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Meme Culture Thrives in the DRC despite Internet Shutdowns

Cartoonists in Africa have historically engaged their readers through the use of humour. Their expressions become fodder for conversations in public spaces like crowded buses and bars. In the colonial era, cartoons and popular paintings were instrumental in the struggle for independence in many African countries. There are an estimated 5.3 million active internet users in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). But access to technology is limited to people with the financial means. Because censorship in the country is rife, the online sphere, with its anonymity, provides a platform through which power can be critiqued. There has been an increase in academic interest about circulating digital content. But there’s been virtually no research exploring memes and other viral media in Africa. Beginning in 2017, we began researching memes and their circulation in the DRC’s capital city, Kinshasa. This research has provided some insights into the cultural characteristics of digital images in the DRC. And also how they relate to larger anxieties about social change and foreign interventions and new forms of online connection.