TikTok, gaining huge popularity in Kenya, faces a ban in America



Mathias Keya, best known as Makokha Dot Makacha from his role in the comedy series Vioja Mahamani, recently uploaded a funny video online.

“Mlikuwa mnafikiri sitaingia kwa Tuk-Tuk? Saa hii niko kwa tik-tuk-tuka-tik-ti. (You thought I wouldn’t join Tuk-Tuk? Now I am on tik-tuka-tuk-tik-ti),” he said in the video, looking at the camera in his trademark hard stare.

He was not referring to the three-wheeled vehicles nicknamed tuk-tuks. He was talking about TikTok – a social media platform from China whose popularity keeps soaring in Kenya and across the world, making celebrities and stoking controversies along the way.

That video is among the 14 that Makokha has uploaded on his TikTok account, and some 24,000 users on the platform have clicked on a heart sign on the right of the video to indicate they like it.

That Makokha, an old hand in comedy, is active on TikTok partly describes this video-based application. It is fast becoming a handy tool for comedians who want to connect with younger, impatient audiences. By default, a TikTok video lasts 15 seconds. That requires whoever is making the video to ensure it packs a punch within that short duration. It also means that bland content is quickly glossed through as the user scrolls to more interesting content.



“Our mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy,” TikTok say of themselves on their website. “It’s… video storytelling told in 15 seconds.”

If you ever thought 15 seconds is too short a time, you have not heard of Azziad Nasenya, the actress who is arguably the best example of how TikTok can launch someone’s career.

In April, Azziad was making prime use of TikTok, which is to make a video on top of an audio track. This track happened to be a song titled Utawezana by Mejja (Mejja Meme Hadhija) and Femi One (Wanjiku Kimani). The novelty of the sound and the face dancing to it, plus the moves Azziad pulled, left many a viewer in awe and the clip went viral. In a few days, it wasn’t just 15 seconds of fame but stardom for Azziad.

Today, she is starring in TV shows, running online promotions, appearing in music videos, and shooting more TikTok videos. Last week she was the talk of the town after a chart emerged showing how much she is charging to promote brands — starting from Sh30,000 to mention a brand on a YouTube video to Sh500,000 for a monthly brand engagement package across various platforms.

Azziad told myNetwork magazine in April that she prefers TikTok because of its design.

“TikTok has everything I need. I can lip-sync, act, dance and make funny clips, and it has provisions for all that. It is a platform in which you will rarely be trolled. Everyone and anyone can be who they are. There is less judgment there and a lot more freedom to be creative and original,” she said. (See interview with her in Buzz today, right ahead).

A survey conducted between February and March this year, and which involved 9,728 Kenyans aged between 14 and 55 across from 17 counties, showed that TikTok is fast gaining ground in Kenya.

According to the survey, which was carried out by the United States International University (USIU)-Africa, The most used platform as per the survey was WhatsApp at 89 per cent. TikTok — which has been downloaded a billion times by Android users across the world — was 10th on the log with 8.6 per cent usage, above Skype, Pinterest and Vimeo.

Researchers said this was an indicator of growing usage.


“We find new types of social media being accessed locally that did not have much following before, including TikTok, IMO, Likee, Vskit, Telegram and Vimeo,” said the researchers. They found that Kenyans in the 21-25 age bracket were the highest users of Tiktok, with 42.4 per cent of them actively using the platform.

In terms of gender, more females (53.6 per cent) than males (46.4 per cent) used TikTok. And in terms of location, Kenyans in urban areas (67.9 per cent) were more prevalent TikTok users than those in rural areas (32.1 per cent).

The fact that it allows making of videos that can be downloaded and shared across social media platforms, and the fact that it delivers everything in video, might explain the appeal to urban crowds that have faster Internet connections and better purchasing power to access data bundle-intensive content.

Also, a number of Kenyan stars are present on the network. When you scroll through TikTok, you are likely to come across material uploaded by some of the familiar faces in Kenya’s entertainment scene.

Among them are Churchill Show comedians Sammy Kioko and Stella “Jemutai” Koitie. You will also find Celestine Gachuhi and Yasmin Said, the main actresses in the TV series Selina and Maria, respectively. Comedians like Flaqo, George Kagwe and Teacher Wanjiku are also prominent users of TikTok.

The Sunday Nation spoke with some of the platform’s users who had different aspects to share about TikTok.

