Melissa and I were both in Kenya doing research on other topics when Makmende became the hot topic online and in public. The video and the resulting meme caught our attention. If Kenyanbloggers and international news organizations like the Wall Street Journal and CNN were discussing Makmende as Kenya’s first internet sensation, we wanted to know why this video, why now, and what does this all say about contemporary Kenya?
In 2010, Kenya’s first internet meme arrived in the form of a vigilante named Makmende, the action-hero-inspired protagonist of a music video. Within days of the video’s release, fans started creating Makmende tales, videos, and artwork, and circulating these works online. In this article, we analyze the Makmende phenomenon to understand why this video inspired Kenya’s first internet meme, what the meme says about contemporary Kenya and politics, and how this meme broadens our understanding of global participatory culture. We argue that a group of young, urban Kenyans seized the moment to reappropriate stereotypes of weakness into aspirations of strength as they asserted Kenya into the global conversation online. Through this meme, Makmende became more than a fictional super hero—he became a symbol of Kenya’s present and future. We situate this meme in its cultural and social context to analyze how and why Kenyans used Makmende to represent themselves. The participatory playfulness around Makmende created a meme of aspiration through which a niche of Kenyans collectively reimagined a hypermasculine hero who embodied youth hopes and visions for the country. This article draws from multiple texts about and within the Makmende meme and observational research in Kenya before, during, and after the height of the Makmende craze.