Josephine Karianjahi is an international development consultant and podcaster from Nairobi, Kenya. As the Co-Director of Africa Podfest and host of the ‘This I Can Do’ podcast, Ms. Karianjahi fosters social change through collaboration and inclusivity in podcasting. In this article, she details the mission of Africa Podfest and the challenges facing African podcasters:
The idea for Africa Podfest, a community-centered platform, grew out of my and my co-founder’s own podcasting experiences at a time when African voices were nearly impossible to find in the global podcast space.
Africa Podfest is a women-led company based in Kenya, developing an African audio environment. With a focus on African podcasters, our platform works collectively to elevate the rich variety of African stories which have yet to become standard fare in mainstream media outlets.
We strive to empower all the African podcasters who as young people, people with disabilities, women, people without money and LGBT+ communities have embraced the medium as content creators and listeners.
African-produced podcasts have been around for a little over a decade. Since my co-founder Melissa Mbugua started tracking their growth in 2018, their numbers have grown steadily between 2017 and 2021.
Podcasters can be found today across the continent – from Egypt to South Africa, Nigeria to Kenya. Our crowd-sourced African Podcast Database has been running since 2019 and the number of submissions keeps growing. Previously, most listeners of African podcasts were in the diaspora, but this trend is shifting as more locally based Africans are being introduced to the medium.
Plans to gather
When the pandemic shut down the world in 2020, newly-written regulations forced us to cancel our inaugural in-person Africa Podfest festival which was set to gather podcasters from across Africa with friends of African podcasting from around the world who shared our excitement.
Shifting the festival from in-person to virtual while remaining focused on community and connections steered us to build truly enriching virtual podcast gatherings.
When we look back at the history of podcasting in Africa, we will see 2020 as a year of African podcast launches and a substantial rise in interest in African podcasting. Significant work and life changes meant that more producers could carve out time to create and tell stories through podcasts.
The first Africa Podcast Day was launched on February 12, 2020 to celebrate everything we love about African podcasting. African podcasters embraced the day, validating our early research (2018 to date) beyond our expectations. There were even more African podcasters and podcast enthusiasts than we thought!
Moreover, podcast listeners were responding positively to the content from African podcast creators and connecting directly with them online, and demanding more content. While 2020 saw record growth in the popularity of podcasts and podcast creation, it also enabled the growth in visibility of African podcasters on the world stage.
From first-time podcasts launching in several African countries to a marked increase in the number of African podcasts featured in contests such as the Google Podcasts creator programme to the launch in early 2021 of a BBC-funded podcast incubator for Kenyan, Nigerian and South African podcasters, a lot has changed.
Two out of the three selected African winners in the Google Podcasts creator programme - ‘Letters to Boys’ podcast (from Nigeria) and ‘Contes et Légendes du Queeristan’ (from Cameroon/Canada) - launched in mid-2020.
Still, a challenge
Despite this progress, podcasting in Africa remains hard. Often funded from personal savings, a podcast production often drains African podcasters, many who had hoped that podcasting would one day become their livelihood. For example, podcast production can cost anywhere from $1,000 per episode to $12,000 for a full season of 12 episodes. Even then, there are also national podcast registration costs in some countries, as well as annual licenses.
Across languages and regions, their tenuous success is subject to various country-specific taxes, regulations, and access to electricity. Affordable internet varies depending on which African country they live in.
Nevertheless, African pioneers of podcasting persist, aptly capturing African stories (Inside Wants Out – a pan-African mother tongue poetry podcast), becoming keepers of history (Zambia’s Leading Ladies podcast) and making missing Africans visible (investigative podcasts Alibi – South Africa and Case Number Zero – Kenya). While grants and prizes provide much needed recognition and fiscal support, much more can and should be done.
Growth in community
Motivated by our passion for bringing together the African podcast community. Africa Podfest and Podfest Cairo co-hosted the first African podcaster Roll Call to shout out and acknowledge African podcasters during last year’s International Podcast Day on 30 September.
With participant submissions from our combined communities, seeing each other through recorded and live introductions and exploration set the stage for our second live collaboration in November titled Coping with COVID. Through the lived experiences of podcasters from Angola, Nigeria, Egypt, among others, we explored the ways the pandemic drove the growth of African podcasting.
For example, ‘Pasha’ - a podcast from the Conversation Africa, shares academic insights on the pandemic from the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. A recent episode featured a new app which helps COVID-19 frontline workers with mental health information.
For younger listeners, the ‘Thandi and Captain Stay Safe’ podcast centres around two cartoon characters developed by the digital platform Food For Mzansi, and keeps South African children informed about COVID-19. Besides a two-part children’s story, adults can also look forward to candid interviews helping them to navigate the pandemic.
Community Knowledge Exchange
We believe in frequent and regular community gatherings where we talk and listen to each other. Our Africa Podfest Live series has taken us from Johannesburg to Cairo enabling podcasters to share country-specific insights into the complexities of podcasting in and around Africa, including sporadic electric power, regulatory costs, lack of podcasting support and the challenge of maintaining consistency when the biggest motivator is your own passion, not a cheque.
Among the featured podcasters have been Jo Güstin, a Cameroonian creative in Canada whose podcast Contes et Légends du Queeristan, is a weekly non-erotic queer philosophical tale that helps woke people fall asleep with a smile on their faces.
Egyptian Riham Jarjour (Rihamiat podcast) talked about her experience living in Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt, which transformed her weekly Arabic language podcast on motherhood and lifestyle to speak to a broader audience in Egypt and beyond.
Changing the game
Coming together as African podcasters shows us how a large part of making our voices heard successfully involves making podcasts with diverse voices.
Innovation has marked every step of the expansion of digital access in Africa, and this helps African podcasters cope with the challenges they face - especially in their modes of distribution.
From creating shorter shows for easier distribution on WhatsApp (Africa Check’s anti-misinformation podcast – What’s Crap on WhatsApp), opting for more pocket-friendly podcast incubation studios like Kenya’s SemaBOX and the incorporation of slang, local languages and storytelling into podcasts, we are reworking the podcast model for Africa.