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Kenyans on Twitter: The A – Z of #KoT

Always wanted to go to Kenya, but weren’t able to sneak onto Air Force One with Obama? Now you can experience the country, the culture and the comedy from your computer. Below, we feature the “A to Z” highlights of what 700,000 Kenyans on Twitter (#KoT) are doing, saying and laughing about.

Nendo Ventures, a supremely creative Kenyan graphic design firm, began The A-to-Z of African Twitter in October 2014 as a fun, innovative way to highlight moments of context and insight amidst the torrential stream of news, updates and content generated by the connected African continent. Watch the slide show below to see these 26 uniquely Kenyan trends captured in beautiful, playful designs.

Which one is your favorite or the most surprising?  Let us know in the comments below or send a tweet to Nendo Ventures!

  • A is for Aromat®
    Aromat®, a condiment from Unilever, embarked on a campaign in 2014 that claimed to enhance the flavour of meal. The campaign featured the catchphrase “…but with Aromat…” to show the difference it made to everyday meals. Kenyans on Twitter (#KOT) took this to the next level by using the hashtag #ButWithAromat to humorously show how the condiment was transformative in unimaginable ways.

    For example, it was portrayed as though it could turn dark-skinned Kenyans into a fairer complexion. Complexion is a common theme among #KOT with the hashtags on habits and personalities of #lightskins and #darkskins often mentioned. Another example would be that it could turn a measly salary of coins into a fistful of crisp notes. The phrase took off and Aromat® can even be seen to comically attributed as the secret behind transformations of success in the case of before-and-after pictures of celebrities in years past and present.

  • B is for #Bigwig
    Bigwig is the term, sometimes regarded as pejorative, self-proclaimed or mockingly used to refer to influential Twitter personalities in Kenya. The ‘self-made’ bigwigs are those that had no previous influence or place in digital society (aside from their blogs and digital personas) and rose through 2008, 2009 and 2010 some even taking up jobs in digital media themselves.

    Subsequently, there’s been the rise of a new generation, thanks to award ceremonies such as the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) Awards and the Social Media Awards (SOMA) as well as the ability to buy Twitter followers.

    Each year, a new crop rises to prominence though criticism as to the blurred lines between humour, wit, sarcasm, cyber-bullying and even sensationalism linger. Some Bigwigs even remain anonymous selectively revealing identities on a need-to-know basis. A number can be recognised by their ever-changing “handles” on the social network, with some even selling that space for advertising!

  • C is for @ChiefKariuki
    From missing goats to armed robber alerts, the “Tweeting Chief” Francis Kariuki has become a worldwide phenomenon for his extraordinary ability to use Twitter for community policing and mobilising Kenyans. Based in his Lanet Umoja location in Nakuru North District, Nakuru County, he has taken advantage of a local telecommunications partnership with Twitter that sees ordinary mobile subscribers able to follow @ChiefKariuki and receive his tweets for free via an SMS subscription – no smartphone necessary. This, without even signing up for Twitter itself.

    His tweets are blasted to over 30,000 local residents as well as his over 37,000 Twitter followers. He can be seen reporting lost items, livestock, children, fighting crime and words of encouragement. Kenyans on Twitter are in constant amusement of his notices and musings from small-town life as well as his charming personality.

  • D is for #DeadBeatKenya
    Dead Beat Kenya is a movement that was born from an eponymous Facebook group. The group features negligent fathers and mothers and the stories behind their offspring and abandoned partners. With over 180,000 members joining and posting with a range of absent parents, most often men, put on display complete with details, photographs and in some cases photographs of the children in question.

    Dead Beat Kenya has already given rise to other similar hashtags and groups in Uganda and elsewhere. The group has featured local politicians, public servants, celebrities, athletes, businesspeople as well as ordinary citizens.

  • E is for #EPL
    Football, and particularly the English Premier League, is one of the most followed and discussed topics among Kenyans on Twitter. Every other day and certainly every matchday, a trending topic emerges from on or off the pitch. Humour, wit and sarcasm feature heavily as rival fans poke fun at one another and teams celebrate progress, rue missed chances or even speak to their beloved team’s players themselves through Twitter.

