Why Kenya’s Gen Z are finding TikTok a good app for money making

Barbara Nyambura

Barbara Nyambura, a TikTok content creator on January 4. The platform has become popular with young Kenyans. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Nothing in Lydia Lugalia's life worked as she had hoped it would. Her teaching career was uncertain following the Covid-19 pandemic, and she was burdened with debt.

The only job she accessed was being a cashier at a pub in Kiambu Country. While she has not actualised her initial dream, Ms Lugalia is charting a new path on TikTok while working as a cashier.

Seated on a high stool at the dimly lit bar counter, Lydia usually goes live on TikTok, recounting her life troubles to about 60 other Tiktokers.

"If someone asks me what I do, I tell them I'm a teacher and they don’t understand what I'm currently doing," she told her audience on TikTok the other Saturday as she served patrons at the counter. Her dream when she was finishing studies in 2016 at Kaimosi Teachers’ College in Western Kenya was to land a job with the government.

“Of course I was to upgrade my education. All this hasn't happened," Ms Lugalia told her TikTok audience.

"I'll be very happy if I got a job with the government and that would make my parents happy because I feel guilty of having failed them," she explained.

While she recounts her tribulations on the app,  Lydia hopes that someone would like her content and gift her, a gift that she would later change into money.

 This is a path that many Gen Z are taking as they seek to make money on the app, thanks to its algorithm that allows any person from across the world to view the live content. This is different from Facebook and Instagram when only followers can watch one’s live content.

"When I started, I did not know much about Tiktok. My first video was a story about a guy who shot himself. At the time, I did not care that it did not have likes."

Having learnt the ropes, most of the times she now goes live on Tiktok when seated at the counter.

“I go live more than five times a day hoping that someone sends me a gift that I can convert into money."

Ms Lugalia used grow parties to increase her following. Grow parties are normally hosted by popular Tiktokers who encourage people to follow each other and like each other's videos to increase their popularity on the app.

However, this goes against the TikTok algorithm, where organic growth is encouraged because the algorithm is designed to serve your content from what you like. When you distort it in this manner, it affects your interactions.

The search for gifts has seen Ms Lugalia spend most of her time on the app hoping to make money and become famous.

For musician turned-comedian Arnold Kamidi, a.k.a Anombi, the TikTok algorithm has been his friend. By following the rules, he now goes live three times a day, and he says it is worth his time.

"Converting gifts to money which is quantified in dollars is easy because once you get the gift, you attach your account to a PayPal account, and you can pay it on Mpesa.”

“The highest amount I have ever spent in one match is Sh7,000, and the biggest gift I've ever received is Interstellar, which cost 10,000 coins. The gifter is based in the US. I don't know him. He doesn't know me. He just came into my life and gifted me," Anombi told Nation.

A coin costs approximately Sh1.5 (USD 0.01 cents). So if one gets a gift of 10,000 coins, this translates to $100.

Anombi's typical day involves scheduling three live sessions.

"I wake up at 8am and go live on TikTok until 9am, then I take a break, and I come back again at 4pm, then I take a break, and then I go live again from 8pm to 10pm. We have guys who go live all night and sleep during the day.”

This is because they have gifters who join live at different times, so they stay on and wait for them in the hope they will join.

“We have three types of gifters, some will come and gift you and expect nothing from you, and then the second gifter will gift you, and in exchange, you give them followers. This is what grow hosts do. The third type gifts you so that when they go live, you will gift them back," he explains.

Anombi said that many Gen Z TikTokers now eke a living from the app. It is their bread and butter.

"It can pay your bills, but you have to work for it. It is not a walk in the park, but it pays very well. It also depends on how long you are live because we go online for three hours and get 10,000 or more in a day."

The pressure to get eyeballs on one’s account has led to cases of clout-chasing and unconventional means to attract gifts.

"Some of the unconventional ways that people used to grow their accounts is through nudity. You'll find a lot of ladies who are frustrated by not having views and likes on their content, so they resort to this."

Anombi says that they don't care about the implications of this.

"They just want to be famous no matter the means, no matter the style that will give them fame, they don't care because from there they will be able to go live, get user engagement and get more gifts and as a result get the money."

He notes, "In Kenya, there are no jobs, and you have expenses, Tiktok provides the opportunity to make cash instead of going into crime."

Adding, "Most Kenyan TiK ToKers love gifters from abroad because they will spend around $100 per live."

But the downside of this all is that in case one fails to get gifters, this can affect their mental health, according to experts.