TOP WEBSITES IN EAST AFRICA AND ABOUT THE PEOPLE'S TASTES AND PREFERENCES

Internet

As Internet use increases in Africa, an increasing number of people are spending more time on the web seeking news, information and entertainment. In a groundbreaking analysis of websites in East Africa, Timothy Kalyegira ranks websites in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and finds telling differences in the preferences of people from the three countries

The top ranked Kenyan websites immediately show the difference between Uganda and Kenya.

As with Uganda, the most visited websites in Kenya are news websites of the major media groups - the Nation Media Group and the Standard Group.

Following these two dominant players at number three is a popular website, Mashada.com, complete with news, discussion, and an assortment of other features.

At No. 4 is Capital FM, not surprisingly owing mainly to the fact that it carries a live stream of its programmes and that would appeal to Kenyans living abroad.

Because Nation FM appears on the same website as the Daily Nation newspaper, it is difficult on the basis of this ranking of websites to determine which FM radio station is, individually, the most popular Kenyan station with the online audience.

Unlike Uganda, business-oriented websites (the Kenya Tourist Board, No. 5, Serena Hotels, No. 6,Yellow Pages Kenya, No. 7,Kenya Airways, No. 10) rank prominently at the top of the pile.

Kenya's position as one of Africa's leading tourist destinations is in evidence from the prominent ranking of the Kenya Tourist Board, Serena Hotels, and Kenya Airways websites.

The Kenyan business and financial sectors plays a more visible role in the lives of ordinary Kenyans than their counterparts play in Uganda.

Business and general directories (No. 7, 11, 13, 20, 22, 35, 42, 46) the Central Bank (No.24) two commercial banks (No. 26, 31), and the Nairobi Stock Exchange (No. 41) reflect the much more vibrant business life of Kenya, of all the three East African countries.

But as business-like as Kenyans like to think of themselves, there is a reminder via website No. 30 (Kikuyu.com) that tribal sentiments still ran deep in Kenya.

In Uganda, the largest tribe, the Baganda, maintains a strong identity and aspires for semiautonomy semiautonomy and the ranking of the Buganda.com website at No. 20 is an indicator.

Tanzania is the only one of the three East African countries where no website of an overtly tribal nature ranks anywhere significant.

The most visited high school website is that of Rift Valley Academy (No. 37). It is not clear what it is about Rift Valley Academy that keeps its current and former students in touch with the school and each other, but a feature story on this school would be well worth the effort.

While Kenya overall shows a more regular and higher use of the Internet than Uganda, the profile of the most visited websites, as with Uganda, still reveals an audience that seeks general, mainstream information.

Much of the subject matter, even on the portals, is essentially news stories taken from the two leading dailies, the Daily Nation and The Standard.

There is not yet a notable showing of nerd-like, specialised websites as in Europe and North America. Usually the lower the level of specialisation, the lower the society's economic development and Internet penetration.

Surprisingly, considering the active political life in Kenya, websites of the major parties like Kanu and the Narc coalition do not appear among the top 50 most visited websites, unlike in Uganda.

Uganda

The ranking of the Daily Monitor as the most popular or at least the most visited Ugandan website is hardly surprising.

For much of 2005, the Museveni government came under both local and international criticism of its policies and it was viewed as becomin increasingly intolerant of opposition and criticism.

More and more people began to turn to the private newspaper, the Daily Monitor, for a more balanced presentation of events in Uganda.

Likewise, the website of the leading opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) ranked higher than that of any Ugandan political website, reflecting the growth in popularity of the FDC among Uganda's urbanite elite, both those in Uganda and those resident It is well worth noting that the FDC website ranked higher than that of State House, which in Uganda is the real seat of power.

In general, Ugandans or people interested in finding out news and information about Uganda tended to visit the two leading daily newspapers, the Daily Monitor and the New Vision, a government- owned paper.

Apart from the Internet service provider Uganda Telecom (No. 3), the top eight most visited websites are mainly news and information sites.

The fact that the most visited websites in general are news websites, suggests that most of these must be hits and visits by Ugandans living abroad or foreigners interested in Uganda. This might mean that interest in Uganda via the Internet is still much more driven by an overseas rather than domestic audience.

In terms of the better-known Ugandan government authorities and corporations, it is indicative of what little role they play in the everyday transactions as seen by their relatively low ranking.

The Uganda Investment Authority ranked number 22, the Uganda Revenue Authority came in at 24, and the Export Promotion Board was only at 47.

The impression this gives, especially the Uganda Investment Authority ranking at 22, is that much of the vaunted foreign investment supposedly coming to Uganda does not go through official channels, but tends to be the product of backdoor deals done between senior state players and investors.

The Central Bank, Bank of Uganda, has some of the best paid public servants in Uganda and has a research department. But it appears that the BOU website does not contain sufficient information to warrant regular enough visits by the public.

The Capital Markets Authority and the Uganda Securities Exchange do not appear among the top 50 most visited websites, suggesting too that the stock market plays the most minimal role in everyday Ugandan economic life.

The website of the Uganda People's Defence Forces, the country's army, does not appear among the top 50 and in fact ranks only 97 out of 100. And yet the army is one of the largest recipients of the national budget, showing how little the public relates with such well-funded institutions.

Also, considering the abundance of non-governmental organisations in Uganda, it is a little surprising that only two, the Women of Uganda Network (No. 23) and the HIV/Aids counseling body TASO (No. 38) appear among the top 50.

Could it be that most of the NGOs that operate in Uganda are more self-seeking than established to provide much-needed services to the communities among whom they work?

However, the list is an accurate representation of Ugandan life, interests, and concerns.

No website appears that would suggest that the concept of online shopping or booking has made any inroads in Uganda.The nearest thing to that is in Jomayi Property Consultants, ranked No. 27, a dealer in real estate and presumably the place that Ugandans living abroad visit to check on available houses and land in the country.

True African.com is ranked at No. 16, not surprisingly because its main attraction is the free web-based SMS service popular with students.

Tanzania

As is the case in Uganda and Kenya, the most visited website is that of the leading media company or newspaper, in Tanzania's case, the IPP Media group.

In general,Tanzania has a less active Internet life than Uganda or Kenya. The highest ranking Tanzanian website, IPP Media, is at No. 51,712 on the world scale, whereas the highest ranking Ugandan website, the Daily Monitor, was at 25,544 at the time the survey was done, and Kenya's Nation Media Group ranked at a world 9,549.

A feature of Tanzania's most visited websites is the number of tourism and hotel and travel-related websites that rank among the top 25 when compared with Uganda and Kenya. Seven such websites are ranked among Tanzania's top 25, compared with three for Kenya and one in Uganda.

Is tourism the future of Tanzania, by that token? Apart from the Hot Dar Wire website - which itself is a portal that includes news and information - a glance at the top 10 most visited Tanzanian websites shows that Tanzanians tend to visit much more regularly the somewhat "serious" websites, compared to Ugandans and Kenyans who tend to be much more leisurely.

There are no FM radio stations other than mainly entertainment websites among the top 10, reinforcing the general image of Tanzania as the most solemn of the three East African countries - a legacy perhaps of the many years of Socialism and the less than flamboyant character of the people.

The Nation