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Cybercafes in Kenya fight on despite tough times

By Xihnua
 About four years ago when Internet- enabled phones took Kenya by storm, the optimists had given cybercafes at least two more years while the pessimists believed their time in the East African nation was up.

But cybercafes in the nation have defied both the doomsayers and the pessimists to continue to survive, with the operators earning some good income.
While it is not in doubt that their fortunes have declined as many Kenyans adopt smart phones, it is clear that the Internet outlets will still exist in Kenya for more years, with the owners coming up with new ways to stay afloat.
"Those who believe we will close shop soon should think of something else because we are here to stay, at least for now," Kevin Mutua, a cybercafé operator in Komarock estate on the east of Nairobi, said on Tuesday.
Mutua noted while the number of people visiting the facilities has declined, the business environment has favoured them, thus contributing to their resilience.
"The internet costs have been on downward trend for the last few years as competition stiffens among service providers, dropping from about 172 U.S. dollars a month to 70 dollars. This has greatly lowered our costs," said Mutua, who charges 0.056 U.S. cents per minute for browsing.
The cybercafes are also the biggest beneficiaries of agency business boom in the country. Banks, electricity distributor and telecoms are among organisations that have rolled out agency business in the East African nation.
These institutions have partnered with cybercafes, among other small business, enabling them to diversify their sources of income.
Mutua is an agent of Kenya Power, two banks and mobile money, businesses that he runs alongside his cyber entity.
"With the agency businesses, I do not worry about rent for my premise. They earn me good commissions that cater for my expenses, including rent and electricity," he said.
Of the agency businesses, sale of electricity and mobile transfer money services are the ones that bring in more cash.
"I get at least 229 dollars commission from mobile money and an average of 114 dollars from electricity tokens. If I add this money on the 172 dollars I get from my cyber and other services I offer, I cannot complain of lack of business."
The businessperson further offers photocopying and printing services and sells soft drinks.
"The good thing with all these services is that I do not need to employ someone to help me. I can send money on mobile phone or sell electricity tokens while still monitor people using computers. "
To attract and retain customers on the cyber business, Mutua has installed on each computer head phones and offers Skype calls.
"Most of the youths who come here want to download videos because they cannot do that on their phones. I installed the headphones to prevent them from disrupting other customers, and it is the reason they keep coming back."
In the city centre, some cybercafes have turned to selling coffee and offering photography services and while others have offered their customers executive seats to stay afloat.
"If it was not for security purposes, we would provide laptops for our clients because that is what people want. The problem is that laptops can be stolen," said George Ndungu who operates a cybercafé in the central business district.
There are over 31 million mobile phones subscribers in the East African nation, according to Communication Authority of Kenya, majority of them with smart phones.
While this number portends doom for cybercafés, Mutua and Ndungu are optimistic that their business would survive, at least in the next three months.
(Xinhua) --

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