Series17; Exploring The Njaanuary Phenomena in Kenya

Every new year, like clockwork, majority of Kenyans complain about the financial strain that January brings along. When kids need to go back to school and a myriad of responsibilities show up, but the wallet is empty after the December festivities. The phrase commonly used during this period is “Njaanuary”.

This is derived from a combination of the Swahili word for hunger “Njaa” with January. Thus Njaanuary implies a tough, broke and hungry January. Kenyans are known for their quick wit online where they turn any misfortune/event into a joke. Therefore, January is marked by an influx of ‘njaanuary’ jokes and memes that start at the tail end of the previous year..

Brands are quick to jump onto this social phenomena where they try to sell deals that will ease the ‘Njaanuary’ woes. Some brands get it right while others fail because they tried too hard. For example, why would a pay TV provider known for their premium pricing(DSTV), hinge on the Njaanuary trend? This alienates their current loyal customers in their quest for mainstream acceptance.

It’s a curious condition where Kenyans perpetuate the culture of overindulgence during the holidays and act shocked at the financial implication of their choices in the new year. Is the ‘Njaanuary’ trend a case of misery loves company, or is it a camaraderie wrought from a shared problem? It’s a bit of both.

Laughing through pain

January may be the only period where it is socially acceptable to admit that one is struggling financially. The statistics tell of a grim economic reality that exists in Kenya. However, you can never know that from the social media posts that most Kenyans put up. Njaanuary may be the only break they get from putting up appearances, so they take full advantage of it. In the atypical Kenyan fashion, humor is the buffer through which they can face reality.

Is humor as a coping mechanism a learnt behavior or ingrained in the Kenyan psyche? I believe it is the culmination of the aversion to directness, with the need for social acceptance. Therefore, what better way to indirectly address the things that haunt you by employing the age old self depreciating humor?It has evolved into an art form where the popular voices on social media have mastered it.

Wanja Kavengi, a popular Facebook personality known for her off the cuff humor

2017 did not disappoint with the Njaanuary jokes that managed to keep Kenyans smiling into the new year that proved to be quite the adventure. What else have you noticed about ‘Njaanuary”? Does your country or locality have a similar habit. I’d love to hear your thoughts so feel free to leave a comment.

Until next time!

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