Sun, Dec 14, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Internet cafes becoming omnipresent in Nairobi


Florence was momentarily flustered when she was interrupted while downloading blue movies in one of Nairobi's ubiquitous Internet cafes, but she quickly regained her composure, and even admitted what she was up to.

"Mmm ... I am downloading something -- pornography," she said.

"This is not what I usually do on the Internet, but sometimes I enjoy viewing the pictures and movies," she added.

Most of the clients, aged between 15 and 35, sitting at the cafe's 20 or so computer terminals seemed to be using the Internet for the same purpose and were understandably uncomfortable in the presence of a curious reporter.

Recent years have seen an explosion in the number of Internet cafes in Kenya's capital. Connection charges are an affordable one shilling (about US$0.01) per minute, even if connection speeds can be frustratingly slow.

"The cafe started off with just a few customers, mainly foreigners, but currently we record a minimum of 500 to 600 people daily during weekdays, and on the weekends the number decreases to about 300 to 400 per day" explained Denis Ouma, one of the cafe's employees.

"Older people rarely visit our Internet cafe. I do not know the reason behind it, but I guess it is because they think the Internet is mainly entertaiment meant for youths," he added.

"I believe it is a wrong perception. There is a lot one can learn from the the Internet apart from just entertainment," he noted.

Ouma said most of his customers used the technology for online chat, e-mail and downloading music -- and pornography.

It was rare to see clients connect for research or business, Ouma added.

Titilation also draws many customers to the nearby Cyber Cafe, according to assistant manager Kefa Akisa.

"Many of our customers are youths who are very interested in entertaining themselves by viewing pornography and listening to music. We discourage that by telling off those we discover doing that," Akisa said.

Round the corner in the Bellair Cyber Cafe, attendant Wyclef Mwangi thinks this is just a passing fad.

"I believe that the youth will change with time, and they will decrease or even abandon viewing or downloading pornography, and instead they will turn to more serious issues," he said.

Although there is hardly a street in downtown Nairobi without one or two Internet cafes, the overall number of regular users of the techology is estimated to be only about 200,000, less than half of one percent of the total population.

While demand is growing, facilities are still rare in rural areas and the quality of services everywhere is adversely affected by the monopoly enjoyed by the state-owned Telkom Kenya on international lines that connect local service providers to the Internet.

Rural access is set to increase with the launch this month by the Postal Corporation of Kenya of wireless internet access points at some 350 post offices across the country.

"The Internet services demand in Kenya is growing each day. We hope in rural areas the services will be availuable easily since the internet services competition in urban areas like Nairobi is now growing too high," explained a Telkom Kenya official who asked not to be named.

"This will force the service providers to move to rural areas," he added.

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