While the radio is still one of the most popular mediums in Rwanda, there is another platform that is gaining momentum on the airwaves: podcasts.
These free downloadable sound bites are possible for just about anyone to produce, through streaming platforms such as SoundCloud, Apple, or through personal websites.
While certain podcasts in the United States attract close to five million regular listeners, in Rwanda the explosion of internet streaming is yet to begin.
“Basically, podcasts are an untapped media tool,” says Arnold Kwizera, a radio/TV host and local producer of the podcast Royal Sports.
A growing number of millennials in Rwanda are listening to podcasts as cell service and smart phones become faster, exponentially more available to the average citizen. But most podcasts still come from abroad.
“The downside of many of the podcasts we listen to – or digital content more generally – is that they are not locally relevant most of the time and are hard to relate to,” says Gilbert Rwabigwi, who launched the podcast The Hashtag earlier this year under The Kigalian, a website offering blog posts, articles and multimedia features on goings on in Rwanda.
“There are not many podcasts in Rwanda – perhaps two or three,” Rwabigwi says. “Very few Rwandans know what a podcast is, particularly because leading voices in media haven’t embraced the technology.”
But young podcast listeners, like Rwabigwi, Kwizera and local entrepreneur Dominique Alonga, are eager to hear more podcasts that resonate with their lives and their communities.
“A majority of the podcasts listened to [in Rwanda] are not produced here and are the more popular ones, varying from sports, to crime thrillers or podcasts focusing on specific topics” says Kwizera, whose own podcast often discusses American basketball. But Rwabigwi believes there is increasing interest among Rwandan listeners in a different kind of podcast.
“There has been a growing demand, especially from the young, tech-savvy elite,” he says. “Self-help, educational podcasts are the most popular, if you ask me.” This topic, he says, aligns with the genre of books millennials read.
“This is caused by the need to learn and acquire more knowledge to fill the gaps left by the formal education system,” he explains.
Rwabigwi says his podcast The Hashtag, aims to “enable robust conversations about education, leadership, and entrepreneurship.” Entrepreneurship is a topic of interest for millennials around the world, perhaps nowhere more so than here in Rwanda where rapid development in all sectors depends upon the creativity and proactive drive of the rising generation.
Local entrepreneur and founder of Imagine We Rwanda, Dominique Alonga, released her first podcast through SoundCloud on Tuesday, with the aim of discussing the many elements of entrepreneurship.
“I’ve always wanted to do a podcast. I have always wanted to share my ideas,” Alonga says on her first podcast, titled “So I decided to give this a shot”.
Topics that Alonga wants to discuss on her podcast include mental health and the various challenges inherent to entrepreneurship.
“It made sense to me to kind of look at what I’m going through as an entrepreneur, what I’m going through as a young person in the country, or just as a human being and share some of these experiences,” she said in the introduction to her first episode.
Alonga, who says she is an avid listener of podcasts, is one member of a generation hungry for more information, more knowledge and more exposure to an expanding, globalised world.
“Podcasts are an alternative source of information from the traditional radios,” says Kwizera. The availability of radio stations on basic cell phones in Rwanda explains their continued popularity. And the availability of other streaming options remains limited.
While podcasts remain something of an anomaly in Rwandan’s earbuds, however, the future is full of opportunity for anyone with something to share and a SoundCloud account (it’s free).
“I’m excited for the future of podcasts in Rwanda because there is a growing community of tech-savvy content creators who are working to join new frontiers,” says Rwabigwi, one such person with an idea and the guts to share it with the Internet.
“Eventually, more Rwandans will acquire the necessary digital skills and production,” Rwabigwi predicts. To him, listenership will only increase with time.