    Popular clubs include Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool. Their respective chants often trending from local fans during and after games for example #COYG – Come On You Gunners (Arsenal), #GGMU – Glory Glory Man United and #YNWA – You’ll Never Walk Alone (Liverpool). Kenya’s obsession with football goes back to the 1970’s and now that the country has a star in the English Premier League and others playing across Europe, the interest and coverage only continues to grow across traditional and social media.

  • F is for #Feminism
    The new ‘F’ Word – Feminism – in Kenya is one that will guarantee reactions from Kenyans on Twitter. Whether they support it or are against it, whether they understand or are blinded by misconceptions of what it is or isn’t, very few manage to remain neutral when feminism is discussed.

    Awareness and discussions on feminism have become more common in the last two years and any discussion creates opposing sides. ‘The Feminists’ would be anyone challenging patriarchy, pursuing and sustaining a conversation around issues affecting women, while the detractors are those who feel that any discussion on women issues is an ill-advised feminist agenda. These arguments often get heated and have even lasted for days (beyond the ephemeral trending conversation).

    It has now become common to see mocking comments like “Feminists wamesema?” (What have the feminists said?) if an issue on women comes up. Some might argue, the term Feminist has even become a derogatory word among Kenyans on Twitter.

  • G is for #GrammarNazi
    Kenyans on Twitter are notoriously attentive about spelling. Whether it’s the Queen’s English or US grammar, KOT tend to spot and punish spelling errors and autocorrected tweets swiftly. Where brands are concerned, screenshots are often quickly taken as evidence for the trial by timeline. Where individuals are concerned, depending on the severity of the offence one can end up being ridiculed from anywhere from fleeting minutes to days on end. The #GrammarNazi isn’t original to Kenya but is often spotted in Bios and descriptions in Twitter profiles or on within tweets on the timeline as they gather around the hashtag and scene of a spelling crime.
  • H is for @HuddahMonroe
    Kenyan model and socialite Huddah Monroe has been on Twitter since 2009. She caught public attention for posting pictures of her extravagant nights out. Seen in the fashionable company of local and international celebrities, she ignited the web with provocative pictures and her media savvy. Huddah managed to get attention because she did what had been unthinkable before by exposing her body with racy and very provocative pictures. She rose to Pan African prominence after featuring as Kenya’s contestant in the 2013 edition of Big Brother Africa. Whether or not people follow her on Twitter, Kenyans on Twitter likely know who she is.
  • I is for #ICC
    The International Criminal Court and the case against Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto has remained one of the most followed stories across traditional and social media since it began. As the court case began to unfold, Kenyans on Twitter watched and spoke their minds. Notably, in September 2013 during Deputy President Ruto’s trial at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands speculation was heavy on social media as to the identity of a protected witness. So much so that presiding Judge Chile Eboe-Osuji made a warning aimed at Kenyan social media, bloggers and journalists that revealing Witness #536’s identity would amount to a contempt of court.
  • J is for @JustABand
    The Kenyan afro-house, funk and disco band have long held a unique position in Kenya’s social media, particularly in the formative years of social media in the country. The group who shoot their own videos (rarely appearing in them themselves) sparked the curiosity of Kenyan social media and the world in 2010 when they released Ha-He from their second album 82. The music video and launch turned it into one of Africa’s first viral music videos. This rocketed them to global and local consciousness and created an icon in Makmende, the fiction super-hero character and hashtag as well as memes, merchandise and mentions across traditional media. To KOT and especially the band’s loyal audience, Just A Band is seen one thing putting Kenya on the global map.
  • K is for @KenyaPower
    To be on Twitter (if you’re one of the estimated 93% using Twitter on mobile) you need a phone, be it basic, a feature phone or a smartphone. In the age of smartphones and waning battery life, few things are as important as electricity. @KenyaPower finds itself in an often tough position. The former government parastatal is now one of the country’s most noticeable consumer-facing brands. However, facing challenges around fulfilment of consumer and brand promises remains and especially in the digital age. Unexpected cuts, extended blackouts and any issues to do with electricity are quickly flagged by Kenyans on Twitter. A flood of messages, queries and complaints often follows. As a number of KOT don’t buy newspapers to check for advertisements to give notice of maintenance and issues, the @KenyaPower account often alerts them online and on Twitter, helping to troubleshoot.
  • L is for @LarryMadowo
    Once describing himself as a gadfly, Larry has fans and foes alike. Madowo earned the ire of KOT in 2011 by declaring that they should seek “actual experts” before voicing their opinions. The television anchor and technology editor was an early adopter of social media and an evangelist for it in the Kenyan media community. Among the first in the region to be verified on Twitter, Larry hosts The Trend, a popular late-night television talk show that engages heavily with Kenyans on Twitter and social media at large. Larry’s blogs, columns and tweets as well as his on-air personality all find him stirring the pot, keeping him top of mind with Kenyans on Twitter, whether or not they agree with his point of view.
  • M is for @Ma3Route
    Nairobi’s loses an estimated $580,000 in revenue and lost hours thanks to traffic. Congestion has earned the city a place in many lists of world’s worst traffic jams. It’s no wonder that social media crowdsourcing tool @Ma3Route uses Kenyans on Twitter as digital contributors to help navigate the city. Their Twitter account and app collects updates, retweets photographs and tries to provide up to date information on which of the city’s roads are clear while reporting accidents and incidents in real-time. @Ma3Route’s various partnerships in traditional media too and near-constant stream of updates and multimedia mean they’re collecting and growing enough data to hopefully begin to predict trends and work off of patterns.
  • N is for #Nishike
    Kenyan afro-pop band @SautiSol learnt to take and appeal to social media from early in their careers. The entertainment scene in Kenya, sees a section of emerging artistes catering to the middle and upper classes of the major cities. Sauti Sol’s sound, performance and style endeared them from early on from their single Lazizi which went on YouTube in 2009. The band has gone on to grow into both national, regional and global acclaim.

