Stephen Maina Ndegwa.

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When Stephen Maina Ndegwa generated a meme thread, he did not anticipate to gain a massive following on Facebook in just one day. A meme, pronounced meem, is a humorous?image, video, piece of text, or a combination of any two that is easily copied and shared widely by internet users. He had 16 followers on Facebook in 2018, but in just two hours after he shared the meme, the number had hit 2,500. Ndegwa, who studied at Kagumo High School, says his art is apolitical and he did not know what to do to reach a wide audience. He is currently a journalism and mass communications student at Technical University of Mombasa. Ndegwa tried amateur filming when he joined university, using a phone, writing scripts with friends and acting. Later, he unsuccessfully tried to go into radio.

Societal issues

“I knew that I wanted to be in the media. And I wanted to gain a big following by the time I graduated,” says the meme-maker.

One day, he realised that he could use photos to make stories and people could get comic relief from them. The internet was brimming with photos of prominent people and he saw an opportunity to use them to create fun. Once he got the idea of using the photos to generate stories, there was no turning back. He fancied picking photos of prominent figures and used photoshop to insert a caption that was funny and informative, based on trending matters. That way, everyone viewed whatever person he displayed not as the authority or politician, but as one that is thinking like the common man on societal issues. He captioned the photos in a way that people would relate with them without political bias.

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“Fun videos are the most shared on the internet. Memes next. Most of the WhatsApp status shared nowadays are memes,” he says.

But what started as an avenue for making fun might end up being a successful media career with thousands of fans waiting for his daily dose of humour. The soft-spoken Ndegwa captions photos he has picked from various online platforms and then shares them with his 86,000 fans on Facebook. He calls it advertise-meme-nt, because as he makes us laugh, he makes money. Ndegwa has attracted the interest of individuals and companies who pay him to place an ad in a meme thread. In two hours he can make a thread. In a week, five and out of which two could earn him Sh30,000. In a good month, he can make upwards of Sh200,000. To know what trends, he keeps abreast with topics on social media. It is what every meme enthusiast should do, he says. In a recent thread, he picked a photo of President Uhuru Kenyatta at a waterfront, staring, and created a thread, positing that the president might have been battling a series of queries.

“Ukibook vitu via sms, hiyo ndio inaitangwa textbook?” (If you book for goods via sms, is that what we call textbook?)

“Ukikumbuka kitu ulikuwa umesahau, ulikuwa umeisahau kweli?” (If you remember something you had forgotten, had you truly forgotten it?)

Another meme was on the tiff between Kenya and Somalia. “Buda hiyo ndauwo yako nitaipiga moshekii... Nimepea mbogi yako 7 days itoke Somalia! Kata Tenje!” Orders Farmaajo, the Somali president. That means Kenyan delegation is required out of Somalia in a week.

One of Maina Ndegwa's memes.

To which President Kenyatta responds, “We hata huninauwo na kama unajinauwo vile unajinauwo, monchoka ukuje hapa Kanairo ubanje tukuskie!” (If you are tough, come and make these comments in Nairobi).

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Such is the attention to trends that Ndegwa has to have if he is to make his content relevant. “My dream was always to grow bigger than the person of Maina Ndegwa. I am now focused on ensuring that Maina Ndegwa is not only a person that people know can entertain them, but a super brand,” he said behind his mask.

“Blogging will not always be old school. Meme making will be the new art of blogging. Memes are a world of “ifs” and that makes people imagine. I want people to see the world in a different way. To reimagine the world where we can all have fun,” he adds.

 Ndegwa is a part-time data clerk at Teachers Service Commission.