African Echo: Zambia, our friendly meme nation
by Mukandi Siame (@Mukandii) In older forgotten times, you had to meet someone and shake their hand to know them. To understand them, you went a step further; you visited their home, met their children and shared a meal. Walking into a person’s home is an intimate act. You catch the natural scent that clings to all the furniture; you see glimpses of their memories on the photos hanging on the walls. From their taste in art to the quirky little things they never throw away, walking into someone’s home allows you to know them.
Today, knowing someone is easier and faster. All you need is the correct spelling of their name to type into a search engine and you are immediately in touch with their presence, their interests and their being. Is it still intimate? I don’t know. There are things we learn online that we’d never learn in person and the opposite is also true.
When you type “Zambia” into a search engine, you walk into its home. You’re instantly greeted with tourist-friendly imagery of the Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River. There are cityscapes with our humble Findeco House jutting upward and a few photos that smell like politics. If you have a good eye, you can catch Will Smith being a tourist in Zambia.
I once met an American lady who visited Zambia only because she typed “the real Africa” into a search engine and Zambia came up. She booked a flight and was so happy with what she found that she decided to move here permanently. The gravity of her life decision made me wonder what other faces Zambia had and what else would appear online. Would she have made the same decision if a flood of Zambian memes appeared instead of a graceful hippo relaxing in the Zambezi?
The internet is a wonderful place. The organic progression we’ve made in adapting the use of Google and social media into our daily lives allows for a higher level of interaction and discourse. There’s more to talk about, more to share, simply because there’s more to see.
When you type Zambian memes into a search engine, you soon realise that Zambia has become a gated community with many houses you could walk in. Each social media platform has its own demographic of users and each individual user has interesting things to say.
I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes I don’t watch the news. The news finds me in a meme and I learn how much the nation spent on fire trucks, who got kicked out of cabinet and which mayor was dozing in parliament. Memes have taught people to spell and act in public because everybody wants to laugh at a meme but nobody wants to become one.
When the term “meme” was birthed by biologist, Richard Dawkins, he was right to assume that memes would be a key form of how cultural information spreads by imitation. Within internet culture, the term is commonly used to refer to phrases, videos, images, or a combination thereof, that are widely propagated by internet users. Memes have become specific internet artifacts that hallmark special moments in film, media and life. The main construct is humour and there is a meme about anything and everything — even memes about memes.
Zambian memes have exposed the underbelly of culture. They are formed when people encounter something that they must share in the way one would share gossip with a close friend. There’s a form of intimacy shared in laughter, relatability and seeing your world through someone else’s eyes. Is love even love if you can’t share memes? Memes are the paintings on our walls showing who we are, where we have come from and where we are going.
The statistics on internet penetration, device usage and internet service provision in Zambia stand as testament to the different people who can now get a say in what describes the nation. For some, Zambia is still old-fashioned; for others, Zambia is a young nation with room for discovery and growth. Memes reflect the discussions that happen around public service, the economy, local events and politics. Global trends are instantly appropriated and shared, so everyone is caught up in them. In the world where information is power, we all have the power. Social media and meme culture have made it easier to move faster — together.
Brands and corporations alike are part of the meme culture by blending memes into marketing strategies and riding the viral wave to achieve their awareness goals. Memes are highly relatable, always trendy and a back-pocket tool for quickwitted marketers.
The delightful part about memes is that the good ones don’t even need high-quality stock images. It’s always the same cat with angry eyes, the same guilty dog, the popular baby or the Kermit the Frog we’ve known for years. Memes are born out of relatable, human moments that people capture and immortalise.
The Egyptians left us hieroglyphics that point to the lives they lived and what mattered in their society. In a strange, offhand way, memes do the same thing for our generation. Zambia is still a friendly nation. Zambia is still the real Africa but, now, we have memes on our walls that tell the story of who we are.
Mukandi Siame (@Mukandii) is building a whole new world as the social media executive at Adlab in Zambia, part of FCB Africa. Having held media and communications roles in the events management industry, she has had experience of interacting with the private and public sector in ways that give her perspective and interest in the human experience. Mukandi has a passion for impactful storytelling, fostering her team’s growth and sparking thoughtful discussions. African Echo seeks to unpack markets in Africa, highlight business opportunities and share insights into what works and what rebounds.
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