    Their music video for their single Nishike (Swahili: Hold Me) was banned from broadcast on Kenyan television but lit up YouTube, reaching over 700,000 views in 6 months. On social media discussions sparked day and night as many spoke of its steamy and suggestive scenes and sounds. Nishike even went on to see various parodies and covers recorded. This turned the band toward involving user-generated content in greater ways, something they have successfully concluded with their single Sura Yako (Swahili: Your Face) and their campaign for the #LipalaDance. They took to Instagram to invite fans to upload themselves doing the dance and a number of fans were selected to appear in their official music video.

  • O is for #OleLenku
    Joseph Ole Lenku is a Kenyan politician and current Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government in the Jubilee Government. Lenku’s time on social media has seen the pendulum of public sentiment swinging heavily against him and his ministry. Initially during his appointment and particularly following decreasing faith in the country’s security apparatus under the threat of terror and rising insecurity.

    Appointed and answerable to the President, he’s endured seasons of harsh tweets and criticism especially in the face of insecurity incidents in the country alongside the Inspector General of Police, David Kimaiyo (@IGKimaiyo). This came to a head during and after #Westgate in September 2013 where many picked on Lenku’s lack of previous high-level security experience in his career and took him to task on words he said in various press conferences during the siege. The criticism on social media was heavy with pressure even on traditional media urging for his resignation or dismissal by President Uhuru Kenyatta. He remains among the country’s foremost security officials in the Cabinet and continues to engage and share updates on Twitter and online.

  • P is for #Park (i.e. Subaru)
    Kenyans on Twitter use the phrase #Park is used in a sentence as a reference to a car and specifically one by Japanese car manufacturer Subaru. Known for their success in rallying globally and high performance and racing, Kenyans on Twitter use Subaru thanks to its abbreviation sub (pronounced soob). Various phrases to do with cars can be used to refer to subtweets. , at times including pictures attached to tweets, especially Subarus.

