8 February 2002

Top Story

There’s an old saying that there is strength in numbers. This is certainly what the recently formed Kenya Cyber Cafe Owners group (CCO) believe. They have come together to argue for better standards of customer care and to lobby the government for computer lessons in schools. It is also hoping to address bandwidth and connection issues and pricing in a crowded market,


Its formation may be the start of a trend: the new connectivity private sector in Africa organising to advocate its interests to governments and their telcos. The Kenyan ISP association, TESPOK has successfully created a local internet exchange through this process.


The only missing piece in this jigsaw is currently that there are no internet user consumer groups demanding better bandwidth, a shorter time to get a phone connected and lower costs. However if the animated debates on these issues amongst individual users is anything to go by, their formation cannot be far off.


Ishmael Tinega, convener of the Cyber Cafe Owners meetings describes what they are trying to achieve.


Internet use at home is for many users a nightmare. To start with most people in Kenya are not necessarily computer literate. This means that to talk of internet usage, you are talking of a secondary need to many people (as strange as this may sound). This is especially so for the rural elites. These folks first need to learn how to handle and probably maintain a computer before starting to make use of it in the learning world. But even if computer literacy were widespread, the issue of internet cost in Kenya still remains an unresolved issue to date. For most homes therefore, to think of spending say US$400 a year, on the internet alone, is not a viable option. Kenyans are still looking for a cheap and viable way of using computers and the internet.


So what is CCO doing to address these issues? The procedures followed to connect cyber cafes and the service offered by the ISPs still need to be improved in Kenya, even though we can say that they are better today than a year or two ago. However the CCO and ISPs both need to dedicate time and money to educate the masses.


Many cyber cafes are currently putting a lot of effort into this task. They work hard at their relationship with their customers and offer computer familiarisation and training.


The Cyber cafes are becoming an important source of employment for a large number of Kenyans. These employees help in literally teaching the customers on how to use the computer. Only recently after cafes mushroomed in the Kenyan towns have the customers started to gain knowledge of internet use. Cafes guide their customers how to use the computer and search the web more comprehensively. Before this time most people used the internet service for receiving & sending e-mail. Today, CCO members participate in educating their customers on how to use the PC to access crucial information available on the web, how to use CD-ROMS and DVDs and generally how to do business on the web. The cafes that spend more resources to attend to the needs of customers are usually the ones that get packed out.


So what are the challenges facing CCO? The Association of Cyber-cafe owners in Kenya hopes to cooperate with all the stakeholders other partners to bring about efficient service in the Cyber business, reduce hacking, maintain security and discourage cyber piracy. It is imperative that this organization will need a lot of support and cooperation from all the stakeholders be it the business community, the government, or the ordinary customer.


There is no currently policy in place to guide owners in the internet business in Kenya. Neither does one common syllabus exist to guide those who teach computer and internet courses in schools and colleges. This highly lucrative and technical area has been left to the masses and at times quacks, to control it. The CCO intend to lobby the government to provide a policy to govern the usage and teaching of Computer lessons especially in schools and to enourage internet business in Kenya. In today’s world of technology one wonders whether there is any time left for bickering. We need to act and bring knowledge to the people.


The Internet business in Kenya is still very much underutilised. However, this little used service may die before it ever gets to grow, unless more effort is put to make computer usage more accessible to the people of Kenya. The reasons for less use of Computers in the country range from bureaucracy, illiteracy, poverty, to mention but a few. Sadly also a lack of professionalism in our business sector also plays its part.


Kenyans however, being a humble and curious society, find the internet fun. They wish to learn, play and spend on things that bring happiness to them through the internet. However, as long as Internet services remain costly to the consumers, many Kenyans continue to think that Internet is a preserve of the rich and intellectuals. The Association of Cyber Cafe Owners (CCO) intends to bridge the gap between the two divides.


Ishmael Tinega is a lawyer with special interests in IT Law He is currently the convener of the Cyber Cafe Owners Meetings in Nairobi, Kenya. He can be contacted on or cell phone number 254733758758