced during the lockdown, facts about COVID-19, politics, social, trending music, being African and showcasing fun memorable moments.


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