Digital in East Africa: Exploring the obstacles
OK, normally I write about Digital Marketing in the Nordics but I just spend 2 months in East Africa and wanted to take a look at a few of the crucial factors that are playing a role in its future development. My sincere apologies for being away for so long but my new found combined profession with digital marketing includes my photographic works at michaeltrenerry.com.
So here are some of my observations of digital in Kenya & how this effects the population over all. As I had a few discussions with different experts, I found that due to the extreme difference in wealth there are very different opinions on where some would like to see the internet go. Some underlying ”social” factors that will effect the growth include:
Wealth is the underlying factor in these developing countries. Kenya is a crazy country that is incredibly corrupt. Like in most cases the Rich get richer and the poor continue to struggle but here, they don’t struggle for the things you’d think, rather they struggle primarily to put clean water on the table followed by basic, and I mean very basic food. Following this education is important but there are many hurdles for some to get their kids to school – distance of travel, purchasing uniforms, disease and malnutrition, no family support, food for education and so on. The most horrible thing that I found were many key powerful people, don’t even want to see the internet as a tool for all – for them, if the poor have access to the internet, the % of rich vs poor may shift a little, simply due to accessible information for the poor, self education, entrepreurism and so on.
Corruption plays a massive part in the future of Kenya’s business economy. I heard many talk about Kenya being similar to a country like India one day. A country that while extreme poverty exists in well over 90% of the countries population, the country in the future will have access to fast internet, laced with a good education for those who come from a wealthy background – like in India, most have no chance to or can not afford universtity or higher education.
But, for this to happen, I believe that corruption will need to reduce. How can a country & its people not be corrupt, if the most part of the police force, militar & government are corrupt – everybody wants a little something on the side in Kenya and it is in your face! You’ll see bribes taking place as you leave the airport, with all the police pulling folk over to ”check their cars”…
Any company doing business in kenya must be prepared to bribe the right people. This can make business easy to some extent but difficult to another – one example is a big shopping centre created in Westlands – Nakumattt Ukay. This centre should have never been built as it is sitting above wasteland and a river. Money bought the rights to build about 9 years ago through an instable government and politicians… Now, it is being ripped down! Different government, different demands & now the business is loosing everything.
I personally look for stability in an economy to invest, what will international companies do in Kenya? I may start exploring the East African Digital Market more so stay tuned.
Accessibility follows the path of Corruption and wealth in some terms. Simply put, unlike Finland, where pretty much 99% of homes have internet access, it is closer to 1% in Kenya. As it was kindly put to me by a local business man, why will slum dwellers in Kibera, Africas second largest slum with around 1.5 million residents pay for the internet when they can’t afford water & food.
Well, I didn’t like this guy one bit & would like to see this proven wrong. Accessibility is the key & to have a market, they need to reach a far greater audience. There are many ways to achieve this and we have seen it done in many western cultures – wireless hotspots, education funded development programs, free courses to promote business online and so on. I would definitely like to mentor this market in some way but that means living down there – lets see what happens eh?
Speed ultimately plays a big role in the use of the internet. And the speed in Kenya sucks. Mind you, its the fastest in East Africa, but still while I was there, in many cases I was not able to see sites E.g. when trying to buy a ticket from Blue1… the site simply didn’t work on a slow connection! Remember folk, the average connection there is more like 28k in & out, and in many cases one line for ten people. The guy I stayed with for the most part of the trip essentially had the fastest line in Kenya 512/256 but in many cases it felt like a quarter of that…
But, the fibre optic line is opening ”evidentally” in June, so this should solve the problem of speed BUT, it is not clear how expensive this will be. Yes, it will benefit big business but will it simply be too expensive for most the population? I will get back to this, as it will play a very important role in the growth of entrepreunerism & business from Kenya to the outside world – like India and many other developing countries have seen.
Education no matter what, is needed – and it needs to be government funded or privately from companies interested in the growth of Kenya. Yes, those going to university can access the internet but smaller courses need to be created on all levels of the internet. There are an abundance of ”private” courses advertised but one wonders who effective these are, and who is actually training in the courses – more on this later.
I feel that education also influences social attitude – While the rich of Kenya will be online, the poor need to be educated in the benefits of educating their kids online! For if a child of today does not know their way around the internet, then they have no chance in competing with the rest of the world. This is where some amazing educational based social methodologies and platforms need to be built specifically for Africa. Yes, it will take time for these to be developed, but they will be one of the key growth foundations for the poor in Africa.
Mobility is an interesting concept in Kenya. Before I went to Kenya I read bits and pieces in journals, magazines and portals about Kenya being a pioneer in Digital in this part of the world – pioneer? I also read, that many people had access to mobile internet. Well, first of all, its expensive, second of all, they need newer generation phones to effectively access the internet and thirdly, its expensive. Mobile credits is pretty steep in Kenya, more so than in Finland by a long shot. So do the maths.
However, the invention of M-Pesa is a great example of mobility without the internet. A ping of a text message has never sounded so nice. In what is being touted as a world first, Kenya’s biggest mobile operator, Safaricom is allowing subscribers to send cash to other phone users by SMS . Vodaphone invented the functionality and owns 35% of Safaricom.
Apart from transferring cash – a service much in demand among urban Kenyans supporting relatives in rural areas – customers of the Safaricom network will be able to keep up to 50,000 shillings (£370) in a “virtual account” on their handsets.
M-Pesa’s is simple. There is no need for a new handset or SIM card. To send money you hand over the cash to a registered agent – typically a retailer – who credits your virtual account.
Summarising the above isn’t easy. I may very well explore East African developing markets over the coming months – so interesting to follow a market that has near to no maturity in it at all. I even noticed small things like Niveas giant outdoor billboards not being contextually right! I mean, what does having one fo the biggest billboards in Nairobi do for you if the women in the poster is a white super model? Ummmm, hello – 99% of Kenya is Black, apart from the damn colonists who settled with the English… There are lots of small things I’d like to talk about focusing on smaller issues but maybe later…
Anybody interested in East African Markets please get in touch as I would like to further my research in this region & also any persons interested in investing or setting up business in this region, I would like to hear from – its gonna be an interesting but possibly lucrative market to get on board with – especially if we can fill the gap for poor people and make internet accessible for a much greater % of the population…