Social media use evades Kenyan rural youths

By Bedah Mengo
Benvic Aluvale, a Form Two student at a village in western Kenya, has a dream about Facebook, the social networking tool that he has never used before.

   Aluvale only knows that via Facebook, he can upload his photos, send greetings to friends and meet new people. He imagines one day he can discover the new world.
   However, his curiosity and eagerness is set back by a 25-kilometre distance from his home to the nearest cybercafé. To access the Internet, he has to travel for a long time.
   "I have not been able to enroll on Facebook. I think I am not lucky since all attempts I have made have not been successful," he said.
   During school holiday, in April, Aluvale travelled with his cousin, who visited him from Nairobi, to the market centre, where their parents had sent them on an errand.
   On top of the list of things to do at the centre, besides buying pesticide for his mother, was for Aluvale to open a Facebook account with his cousin's help.
   "He told me he knows how to enroll someone on Facebook because he has an account. I thus wanted to use him to achieve my dream because at the cybercafé, the owner charges highly if he helps you, " said Aluvale.
   However, as fate would have it, Aluvale and his cousin found there was a blackout at the market centre. They could, thus, not use the cybercafé. After hours of unsuccessfully waiting for power to return, Aluvale went back home disappointed.
   "It was my third attempt this year. In the first one, I also found there was no power and in the second one, I did not have 0. 71 US dollars, which the cybercafe operator demanded to help me sign into Facebook," said Aluvale, who lives in Butere.
   His predicament is shared by many youths in rural Kenya, who find myriad of hurdles in their attempts to sign into and use social networking sites.
   Facebook is the most popular among Kenya's nearly 2 million social media users, with Twitter the second.
   But for rural Kenyans, to be one of the 2 million Kenyans could sometimes mean a "luxury," according to a recent exploratory study of social media use in rural Kenya by US scholars Susan Wyche, Sarita Yardi and Andrea Forte.
   The report revealed the majority subsist on the equivalent of 1. 50 US dollars to 2.00 US dollars a day and do without consistent access to water and electricity. Costs associated with creating and maintaining a Facebook account prevented them from joining.
   "These remarks were surprising to a Western observer who regarded the site as free of charge," said the researcher in the report.
   Lack of electricity, power outages and low bandwidth speeds are also inhibiting factors, according to the research.
   With no access to Internet-enabled phones, the youths have to rely on cybercafés, majority of them located at market centres. That is where the challenge begins.
   First, one has to travel from their homes to the market centre, which costs a lot of money due to poor road network and lack of proper transport.
   "While going to the market centre, I have to board a motorbike for 0.59 dollars from my parents’ home to the main road, where I will pick a public transport vehicle and pay a similar amount to the trading centre," he said.
   But as one travels, he has to pray that they find there is no power outage at the market centre.
   "This means that you cannot travel from home to the market centre and all you are going to do is to try and sign into Facebook. That may be waste of time. You have to be going to do something else," he said.
   Another hurdle is that at many cybercafés in rural Kenya, operators charge at most 0.59 dollars to open Facebook account. This is beside Internet browsing charges.
   "They say to help you sign into Facebook is a service. So you have to pay the 0.59 dollars in addition to the 0.02 dollars per minute cost of browsing. One, therefore, can end up paying up to 0. 95 dollars to sign into the site," said Aluvale, adding that this is the main reason why he wanted his cousin help him join the site.
   Once one opens a Facebook account, accessing the site to meet new friends and post comments and photos becomes another challenge for youth in rural Kenya.
   "I opened a Facebook account last August, but I have only used it about three times. The last time I accessed it was in March," said primary school teacher Ambrose Ayoo, who teaches in Busia, on the border of Kenya and Uganda.
   "I cannot access it frequently because it costs a lot of money to travel to the trading centre where there is a cybercafé. Again, the cybercafé I go to has very slow internet speed, which impedes use," he said.
    Ayoo, 26, has an internet-enabled phone. However, he said he does not use it to access Facebook to avoid frequent charging.
   "I pay 0.24 dollars to charge the phone because there is no power where I live. If I use Facebook, it means I have to charge it more times, which translates into more costs," he said. (Xinhua)