Cybercafés in Nairobi dwindle as Internet-enabled phones rise


Vincent Nzesa sits in his cybercafé in Donholm, a suburb on the east of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, whiling away time as he waits for customers, with his eyes fixing at the door, eager to see a customer walks in.

The 39-year-old lost his job at a private organisation in the capital and ventured into the business. But the business has been bad, and each day, getting worse.  Soon, Nzesa knows he may shut down the internet cafe, but he still clings on, hoping that business will improve.

    “Things are really bad. There are no customers coming in. I opened the business at about 8 a.m., it is now almost 11 a.m. yet I have not served anyone,” lamented Nzesa on Tuesday.

The previous day, the businessman faced a similar predicament. “Yesterday I served at most six people. I had thought that business will pick up since students are at home due to teachers’ strike, but this has not happened,” he said.

Nzesa is among tens of other cybercafé operators in the East African nation whose jobs and livelihoods are under threat.

Wide adoption of internet-enabled phones in the East African nation has seen the fortunes of cybercafés dwindle and it is just a matter of time before the business is wiped out.

Besides use of mobile handsets to access internet, most people use laptops and iPads from the comfort of their offices, homes and while travelling to get the service.

A spot check in rural areas also revealed that most cybercafés across Kenya are also experiencing a significant drop in the number of customers due to either lack of infrastructures such as electricity, lack of knowledge and increased use of mobile phones.

Cybercafé owners also attribute the reduced number of customers to problems of accessibility and harsh economic conditions most rural people face as most of the customers do not spend more than 15 minutes on the internet.

“Most people in rural areas do not access internet for more than 20 minutes due to lack of money, others do have knowledge on how to use internet. There is also frequent electricity blackouts which hamper our operations,” said Susan Anyango, a cybercafe owner in Siaya County in Western Kenya.

 Lower adoption of internet in rural areas could be linked to poor infrastructure for accessing media and ICTs, lower socioeconomic status such as lower income and educational attainment or lack of interest either in using a particular source or in obtaining news and information.

The stark rural-urban split in access to internet perhaps helps to explain why a relatively high percentage of rural residents said they rely on word-of-mouth sources as a regular news source

According to Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK), internet use and penetration in the country has grown tremendously. However, most Kenyans access the service through their mobile phones.

“The mobile data/internet subscribers dominate the internet market, representing 99 percent of the 9.4 million total subscriptions,” said CCK in a recent report on the sector. There are over 16.2 million internet users in the East African nation.

The rise in internet use is attributed to growing demand for data services, including use of social media, especially among the youth.

When social media craze hit Kenya, cybercafés operators reaped big. But the boom did not last long. Mobile phone companies reduced internet charges to cash in on demand for social media services, denying cybercafés business.

Most cybercafés, including those in the central business district, are currently manned by one person, unlike in the past when they would have even four due to huge traffic.