Why switching off the internet is not an option for Kenya 

As Kenya marks the first week of work uninterrupted by protests, one wonders what the alternative would have been with the grandstanding that was threatening to end in all out chaos and the imagined possibility of an internet black out.

On Sunday April 2, the media alleged there was a plan by the government to shut down the internet and some media houses ahead of the fourth round of anti-government protests.

Shutting off the internet is common in Africa especially during hotly contested elections with at least 52 African elections affected by internet shutdowns between 2016 and 2021. 

Over 171 million internet users have been affected by internet shut downs in 2021 resulting in huge economic losses of over Kes257 billon ($1.93 billion). 

Despite the widespread use, Kenya has never shut down the internet in times of elections and has signed the Declaration for Future of the Internet (DFI) a pledge not to use the internet to undermine democratic processes, although it is yet to be ratified.

An internet shut down could be damaging to the business community including settling international transactions such as Visa and Mastercard, ground operations of many businesses and State, which run on foreign mail networks and could discourage future investments at a time Kenya needs to leverage on digital technology to create employment of roughly 2.97 million jobless citizens. 

The internet in Kenya has grown into a basic need especially in urban areas such as Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa and Eldoret where 71 percent of mobile users who access the internet live. 

Internet use has become so pervasive both in the office and at home on a daily basis for the vibrant e-commerce businesses, logistics, media and links to payment platforms.

Social media like Facebook and WhatsApp, streaming music and movies for entertainment or even for research in school and work as well as catch up with the latest trends in knowledge are some of the standout avenues that dominate personal and home use.

Read also: WhatsApp to the aid of pubs amidst a post-pandemic glut

The first thing a Kenyan will ask when they walk into a restaurant is not the menu but the WiFi password, a trend that has sustained the coffee chain outlets in urban centres. 

The rise in internet demand has seen telcos battle it out to connect homes and businesses to affordable and reliable connections including Safaricom, Zuku, Jamii Telkom and Starlink. 

The telecommunication companies have spent billions connecting thousands of homes to fixed-data network, using fibre and poles leased out from Kenya Power which in 2022 also expressed interest in entering the internet services segment. 

However, fiber networks has mostly spread in cities where there has been a critical mass to justify rolling out fibre networks with most areas of the country lacking the infrastructure to join the internet bandwagon.  

To capture this demand Safaricom introduced the 4G WiFi router that allows people, who don’t have fiber connectivity, to connect seamlessly to the internet. It also allows for a substitute connectivity for people who are constantly on the move and want a reliable and safe internet connection to move around with their router.

Safaricom which entered the fibre market in 2014 has the widest 4G coverage in the country relative to any player in the market and so customers can be assured of connectivity and great speeds at affordable prices.

The telcos slashed prices on its routers to encourage uptake reducing the initial cost of joining their network via the Adrian router from Kes9,999 to Kes5,999  and HUAWEI router from Kes10,999 to Kes6,999. Each router comes with 30GB free data welcome bundle for 30 days.

As the company extends its reach beyond the urban areas with a lower cost of uptake, it is bound to open up more areas to the internet economy.

The government of President William Ruto has also promised to build digital infrastructure that will provide free WiFi at 25,000 hotspots across the country that is expected to give online retail a boost even as the government expands the new digital services tax that will capture this growing industry.

A cabinet memo revealed the seminal project would feature laying of over 100,000 Kilometers of fibre optic cables across Kenya and establishment of digital village smart hubs and studios in each of the country’s 1,450 wards. 

As the internet connection expands rapidly and new economic opportunities arise as a result Kenya will be less inclined to want to shut it down as that will literally drag the economy to a stop. 

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