The Quiet yet Extraordinary War Makmende Won on Wikipedia

Makmende was too big for Wikipedia. Apparently.

In March 2010, Kenyan band Just-a-band resurrected Makmende, a vigilante superhero character. The badass Makmende appears in the video of the song Ha-He as the central character, kicking ass, chewing no gum and taking no names. He is a superhero lost in time; He wears a rather conspicuous 1970s Afro, an open dress shirt, disco-style pants and aviator sunglasses. The Makmende look is a permanent scowl, a scowl that tells you a thrashing is on the way.

The music videos storyline follows Makmende’s story as he makes a meal out of other characters like Taste of Daynjah, The Askyua Matha Black Militants, and Wrong Number. The supervillain in the music video, First Bodi, is no match for Makmende. He is overweight and over-dressed for a fight. Makmende symbolically rips off his tie and uses it to wrap his own forehead, before punching him right in the stomach. He then tells the kneeling villain before he knocks him out Dream no more, my little friend. He walks away, right past an enchanted Britania Zimeisha, the damsel in distress who’s plight started it all.

Makmende as a concept was born out of Clint Eastwoods memorable line in the movie Dirty Harry “Make my Day.” Makmende was a meme of aspiration, as Ekdale and Tully argue in their paper Makmende Amerudi: Kenya’s Collective Reimagining as a Meme of Aspiration [PDF]. He was a representation of the dreams of young, urbane children to be superheroes. Across schoolyards in Nairobi, dreamy children who saw themselves as Jackie Chan or other celebrated actors would be asked whether they thought they were Makmende. Makmende was the break time yardstick for ass-kicking. No one could be Makmende. The kids who had created him were now in their late 20s to early 30s. Now keen techies and urbanites, Makmendes fans fought to give him an online identity. He got a website, a page on Facebook, and a Twitter account. Until 2010 though, Makmende was an imaginary cultural concept.

Eager fans created a website and magazine covers for Makmende. In their representation, Makmende was Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” and GQ’s Badass of the Year. In an apocryphal movie by BkKaranja titled Makmende & the Superheroes Women, the character is portrayed as intimidating characters from SpiderMan2, the Incredible Hulk, Fantastic Four. In another, Makmende lands on the Moon: 1968 by AntoDezigns, the story line completely changes what we know of space installation. The meme was even connected with the Downfall meme of Hitlers tirade.

Chuck Norris jokes quickly moved to give way for Makmende, this badass Kenyan superhero who looked like he had time-traveled from the 1970s. A few tried to create a Wikipedia page, sparking off a rather interesting back-and-forth war. Wikipedia admins deleted the first entry, then Makmende’s fans created another, and another after that one was deleted too. There were different reasons for the deletions:

G1: Patent nonsense, meaningless, or incomprehensible

G12: Unambiguous copyright infringement

G3: Pure vandalism

In The Missing Wikipedians [PDF], Heather Ford discusses the background war on Wikipedia to give Makmende an entry. The line that Makmende’s so huge, he cant fit in Wikipedia was coined because Wikipedia editors disagreed on whether the fictional character deserved a page. Ford calls it the battle between inclusionists and deletionists.

For the deletionists, Makmende was an imaginary character from a small African country. He did not deserve a Wikipedia page frankly because, no one in the English world would really care about him. Although he was big in Kenya, he was not notable enough to deserve an encyclopedic entry.The argument the editors had was that there were no claims of notability and no reliable sources of Makmende. But that was a rather biased way to look at it. Makmende had, in the space of a week, brought 24, 300 hits to the Ha-He video on Youtube, and almost 20, 000 likes on Facebook. Notability was therefore not really a question.

Makmende is not a Swahili word, and his followers built his brand in English. The song is in Sheng, an urban mix of two languages, with words borrowed from vernacular languages. On the Swahili version of Wikipedia, he would most likely have survived longer because most editors would be East Africans. The fact that most Kenyans prefer to write in English meant the bigger audience was for the English entry. What that meant was a direct collision cause with Wikipedias growing deletionism. The culture had reared its head before, raising questions about what Wikipedia editors would do as more cultural icons from English-speaking developing countries were added to the web encyclopedia.

What Ethan Zuckerman calls Wikipedia’s systemic bias is the stereotype by most of the editors and administrators for predominant Western cultures. Makmende was personified for a global audience, but he was at the heart of it a Kenyan superhero. When he was not fighting for an identity or thrashing villains, he was battling automated bot spam on his fan pages.

In the six hours between 6:30PM 23rd March 2010 and 12:37 24th March 2010, Wikipedia editors recommended the Makmende entry for speedy deletions thrice. Speedy deletions are done by Wikipedia administrators and include no chance for discussion. What won the day is that Wikipedia processes do not allow for the same notice to be used again. Once speedy deletions have been exhausted, the entry moves to a deletion discussion.

At discussion is where the conversation focused on notability. Was Makmende notable enough, given that he had no clear history and no credible sources? He was, after all, a Kenyan superhero only known in break time lingo by a small Kenyan community. For them, Makmende did not have notability until he was covered by the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and Fast Company. The mention that he was featured on WSJ seems to have won the day, and the article was voted keep. Makmende had won the war, as he was destined to, but the rationale was still biased towards Western approval.

Makmende had already proven he was a sensation. He had, in the space of a week, brought 24, 300 hits to the Ha-He video on Youtube, and almost 20, 000 likes on Facebook. Notability was therefore not really a question. The real question was who was approving of the character. This Daily Nation article is from the day after the deletions as Kenyan media also took its time to acknowledge that Makmende had returned.

There is another angle to the story of the three deletions. One commenter on Zuckerman’s blogpost, SJ Klein, says that the first entry was a joke Makmende. Kenyan Superhero. Spawned. Not born. Amphibious. Breathe underwater. While the other two were stubs. In Wikipedia language, a stub is an article that has too little content to be an encyclopedic coverage of a subject. It is likely that indeed, the initial entries were either too poor quality to carry on the encyclopedia or had been blatantly plagiarized from other places. Only Wikipedia editors and a small community of contributors can view the deleted entries.

A Wikipedia page is crucial for digital curation. Although it cannot be cited in most academic contexts due to the crowdsourcing policies, Wikipedia as an online encyclopedia holds more information than any resource ever made. It has become so central to the web that not being on Wikipedia is in some cases to not exist as all. The Ha-He video has gotten 628, 607 at the time of writing, most of them from the first year after release. A Google search of the superhero reveals that, five years after the fact, he is now an old concept. The first thing you bump into on the first page though is his Wikipedia profile.

Makmende had returned, and he was here to stay. Not that he reads books and Wikipedia anyway. He just beats them up to get the information he wants.

makmende_amerudi

Owaahh, 2015.

One Story is good,

till Another is told.

  • Nas

    Sad, that you put the wrong link to the video… 🙁

    • Owaahh

      Thank you for pointing this out Nas. I’ve done the due correction and embedded the right video.

  • That pic made me click. 🙂
    Enlightening.