Inside Kenya’s booming podcast scene

From Chatham House:

I am eating a pre-hiking meal of oatmeal with espresso on the side at a local coffee house while waiting for my hiking buddies to join me at 7am on a Sunday. Even though it is January, we are experiencing an intense heatwave and I am trying to calculate how many litres of water I will need to face the challenge ahead.

The plan is to trek the 16km-plus out-and-back route through the seven Ngong Hills, lying in the Great Rift Valley about an hour from Kenya’s capital. During the group catch-up beforehand, I give a quick rundown of my latest favourite podcasts and remember one I had come across that Emily, an avid art lover, would enjoy, Art Fraud.

The smartphone revolution

Storytelling is a core part of Kenya’s history and a surge in the number of podcasts in the region comes as no surprise. We love a good story. Podcasts are especially popular with the under-35s living in urban areas.

Improved technology coupled with better access to the internet and more user-friendly software have led to a boom in podcasting. This is helped by the growth in 4G and 5G wireless access available in parts of Nairobi and its outskirts.

Smartphones are the real reason the popularity of podcasts has taken off. In Kenya, 46 per cent of connections were made by smartphones in 2021 and this is predicted to grow to 68 per cent by 2025, according to figures from the GSM Association, which represents the interests of the mobile network industry.

According to a podcasting report by Baraza Media Lab, which I work for, and made in collaboration with Africa Podfest, some of the most popular themes in podcasts are culture, media and the arts, health and wellness, current affairs and news, science and technology and business in that order.

People listen to them while carrying out their daily tasks such as working out, running errands, on the commute to-and-from work or school, or in their leisure time. It is an exercise that continually raises awareness, entertains, educates and helps unravel some of the most complex issues from around the world.

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Spotify’s popularity increased when it teamed up with the mobile money service Mpesa which is available to anyone with a registered SIM card and a mobile phone.

This mobile money payment option is used by millions of Kenyans each day and it allows more customers to buy audio and streaming services. Other streaming platforms demanded debit or credit card details, or PayPal and E-wallet apps which are rarely used in the region, for the prepaid option.

With as many as 68 languages spoken in Kenya, podcasts are now being produced in Sheng’, Kamba, Maasai, Kikuyu, Kiswahili and Luo among others.

While radio is still the most popular medium for news and entertainment, audio storytellers are using podcasts to share topics that range from local and global news, politics, money management, sex education, lifestyle to sports and that cater to their audience profile.

Podcasts have provided a platform for women, young people, disabled people, LGBT+ groups and other marginalized communities to share their experiences without editorial distortions that can apply on mainstream media platforms. This moves away from Kenya’s traditional media platforms that are mostly privately owned, supported by large budgets and studio-structured production and which rely on advertising to hold their bottom line.

Link to the rest at Chatham House