African Culture And Social Media: The Parallels

At the core of the African culture is the idea of community.

Since time immemorial, Africans have always championed the concept of collectiveness in their trading, sharing, and even storytelling. In the 21st century, with the number of internet users growing rapidly, as well as the introduction of high-speed fibre and 4G internet in most African countries, the connection between African culture and social media cannot be ignored.


I recently received a broadcast message on the WhatsApp on my phone from a contact I had not had a conversation with in a while. In one generic message, this brilliant salesperson was able to reach almost all of his contacts at once, even starting conversations with some, like me, who were interested in his products, a method in which I could call an improvement to the drum beating that past generations would do on market days. This is a typical example of how Africans are using social media to trade. On almost every social media platform you will find accounts, groups, pages, and posts advertising something. An affordable, effective and yet a direct way to sell products and services.

Stephen Madisha is a Pretoria-based businessman who sells branded cups for parties and corporate functions. He launched his business on Twitter and uses the same platform for promotions. By creating relatable content and asking people to retweet for awareness, Stephen has managed to grow his business even to cities that he would not reach had it not been for Twitter. “Social media makes it easier to build brands and trust,” says Stephen, who strongly encourages other entrepreneurs without a lot of capital to do the same.

But there are still more ways Africans are cashing in using social media. On platforms like YouTube, content creators with large followings are cashing in bringing forex into their respective countries. For example, in 2014, Kenya’s NTV had over 155 million views, resulting in an estimated bracket of $15,300 to $127,100 annual earnings, while a South African YouTube star is estimated to have earned about $400,000 that same year. Now, whether it is YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, it is encouraging to know that many African content creators are using their skills to earn good money.

What is WhatsApp?

More than 1 billion people in over 180 countries use WhatsApp to stay in touch with friends and family, anytime and anywhere.

And yes, the name WhatsApp is a pun on the phrase What’s Up.

It is a cross-platform instant messaging application that allows iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia smartphone users to exchange text, image, video and audio messages for free.


In February of this year (2017), Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, erupted social media when an image of him attempting to do the dab (a hip hop dance move) was released. Even though Kenya’s Twitter reaction was mostly negative, one could not help but notice the power that social media has in our societies. In as much as we may find fault in their methods or ideology, it is encouraging to see that African leaders, from politics to religion and whatever other spheres there may be, have now realised the impact that social media has and are attempting to use it to communicate. Maybe the revolution won’t really be televised after all.

What is Twitter and Tweeting?

Twitter is an online news and social networking service where users post and interact with messages, “tweets”, restricted to 140 characters. Registered users can post tweets, but those who are unregistered can only read them.

‘Tweeting’ is about broadcasting short messages to the world, with the hope that your messages are useful and interesting to someone. You can think of it as microblogging.

Twitter is also about discovering interesting people online and following their messages.

Conversation (From Trends to Memes)

Africans are increasingly taking advantage of social media to convey and press out their perceptions, anger, hopes, and dreams through these uncensored platforms.  The rapidly-rising magnitude of authentic and complex voices brings up new and innovative ways for accountability from our governments, donors, companies, and religious leaders. It also brings about endless opportunities for knowledge to the masses. With hashtags like #FeesMustFall in South Africa and #BringBackOurGirls in Nigeria, Africa now has a place for herself, her leaders, and the rest of the world.

What’s up with all the #Hashtags?

A hashtag is simply a way to categorise a tweet’s topic. When hashtags first started being used, it was a very organic process that worked simply because of a group mindset that people like to categorise topics and this was one way to make it easier to do so.

Now you can find hashtags across all social media platforms including Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Facebook. Any user can create one simply by adding it to their own message.


Suffix is a music artist from Malawi, a landlocked country in Southern East Africa. His music, a blend of Afro-Pop and Hip-Hop, requires that he collaborates with counterparts from other countries like Nigeria and South Africa if he is to build his brand across the continent. If this was 15 years ago, it would cost an artist like Suffix, travel expenses and accommodation charges for such collaborations. However, due to the power of social media, Suffix recently put out a new single where he featured an upcoming Nigerian singer, Limoblaze.  “It took long chats, free data calls, loads of voice messages and texts,“ said Suffix, who uses social media to promote his music. It’s cheaper. It’s actually funny to think that such speed, quality, and connection can happen without paying thousands of dollars.

The story of Suffix represents how collaborations among creators, in whatever field they may be in, have been accelerated through social media. The African spirit of collaboration has never been easier than now.

What is chatting or online collaboration?

In the world of technology and the internet, online collaboration lets a group of people work together in real-time over the internet without needing to be in the same room at the same time.

Chatting is talking to other people who are using the Internet at the same time you are. Skype is one of the most popular chat programs in the world and has millions of users. Popular mobile messaging apps in Africa include Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Mxit, and don’t forget the already mentioned, Whatsapp.


The late Ghanaian BBC news anchor, Komla Dumor, once said, “The key to reporting on the continent is to let Africans tell their story without imposed assumptions.” As more and more Africans gain access to social media, the demand for original African content will also increase. Though others are creating their own new platforms, many are choosing to use the already-existing social media mediums to tell Africans their own perspectives as Africans. Platforms like NdaniTV, a Nigerian online television channel, have not only gained popularity but have created authentic African content for both Africans and the world to see. It is with such material that assumptions that may have prevented foreign investors from investing are shattered.

What about YouTube?

YouTube gives anyone with a camera the power to share their content. YouTube’s slogan: “Broadcast Yourself” is exactly what millions of young and not-so-young people around the world do every single day! NollywoodLove is a YouTube channel launched by Jason Njoku in 2011 and became the first major internet channel to share full-length African movies. In less than a year, this channel attracted more than one million views from over 200 countries around the world. You too can be a YouTuber!

Moving Forward

Africa has always been a great story-telling continent. More than ever before, we now have an opportunity to shape our own narrative, partner with each other, and in some instances, make money while at it. It’s a great chapter for the Motherland, but even though we may say social media has revolutionized Africa, history shows that the opposite is true – It is Africa that has revolutionized social media.