    The phrase originates from subtweet which is a tweet mentioning a Twitter user without using their actual username resulting in it going unnoticed to them. Subtweets are usually used for negative or insulting tweets; the person being mentioned won’t ordinarily even see the subtweet. Sometimes when Kenyans on Twitter notice what appears as a subtweet, even without knowing who it is directed to they will react. Reactions could include a phrase e.g. vroom! added to the tweet or a reply saying park that subaru right there, or even just quote a tweet while adding an image of a Subaru vehicle to express their recognition of a subtweet. At times, once a member of KOT spots a Subaru they’ll copy the suspected victim of the subtweet into the tweet just to see the ensuing conflict or conversation.

  • Q is for #Quails
    Kenya was taken by storm following a craze around quail farming. The fad saw Kenyans invest millions of shillings expecting great returns in a perceived scarcity. Tales of the fabled health benefits of eating quail eggs were touted by suppliers and traders on social media. The meat and eggs of quails overnight became a delicacy capturing the curiosity of the nation. No sooner had Kenyans began to throw money at the industry acquiring licenses, birds and eggs wholesale, than the quail bubble popped with the purported health benefits being debunked as myths and the actual market demand turning out to be grossly inflated. Quails remain symbolism for a fad or baseless trends in Kenyan digital society.
  • R is for #Rongai
    Ongata Rongai is a settlement and suburb in Kajiado County also known as Rongai or Rongaa for short. The butt of many a joke online, Kenyans on Twitter often associate Rongai with being out of reach and out of touch. Sometimes it is referred to as ‘diaspora’ thanks to the distance from Nairobi County and talk of using passports to travel there being joked about. Rongai’s traffic jams and high public transport fares have seen it stay notorious online despite a growing population in the suburb. Prior to the roads improving and being expanded, there was the association with wildlife (part of the route to Rongai involves passing beside the Nairobi National Park) and in Kenya’s general election of March 2013, jokes involving delayed results or Rongai as its own sovereign county were common.
  • S is for #SomeoneTell
    Kenyans on Twitter have picked battles with international media and often galvanise, putting aside daily disagreements and differences of opinion to rally as a country united by the hashtag #SomeoneTell whenever a big enough threat appears.

    When CNN initially misreported details of a grenade attack in the city in 2012, Kenyans tweeted criticising the broadcaster and reportage using #SomeoneTellCNN. The media station took notice with the journalist in question issuing an apology on their behalf. A year later, CNN would be at fault once again in 2013 during the March 2013 General Election and issue a subsequent apology for the farcical story on supposed militants preparing for violence.

    Kenyans have battled digital citizens of other African nations severally. #SomeoneTellUganda was born after a newspaper article posed that President Uhuru Kenyatta was a relative of a Ugandan king. #SomeoneTellBotswana began after the Foreign Affairs minister said their country wouldn’t cooperate with the Kenyan president-elect because of his indictment by the International Criminal Court. #SomeoneTellNigeria, #SomeoneTellSouthAfrica and even Kenyan political figures and stories have seen Kenyans on Twitter rally around the #SomeoneTell hashtag to pass a point across.

  • T is for #Tujuane
    Urban reality dating show Tujuane (Swahili: let’s get to know one another) has proven to be a show that consistently sustains the attention of Kenyans on Twitter. Described in Nendo’s 2014/2015 Social Media Trend Report[1] the ensuing surge of tweets coinciding with the broadcast of the TV show is something to marvel at.

    The spike in activity of Twitter conversations prove Tujuane is a prime case of ‘Social TV’ in Kenya. Typically the contestants on the show get judged, praised, criticised, often ridiculed and even cyber-bullied as the show goes on as viewers follow proceedings online and offline.

