Makeda Mahadeo: Meet the Rwandan YouTube Sensation

While some may argue that we are currently  experiencing  an explosion of private television channels in Africa, on the contrary, the bandwidth explosion combined with the phenomenal decrease in the cost of broadcast equipment and smart phones is leading to a dramatic change of the  way we share and consume information, offering new exciting ways to share stories as well as providing new type of programming, such as vlogs. No one could have imagined that users would take YouTube’s slogan “broadcast yourself” literally. One girl who’s currently smashing it is Makeda Mahadeo – a Kigali-based video producer, radio presenter, DJ and MC who vlogs in her free time. Her YouTube channel has racked up over 70,000 views, which makes her the Rwanda’s highest-profile vlogger.

It’s been a year now that the media personality started vlogs. When she started, she had just stopped working as a TV presenter for a local morning show,  where she was also writing, producing, filming and editing. The multi-task aspect of the job was something she enjoyed, and therefore YouTube seemed to be a natural continuation as vlogging is a do-it-yourself world online. Like most vloggers, Makeda does all the work herself from conceptualisation to shooting to editing – with no crew member, which has proved to be a winning concept. As distinct to television, vlogging is a two way street that  makes the audience always looking to comment on content and also share it with friends, making  Makeda’s platform interactive. Therefore, YouTube content creators are challenging media houses that are still using standard mass communication models by offering a much more personalized viewing experience.  The vlogging consumers tend to see it as something that keeps their company.

Growing up between the US and Jamaica as a kid, she didn’t know anything about Rwanda. So when she started vlogging, she wanted to contribute by putting content out that she wished she could have access to before moving to Rwanda in her twenties. The topics range from ordinary,  sophisticated to exotic. You can visit her upbeat YouTube channel where you’ll find her: judging Kigali’s best brochettes spots, modelling for a jewelry collection, DJing for the Ugandan Independence Day, MCing Kigali Fashion Week to travelling to Cape Town for an agribusiness conference.

I did ask myself what it means to have this type of content in a country where the digital divide is narrowing, but still significant. Not only that YouTube’s access and the cost of access is still really a barrier, but more importantly, how is it even relevant to local audience thinking that content from Rwandan vloggers are in English, which is still only spoken fluently by a small percentage of the population. The gap between the have’s and have-nots is an eternal debate, but as vlogging is an online experience, it means  the content doesn’t have to appeal an audience that is located in a specific region – allowing the diaspora to join the fun.

But what keeps Makeda’s fan base  growing exponentially? Why is Makeda a must-follow? Well, her success can be explained by four key elements. She is good at:

1. Being Relevant

Makeda is always either talking about what’s happening to her in the moment, or she’s talking about a current event.  Better yet, she is always connecting what’s happening with her in the moment with the particular current event. A perfect example is when she vlogged about the 5 things you can do on the then-new Kigali’s car free zone. The timing was perfect.

Relevancy is king, as social media’s algorithms float up to what’s the most relevant and current. While the launch of the car free zone was making a lot of noise of Twitter, I came across this vlog which allowed me to have a glimpse of what the car free zone looks like for the first time.

2. Being Relatable

Being half Rwandan half Jamaican, – that alone makes Makeda’s story worth listening to. I might have asked her  zillion times “Being raised between the US and Jamaica, how have you decided to make the move?” Her response is always  the same “I am Rwandan, or half Rwandan, and it is not something  I can get away from. So I decided to come here and see what it is like. As I was feeling at home,  I ended up staying.”

I am certainly not Caribbean. I don’t even think there is any other half Rwandan half Jamaican on the planet, but my born-and-raised-in-Switzerland-while-being-Rwandan self relates to the need of connecting to your roots, like many other returnees or Rwandans living abroad. Her “relatableness” makes viewers want to see her take on life in Rwanda. Moreover, she keeps it conversational and always applies her experiences to your life, suggesting spots to hang out to explore Rwanda’s music and art scene, or to do some sightseeing. For instance, her last vlog where she explored the Rwandan Caves piqued my curiosity as well as my friends’, ultimately creating a conversation whether or not to plan this next holiday or not.

Hence, seeing her exploring different sides of the country and  learning the national language with her subseries Mak learns Kinyarwanda spark interest and enthusiasm. The latter is the type of content that she gets the most comments on.

3. Being Branding Savvy

Don’t you feel  Makeda already sounds like a brand? She’s at least conscious of developing a brand by delivering content that is authentic to her, and that fits her interests. The most important ingredient in vlogging, or in branding rather, is to stake out a unique spot in the landscape that differentiates your narrative from everybody else’s. Therefore, Makeda’s purpose and values are consistently reflected from the use of the thumbnails, fonts, fast cuts, keywords often highlighted in her vlogs and the overall aesthetic to the accompanying music that allows viewers to immerse themselves in the story that she is telling.

Overall Makeda’s content offers quite a distinctive identity with a slick multi-sensory experience using a brand that is recognisable and memorable. And while everyone is posting content, it is the strength of her brand and its consistency that allows Makeda to break through all of that noise.

4. Being Consistent

This is the hardest part. In addition to being consistent with content and branding, successful vloggers are consistent in frequency. Consistency (at all levels) is king, and a dedication to consistency leads to increased views, audience engagement and subscribers.

If you’re sitting there scratching your head and still wondering what vlogging can benefit someone, you need to look at the numbers. In just one year, Makeda has gathered almost 900 subscribers, which could soon lead our local TV channels to be jealous of her viewership, as she is indeed developing an audience that TV channels don’t get. Besides, YouTube is a much more accurate way of targeting consumers than those figures derived from television, magazines and newspapers. Therefore harvesting a significantly strong, loyal, and growing audience on YouTube could soon lead Makeda to brand sponsorship and advertising revenue. In the meantime, what she has already achieved gives her exposure to herself as a MC and a DJ, ultimately making her the first MC or DJ that we think about, which I am sure leads to jobs.

By focusing on casual representations of Rwanda, Makeda hit a chord with many Rwandans, both those based in the country and those abroad, who are interested in getting beyond the traditional stereotypes of Rwanda. And when things take-off on YouTube, it usually leads to spin-offs in many areas, which seems like a springboard to great heights. Keep an eye on Makeda because vlogging seems to be just a stepping-stone for something bigger - the best is yet to come!

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