By Jean Pierre Afadhali
Kenya has been cited in a new report as one of three countries in Africa experiencing rapid podcasting growth driven by high access to the internet, oral tradition, and creators’ freedom to tell stories and discuss issues that are not always given space in mainstream media.
According to the report by Africa Podfest, which maps out the present and the future of audio storytelling in Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa are the most developed podcasting markets in Africa. Those countries are also experiencing rapid growth in podcast usage.
Podcast creators are increasingly using the medium to tell stories that interest them and build virtual communities. Some have started podcasts as hobbies and later turned them into businesses, while others simply want to educate society. Journalists from mainstream media use the podcast space to either reach out to a bigger audience or tell stories the outlets they work with don’t give a space. The same mainstream outlets are also tapping into podcasting to widen their reach.
Despite challenges such as data and device affordability, internet access is increasing at a high rate as more people get access to online content, especially using mobile devices. According to statistics from Datareportal, an online data portal, there were 23.35 million internet users in Kenya in January 2022. Kenya’s internet penetration rate stood at 42% of the total population at the start of 2022. Content creators have tapped into online media platforms to start their podcasts. Additionally, media ecosystem players have contributed to the rapid growth of podcasting by providing space for recording and hosting, training workshops, and promotion while others help creators turn their talents into businesses.
Africa Podfest, a Kenya-based organisation that describes itself as a hub of podcasting on the continent, noted in its report that “podcasts are well-positioned to challenge the homogenous narratives because they allow almost anyone to create and distribute content and are often designed with a niche audience in mind.”
Experience and ideas exchange
Sally Kuria, a podcaster based in Nairobi and host of Mama Tales – a podcast about parenting – said she got into podcasting when she became a mother. She said in an interview with Jamlab that she has been a fan of podcasting since she first came across the genre in 2011. However, at that time she had never heard of either an African podcast or a Kenyan one.
Kuria decided to create a podcast to share her experience as a mum. “For the first three episodes, I talked about my experience [ as a mother] with no limit. I then included my husband and he talked about his experience,” Kuria further explained.
Afterward, the amateur podcaster at the time received three requests from people who wanted to talk about parenthood and their journey. The first episode was published in April 2021. Kuria revealed what started as experience sharing is becoming a business.
According to the audio storytelling study, throughout Africa podcasts can be seen as a medium that allows for the constitution of virtual communities; they are essential for cyber advocacy, self-expression and contesting hegemonic representations.
Kuria said her core audience is mothers with young children children. “The thing is a lot of them identify with me because that is where I am at.” She added that her other main audience segment is first-time mothers.
Other creators started podcasts for fun or to pass the time which subsequently became a full-time occupation. They decided to use the medium to talk about topics that interest them and then build an audience. Scriven Usi, a young podcaster from Nairobi, got into podcasting during the Covid-19 period in 2021 as a hobby. “We were all home and I just needed a new hobby and I jumped into it without any strategy, without even knowing how to start a podcast.” Usi’s podcast, Hold My Bone Rock. is a social commentary on news headlines from around the world produced in the satire genre.
According to Usi, podcasting has been a learning experience. “I was a complete amateur. I’m cheap, so I don’t hire anyone to do the marketing, I do it myself, the socials [social media], the editing, I had to learn all of that.”
Kenya’s media ecosystem players have played a significant role in the growth of podcast usage in various ways. For instance, Baraza Media Lab offers space for podcast events such as capacity building or podcasters’ talks in which seasoned hosts tip young and aspiring podcasters.
Recently, Legally Clueless, a popular podcast founded by seasoned media personality Adelle Onyango, hosted a live session at Baraza Media Lab. Onyango, who quit her radio job to start the podcast, explained how podcasts have the ability to serve African consumers who are out of mainstream media.
Adelle cited Afroqueer, a podcast that tells stories of Queer Africans from across the continent and diaspora. “Just look at the popularity of podcasts like Afroqueer, about queer Africans living, loving, surviving and thriving on the African continent and in the diaspora, these are stories and topics that you couldn’t even spell on traditional radio.”
Players such as SemaBox, a podcast production company, contribute to distribution, and content monetisation, one of the important aspects of the relatively new medium in Africa. In an interview with Jamlab, the founder, Dan Aceda said some creators hire the studio and other production services. SemaBox also invests in some creators.
Mainstream media embraces podcasting
Despite success in enabling creators to do podcasting, Aceda says the big challenge is learning because most of podcasters are amateurs. “I would say that we need assistance in learning or training because they [ creators] are amateurs and small and micro creators don’t have knowledge on how to create businesses, even on how to operate in a legal framework.”
Esther Nyandoro, a journalist with The Daily Nation, Kenya’s leading daily newspaper, and her two colleagues created a podcast called Gen Z. The journalist said her team created the podcast because they realised there was a gap in the content that was being published by the media group they work with. “There was not a lot of content that was targeting those aged from 18 to 24,” she said. “So this is a space that we wanted to occupy.”
According to Nyandoro, 11,000 users in Kenya listened to the Gen Z podcast from the first to the seventh episode.
Unlike independent podcast creators who face several technical challenges, Nyandoro said the Gen Z team gets support from their employer. It owns a radio station and a website. They use the studio to record the podcast while the radio producer works on other remaining processes.
Usi further said “I see potential in Africa. It’s [podcasting] a very untapped medium. I think it is a good way of telling our own stories. It also amplifies African stories.”