Eleven years ago, Charity Amaka Ekezie, 32, was unemployed, homeless and couldn't even afford to buy drinking water, let alone food to eat.
But today, the influencer, who is popular in Kenya, is one of the continent's leading social media influencers invited by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the 2023 Grand Challenges Annual Meeting.
So how did Charity, now considered by international brands as Africa's Queen of TikTok, get here?
“At the moment, I have over 3.1 million followers on TikTok, 349,000 on Instagram, 550,000 on YouTube and 215,000 on Facebook, each with very different audiences with very different needs who appreciate my work. I am a content creator from Nigeria though I was born and [brought up] in Cameroon, and what I actually do on social media is to dispel negative stereotypes and educate people about Africa,” Charity told the Nation in an interview.
The continent's TikTok sensation, whose social media profile rose during the Covid-19 pandemic, reveals that despite studying journalism at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University and even interning at a radio station, she was unable to find a job for nine years.
“Charity is someone who comes from a family of three siblings and has been through a lot in her life. To be honest, my life actually began at 30 and if you had told me years ago that by 32 I would be somebody, I wouldn’t have believed you,” the African influencer opens up.
“I was going through a lot, lots of low moments, to a point that I had depression for over three years because life was very difficult and nothing was going well for me. I started on TikTok in 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdown because after graduating (from university) and considering the fact that finding a job had become impossible, I had actually been creating content on YouTube and Facebook for years but nobody bothered to watch,” she says, tears running down her cheeks.
Joining TikTok would change her life for the better, forever.
"You know how the society tries to compress you and it’s like you can’t make it, depression hit me so bad because I couldn’t even take care of my basic needs, feed myself, buy drinking water, yet I am a firstborn."
After a business she was trying to get into was crushed, sitting at home for many years with nothing to do left Charity so depressed that she says she thought she was done with it all.
“Covid-19 was bad for everyone around the world but for me, it was the moment my life started to change because everyone was confined to their homes with mandatory lockdowns everywhere and suddenly my content started going viral.”
But what makes her content stand out and attractive?
“I try to make sure I do not create any bias when making content. I love Africa as a whole and believe in the strength of our unity to a point that nowadays most people wonder if I am Nigerian, in fact they don’t even know I am Nigerian because I present myself as an African,” Charity told the Nation.
“Some days I will don Nigerian attire while making my videos, some days Kenyan, some days Cameroonian. I do more in Kenyan attires like the Maasai attire to a point that many people have started to believe I am Kenyan – that’s the image I want to portray that we can be from different parts of Africa but be one at the same time, because we are one.”
But how does a day in the life of an African social media influencer look like?
For Charity, her day usually involves attending brand events and travelling to far-flung places to create content for her audience, then editing, packaging and scheduling posts to suit the needs of her followers.
She has also noticed the times when her audience is available to consume her content, so she schedules posts based on different time zones.
“I have understood that in as much as my followers have different needs on each of my platforms, they follow me because of what I serve and so I tailor-make clean content on a daily basis that suits each audience’s needs. I have also understood what they love at what time of the day, and so my postings are scheduled and well calculated," Charity explains.
“What the audience on TikTok, which is largely a younger generation, prefers in the morning, noon, evening and at night is very different from what the Facebook and YouTube audiences prefer. The audience I have for Facebook is older, for example, and so what they prefer to consume is not the same as what the other platforms prefer. I love all of them so much.”
When asked if she thinks influencers are more effective than legacy media, Charity says she doesn't think so.
“Things and times change; legacy media should adapt to social media. The younger generation is more into social media and so influencers can complement that. The older generation still adores consuming content from legacy media. It depends on what legacy media wants to achieve. They can work hand in hand with influencers. But what will happen when a generational shift will come and the older generation is long gone?" she says.
The influencer goes on to say that she makes most of her money from the brands she works with, rather than from the social media platforms.
“About money, I don’t really get paid by these platforms because the platforms have not set up payment mechanisms for African content creators, which is why I only make money through marketing brands and promoting their events as well as promos for people,” Charity told the Nation.
All in all, she believes that anyone interested can still make a career in the field they want, and urges people not to give up.
“I graduated at 21...but my life began at 30. It may be delayed but not denied and so just don’t give up because your blessing can come from anywhere. It may not even necessarily be from an 8-5 job because for me it came from social media.”