Mark Mwangi is a student at Kenyatta University who creates short skits about his memories and experience both in high school and university. He uploaded his first video around June 2019 and was encouraged by the fact that some people downloaded it to use it elsewhere. Currently, his following on TikTok stands at 72,900, with 1.8 million video “likes” in total.

“I mostly create relatable skits that make people remember the different situations that happened to them while in high school. You know, sleeping in class, getting late for preps and all that. The feedback I have been getting has been overwhelming,” he said.

“I heard Gary V, a public speaker, say that TikTok was going to be a big platform even surpassing Instagram. I didn’t want to be left behind,” he added, laughing.

Mwangi records and uploads up to three videos in a day.

“Some are original skits while some are memes. I’m a one-man team. Surprisingly, I take just five to 10 minutes to record and edit. But that usually depends on the length of the video. I get an average of 6,000 views per video,” he said.

Then there is Ebru TV host Karleen Lydia, who posted her first TikTok video in January after interviewing a popular TikTok content creator, Dziero.

“I record about four or five videos in a week, which I think is a low number for me. I’m definitely working on improving that,” she said.

“My average viewership is around 3,000 per video. However, the videos are more popular on my Instagram account, something that works well for me as a content creator,” she added.

Through the attention Azziad’s video gave to Utawezana, TikTok showcased its ability to promote new songs. According to musician DNG (Davidson Ngibuini), who is also into marketing, the platform is offering new frontiers to artistes.

“The good thing with emerging media is that there is no limit to which application you can use or how you can engage with your fans or your consumers,” he said.


“Because Azziad was dancing so nicely, the song got prominence. And I think this is also a challenge to other artistes who are putting out content to engage even common people. You don’t have to be a celebrity to make it today in Kenya.”

However, advertisers in Kenya appear reluctant to embrace TikTok as one of its marketing channels, as revealed by Mr Dennis Kioko, a creative at Digital Media Kenya, a digital marketing agency in Nairobi.

“When you mention advertising on TikTok to any client, they tend to shy away. The clients don’t consider it professional,” Mr Kioko told the Sunday Nation. “They prefer you advertise for them through Facebook, Instagram — the well-known ones.”

He, nonetheless, predicted that the trend will change in future.

“I am sure TikTok is going to be one of the biggest advertising platforms, especially if you are targeting youth aged from 14 to 25,” said Mr Kioko.

But as it gains acceptance among the young and trendy, TikTok (called Douyin in its home country of China) has been the subject of scrutiny from governments and general users.

In the US, officials at the White House said two weeks ago that they were mulling an imposition of restrictions against TikTok; to place it in the same list as Huawei products. The US alleges data privacy risks in the move.

But Mr Zak Doffman, a security and surveillance writer with Forbes, noted in a July 18 article that the reasons are more political because TikTok doesn’t inherently do anything that other social media platforms do not.

“All social media does the same,” he wrote.

The jitters are because TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese entity which was recently valued at more than $75 billion, according to the New York Times.

“TikTok has done all it can to protect against the allegations now being thrown out by the US administration. In reality, there is little more it can do while Chinese-owned,” stated Mr Doffman.

President Donald Trump said Friday he will bar the app from the United States as American authorities have raised concerns the service could be a tool for Chinese intelligence.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump said: “As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States.”

He added he would take action as soon as yesterday using emergency economic power or an executive order. However, it was unclear how such a move may be enforced.

TikTok declined to comment on the reports of the forced sales, saying only: “We are confident in the long-term success of TikTok.

TikTok users reacted furiously to the news, telling fans to follow them on different platforms and criticising the president.

The popularity of the platform surged after ByteDance acquired US-based app Musical.ly in 2017 and merged it with its own video service.

Earlier reports had suggested that Microsoft was in talks to acquire TikTok, which could be valued in the tens of billions of dollars, but Trump’s move would scupper such a purchase.

India has already barred TikTok over national security and privacy concerns while other countries are reportedly mulling similar measures.

As it faces political and social challenges, it remains to be seen whether TikTok will grow to continue giving room for the likes of Makokha Dot Makacha to continue entertaining fans.

“Saa hii niko kwa tik-tuk-tuka-tik-ti… ah wachana nayo. Na kama hamtaki kunifuata, wachaneni na mimi nitafuta kila kitu,” he joked to his 23,000 followers in a recent video.

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