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Kenyan cybercafes boom as COVID-19 increases digitization of services



Kenyan cybercafes boom as COVID-19 increases digitization of services

Once declared a dying business due to onslaught from increased use of smartphones in Kenya, cyber cafes are warming up to a brighter future occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The internet points in the East African nation have been resilient in the past years after several government departments took their services online.

The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, added to this change of fortunes as private firms and government departments that had not fully embraced online services go for them to enforce social distancing.

Cybercafe operators in the East African nation are, thus, currently busy lot as they record a surge in the number of people seeking their services.

For George Kariuki, a cybercafe operator in Kitengela, a suburb on the south of Nairobi, Tuesday was one of his busiest days ever in years as he attended to the highest number of people.

It was the D-day for filing tax returns in Kenya, thus, many people seeking to beat the deadline flocked cybercafes.

Initially, some of the people would flock Kenya Revenue Authority offices for assistance but with measures put in place to curb COVID-19 spread, throngs were not allowed at the government agency offices.

“We worked until late into the night to enable people to file their returns and beat the deadline. I was charging 100 shillings (about 1 United States dollar) to do the job for those who did not know what to do,” he said.

And things are looking brighter for the internet as more government departments take their services online to not only ease access but curb the spread of the new coronavirus virus disease.

On Wednesday, the Kenyan judiciary introduced mandatory filing of court cases to curb congestion at its registries in the capital Nairobi.

Chief Justice David Maraga said citizens and legal officers would no longer be allowed to file cases manually anymore by walking to the courts as he launched the e-filing system.

“Citizens henceforth will not be able to file cases manually in Nairobi at the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the High Court since services have gone digital. This system will further allow litigants to assess costs, pay and serve court papers to defendants,” he said, adding the service would be spread countrywide.

The move, as one of the precautionary measures against COVID-19 spread, would see hundreds flock the internet points in the East African nation to file the cases, which gives cybercafes a boom.

This is because the electronic process involves scanning documents, doing photocopies and even taking photos, services that cybercafe operators charge separately.

“Things are looking up for our businesses. These additional services, especially by government agencies, means increased demand for our businesses and more income. I am happy,” said Joseph Mutie, a cybercafe operator on the east of Nairobi.

Besides the filing of cases and tax returns, other government services accessed at the internet points include registration of students by schools, application of driving licenses, birth certificates, passports and electricity connection.

“The beauty of government services is that they don’t involve normal internet browsing alone as they come with the printing of documents or taking photos, which makes us earn more,” he said, adding that on a good day he makes up to 3,000 shillings (about 30 United States dollars).

But it’s not only government departments that are increasingly digitizing their services to curb COVID-19 spread, but even private entities like hospitals are also doing so, as they embrace telemedicine.

Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT Solution, a software development start-up in Nairobi, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has fanned the digital boom as people seek to curb the spread of the virus and thus businesses like cybercafes will emerge as some of the biggest beneficiaries.

“The COVID-19 pandemic era will be remembered globally as a great catalyst for a boom in digital services especially in developing countries like Kenya. For cybercafes, things have gone full circle; no one could predict their fortunes would change this better,” he said.


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