Family WhatsApp group: The good the bad and the ugly
By Brian Guserwa | January 27th 2022 | 6 min read
WhatsApp is wonderful. It’s brilliant. It’s groundbreaking and has changed the family unit. Forget days when aunties would wait for chama meetings to gossip about you dumping the ka-light you brought home for Easter two years ago.
This is despite the fact they sneered and hated her after she politely asked if there was extra toilet paper in the ‘washroom.’ Thanks to family WhatApp groups, such issues about who dumped whom are now discussed online...with no care in the world.
Woe unto you if you have not finished paying bride price and your wife brings up such a discussion on a hot Sunday afternoon. So, yes, family WhatsApp groups are like the families: Witty, funny, useful, annoying, supportive, loving, nagging, prone to misunderstandings and moments of occasional hilarity. Always there, whether you want to be part of them or not. You can mute them any time you like. But you can never leave!
Here are some of the distinct types of characters you will find in every group.
Every group has its bully. They are typically aggressive and combative, always looking to liven things up when the group is too silent. He will wake everyone up with a political message and dare them to challenge him. Whenever there is a discussion within the group, the bully will talk over everyone else. He is often bossy and rude, dismissing others because he knows best. The bully is typically the cause of drama and fights within the group.
In most cases, he will be that cousin of yours who dropped out in Class Eight to run grandpa’s butchery, but has drowned all the profits in chang’aa and tu wannabe slay queens twa ocha.
The way groups are structured means conversation drifts around various random topics. Not all of them will be relevant to every group member. As such, there is often one member of the group whose contributions consist almost entirely of complaints. When the group is too active, they will complain about the incessant notifications.
When it goes too silent, they are the first to ask members to changamka. On the personal front, they never hesitate to spill their problems in the group. “But this our economy is killing us,” they will post on a Monday morning. The first place they go to lament about power rationing is not KPLC’s Twitter page, but the family group, where their pain will be felt more deeply.
There is always that one person who shows up to the discussion three hours after it has cooled down. Whether it is because they are not constantly online or because their notifications do not work, they come late to the party, commenting on the hot topic after everyone has moved on.
Their jokes and forwarded memes are a few months old, meaning most people have already seen them, and can only respond with a sympathetic lol!
Then there is the unfortunate member who just cannot figure out this WhatsApp business, so the app keeps uninstalling...they are always leaving and rejoining the group.
The black sheep
Often, the black sheep of the family does not even know their status. It could be anyone, from the perennial drunk, who slept naked in the verandah last Christmas, and whose house can lack drinking water but never alcohol. Or it could be cousin David and his inability to keep a wife. Other family members peel away from the main group and form side groups where they discuss how to deal with the black sheep.
Should they invite him to the upcoming function? What if he scares the children or does something inappropriate? What can they do to at least get him back on his feet? Ironically, this person is usually not bothered by their ‘condition’. It’s not a drinking problem; he can stop whenever he wants, so he thinks.
The rich also find themselves in family WhatsApp groups, even if they have difficulty keeping up across multiple devices.
They rarely have time to engage in the groups, but when they ‘drop by’, they never fail to remind the rest of the family just how successful they are. They post photos of newly imported cars, trips to foreign lands and recently acquired Sh30,000 shoes. They are always bragging about their kids; how cute they are, how they are just as smart as their parents. Until examination results are released, that is, and then their son’s 330 marks are suddenly a sore topic. In the event of a fundraising, the loaded relatives usually lead the way, too, with hefty contributions.
The church mouse
The same quiet, shy people who sit at the back during family gatherings also take a back seat in the WhatsApp group. They operate on the kula kwa macho principle. They see it all, but they say nothing. Even when the group erupts into chaos with insults flying left, right and centre, they keep mum, watching and shaking their heads. Usually, family groups tend to keep their membership tight, only allowing immediate family members in.
When someone sneaks in with their wife or husband, that in-law lives like a Form One student, speaking only when spoken to. But these people are not to be taken lightly. They usually have explosive gossip on the family that they can detonate when pushed against the wall.
The fighter is the loose cannon of the family. They are fearless and bold, always at the heart of fights and arguments. In the heat of battle, they will gladly reveal whose wife likes smiling suggestively at boda boda operators, and which household is on a steady cabbage diet.
They are very familiar with family dynamics, so they throw themselves into every argument armed to the teeth with history and fact. Anything can set them off, even a single mention of their favourite team. When things get too hot, the admin is often forced to evict them from the group and bring them back later.
Most family WhatsApp groups are started around a family function or event. Funerals, weddings, ruracios and graduation ceremonies all need planning, which necessitates the formation of the group. Naturally, the discussion often turns to making contributions. It is in these moments that the true nature of family members is revealed.
Pay attention the next time someone mentions contributing money; if you look keenly, you will see the stingy ones backing away slowly, and then leaving ‘due to technical difficulties’. These members will never give out a single cent, no matter what it is for. It’s not that they don’t have the money; they are just naturally tight-fisted.
Contrary to the stingy members, the real heroes of the family WhatsApp groups are the perpetually broke members. Their wallets are always empty, their phones only surviving thanks to the neighbour’s WiFi.
Everyone understands their situation, so when something comes up, they sneak away into sub-groups to discuss how they can help their brother. No one asks anything of him. If they sense he is feeling pressured, they suggest that the contributions be carried out without posting to the group.
Every group has that member who will not rest until everyone accepts Christ as their personal saviour. It is often everyone’s favourite aunt, who goes to church every day and is part of three other WhatsApp prayer cells.
Their contribution to the group varies between posting long, copied-and-pasted messages meant to shame group members into salvation, and quietly judging them for their heathen ways. They quote scriptures at will, much to the annoyance of the other family members. When side groups are formed, a big part of their appeal is that people can say whatever they want without the wrath of God descending on them.
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