LOL in Africa – Social Media as a Channel for Satire


The "LOL" panelists

African comedians from Zimbabwe and Botswana, Siyanda Mohutsiwa, Tongai Leslie Makawa, Comrade Fatso, Michael Simbarashe Kudakwashe und Godfrey "Gado" Mwampembwa, and producer Jerome Weathers spoke about the spread of satire through social media channels in the "LOL – Laugh Out Loud!" panel at the MEDIA CONVENTION Berlin. One example is the satire show "Zambezi News", which is banned on state television, but which has still managed to find a wide audience and become very popular thanks to platforms such as Facebook und WhatsApp.

A lady wearing a bonnet plunges a t-shirt into bubbles of foam and tries to scrub the stains out. "Do you often get stains from pesky journalists? Do you get marks from dirty opposition parties? – Then you need sovereignty" she says and, with a big smile, presents a washing detergent. The ad is commenting on the authoritarian regime in Zimbabwe. The speakers onstage laugh, including the producer of the ad, Jerome Weathers. He had the idea for the satire show "Zambesi News", which parodies state television. Thousands of people in Zimbabwe regularly watch the show. Thousands of people, even though it's been banned by state television. The first episode of the show was circulated on DVD in 2011. The breakthrough came thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp. "Those are the most important content platforms", says Weathers. Today, a South African TV Channel broadcasts the Zambesi News. People all over Africa can watch the satirical show now thanks to cable TV.

Sitting onstage is math student Siyanda Mohutsiva, from Botswana. In July of 2015, she started the hashtag #ifafricawasabar.
One of the first tweets was:
#ifAfricawasabar Lesotho would be that guy drinking one bottle of beer the whole night while asking people to come out back & share a joint
The hashtag went viral with 60,000 tweets flooding in, like:
#ifafricawasabar China would be its main supplier
#ifafricawasabar Tanzania would be ordering bottles it won't be able to pay.

The result: Young people from all over Africa came together, networked, and, thanks to Twitter, their voices were also heard outside of Africa. Smartphones are triggering a revolution in Africa, all the speakers agree. Social media channels allow for a freedom of opinion and speech that isn't possible otherwise.

"In Zimbabwe we say 'there’s freedom of expression, but no freedom after expression'" explains Jerome Weathers. He and his colleagues are continuously controlled and threatened by state institutions. "That shows, they are watching our show" Weathers says and laughs. Meet censorship with satire.

Image: re:publica/Gregor Fischer (CC BY 2.0)