Internet still a strange concept in much of rural KenyaBy BEDAH MENGO | Wednesday, April 11 2012 at 12:33
Somewhere in Mundere, a village in Budalangi district on the Kenya-Uganda border, live George Adero and Bernard Sifuyo. The teenagers completed their O-level education last year at a local secondary school and scored average grades, which would allow them to join middle-level colleges.
But, despite being Form Four graduates, Sifuyo and Adero have never heard about the Internet. They don't know what it is, its use or how it operates. "Internet, what is it all about? We did not learn it at school. Perhaps it is because we did not study physics," said Sifuyo in an interview recently.
However, the two have information about computers and mobile phones. "I saw computers in our school. An organization donated them to us when we were in Form Two. We were promised we would learn how to use them but we did not," said Sifuyo, who owns a mobile phone.
Like many other youths in the area, and in rural districts across Kenya, the Internet remains an alien concept. They cannot make out whether the technology is a type of mobile phone or a new hit song. This is despite the buzz about smartphones, cybercafes, Facebook and the growth of Internet users throughout the East African nation.
The Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) estimated that, as at September last year, there were more than 10 million Internet users in Kenya. The number has grown from 1.7 million in 2007, with most of the growth attributed to the increased penetration of mobile phones, through which most Kenyans access the service.
However, the rise in Internet growth is limited to urban centers. "So you access the Internet on computers and can use it to send messages to friends and get a lot of information," Adero said excitedly.
However, despite the excitement, the two know laying their hands on a computer in the rural district is difficult. "There is a bureau offering computer services at the market center, but it is about 15 kilometers away. You have to board a motorbike or cycle to go there," Adero said.
Fred Ajwang, who works for the government's Youth Ministry in the area, said accessing computers for many people was a dream. "There are countable youths born and brought up in this area that have used computers. At the market center, there are only two bureaus each with a computer.
They serve mainly schools because they can afford the high costs of their services. They charge typing and printing at 0.72 US dollars per page," he said.
However, the bureaus do not offer Internet services. "There are no cybercafes here. I have walked in several market centers but I have never seen one. Perhaps this is because their services are not in demand," he said.
The civil servant observed that, as in other rural districts in Kenya, cybercafes are missing because residents, mainly the youth, have little computer knowledge. "Many people, especially the youth, have no information about the Internet. In urban areas, youths learn how to use computers and sometimes the Internet in secondary schools, but here lack of electricity prohibits that," he said.
Therefore, for Adero, Sifuyo and many other youths in rural Kenya, their hope of learning about computers and the Internet lies in them going to colleges in urban areas.
A study carried out by CCK last July found less than 5 per cent of rural Kenyans had access to the Internet. The survey indicated only 893 sub-locations, out of 7,149, had access to broadband Internet services. This covers a paltry 85,000 broadband subscribers. Similarly, 1,100 of those 7,149 lacked access to voice telephony services.
The 2009 population census in Kenya showed only 5 per cent of Kenya's 40 million people were regular users of the Internet. The CCK survey attributed the state of affairs to a lack of electricity in most districts in rural Kenya.
"For data services, lack of access to electricity explains low penetration of the Internet. Most sub-locations that have data services also have access to electricity. Electricity fosters demand, since computers require electricity. It reduces operational costs and therefore promotes additional investments (3G networks)," the regulator said.
The institution notes that most people in rural areas rely on telecommunication centers run by community-based organizations and government to access Internet. "Cybercafes are mainly used in sub-locations close to the capital Nairobi and Mombasa. In areas with low access to the Internet, mobile phones and telecommunication centers are the main ways to access the Internet," CCK said.
To increase internet penetration in rural areas, the government, through Kenya ICT Board and various partners, is running a number of programs, among them Pasha. The World Bank-funded project aims to spread Internet use through creation of knowledge and technological hubs, known as Pasha centers.
The centers provide computer services to the public at an affordable fee. These include Internet access, computer training, access to e-government services, typing and data entry, printing, scanning, CD/DVD burning and M-banking services. But the initiative that started in 2006 has not spread to most rural areas, where the services are greatly needed. (Xinhua)
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