Tiktok and the Kenyan memes – What’s a meme?

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 social platforms because of the global audience a video has the potential of reaching which in turn increases the possibility of that video going viral. Some of the most viral global meme videos include #dontleaveme#DNATest and #Haribochallenge .

So what is a meme?

While there is no outright definition of a meme, it’s 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 then spread through the internet. Memes are described as cultural shorthand with original ideas being replicated, altered or built upon to evolve into something else that fits into the context within which it’s being shared.

Boniswa Sidwaba, TikTok Content Operations Manager, 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.”

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

Memes 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 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 Makemende 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 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 expressed better through memes. Today’s tech-savvy generation coupled with cultural, social, political and economic diversity has all made memes a greater part of our culture.

Meme culture has grown so big that there are several pages dedicated to memes on TikTok – the most popular page for Kenya being #kenyamemes with more than 1.2m views while on the global platform #memes has 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.

Odipo Riaga
Managing Editor at KachTech Media
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