  • U is for #UhuRuto
    A portmanteau for the Jubilee Administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto, this descriptor first emerged during the March 2013 General Election on the campaign trail as the two candidates sought to appeal to young voters. Since then it’s often used to describe the administration as a whole and the pair of leaders particularly in the terse Twitter age. The #UhuRuto campaign focused on positioning the President and Deputy President and their coalition as a digital government with campaign promises to that effect including laptops for all Standard 1 (first grade) children. Kenyans on Twitter continue to engage with the Office of the Presidency with Deputy President Ruto on more than one occasion in 2013 taking to dialogue through a live Twitter chat with Kenyans on Twitter on national matters.
  • V is for @VeraSidika
    Model, video vixen and party host Vera Sidika shot to the global limelight following her undergoing a skin lightening treatment that set Kenyans on Twitter ablaze with discussion on her motivation and appearance. Local media and television shows followed and eventually so did global media attention with some even describing her as “Kenya’s Kim Kardashian.”

    Vera is a Twitter personality that Kenyans on Twitter may not follow but they’ve certainly heard about. Her love life, party appearances and lifestyle continue to be a subject of discussion across blogs and cyberspace, not to mention in the global debate with people of colour on skin bleaching and lightening.

  • W is for #Westgate
    Nairobi’s Westgate Mall attack in September 2013 plunged the country into a dark moment in history with the siege, shooting and terror that gripped the country. The hashtag was a source of continuous real-time updates, some including those trapped in the mall as the siege was underway, while others scrambled to find whatever information they could and photographs shared from first-responders and journalists at the scene went viral.

    The attack, perpetrated by radical Islamist group Al Shabaab, saw the militant group use Twitter to share updates mocking Kenyans on Twitter and security forces while the siege was underway. The Kenya government through the Army Spokesman @MajorEChirchir and @InteriorKE – Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government sought to keep Kenyans calm.

    Notably, Kenyan blogger @RobertAlai acted as a curator of one of the most up-to-date timelines of the siege with many looking to him amidst the taunts from the terrorist and government reassurances. One year later, it remains one of Kenya’s darkest moments, both online and offline but it did give birth to #WeAreOne a hashtag that sought to rally Kenyans across the nation to stand firmly behind the country, the flag and national values in the face of the crisis.

  • X is for #Xaxa/#Xema
    Kenya’s teenagers, like their peers the world over have taken to “txtspk” or SMS language with the country developing its own distinct style that includes Swahili, vernacular and sheng (Kenyan slang) words interpreted and abbreviated for the digital age. Words such as sasa (Swahili: Hi) and sema (Swahili: hey/how’s it going?) are instead written as xaxa and xema. The x often replacing s in text speak.

    In Kenya, SMS language is even at times longer and harder to spell or read out than the original sets of words. Kenyans on Twitter frown upon the use of text speak despite Twitter’s 140 character limit and are quick to parade, ignore or whip at those who defer to tweeting this way.

  • Y is for #Yego
    ulius Yego, is a Kenyan track-and-field athlete who competes in the javelin throw. Growing up, Yego would watch YouTube videos of world-renowned athletes – learning and improving his technique. Yego’s story and his triumph in the javelin in a nation known more for long-distance runners endeared him to the nation. His time watching videos online teaching himself earned him the nickname The YouTube Athlete used in a marketing campaign for a telecommunications company in Kenya .

    In Glasgow in August of 2014 during his maiden Commonwealth Games appearance, Yego injured himself in his warm up. His recovery and performance ended up winning him Kenya’s first javelin gold medal in the history of Commonwealth Games. He remains an inspiration to Kenyans on Twitter and across social media.

  • Z is for #ZeroChills
    To have ‘chills’ is to know when to exercise social restraint in a bad or unfavourable situation; to know when not to kick a man when he’s down. Therefore, to exhibit #ZeroChills on Twitter is seen when a post or update shows no remorse whatsoever for the subject. It is often an attack that is seen to go beyond what is socially acceptable. When deemed to be harsh (often in humour or being curt and direct) one can say they’ve got negative chills or a complete lack of them.

    A tweet or update on digital media update that has Zero Chills as a response to a tragic and unfortunate situation or come unexpected and be just as brutal or unfortunate in and of itself. Especially in situations where insult is added to injury, Zero Chills is the call of the innocent bystander to share their bemusement and is used often when sarcasm and wit are taken to deep and much harsher levels, at times more than necessary or expected.

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