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Senegal power hampers Internet café growth

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, Dakar, Senegal

Moussa Fall cuts a forlorn figure behind the desk of his internet café in the bustling township of Parcelles Assainies in Senegal’s capital city Dakar. “It has been an hour since the power went off,” he tells Biztechafrica.

“It’s the same picture every single day in Dakar. We are suffering a lot,” Fall says emotionally. “If things don’t improve next year, I’ll close down and leave the country,” he charges, fuming.

Internet Cafés – or cyber cafés as they are called in Francophone Africa – have been at the forefront of the digital revolution in the ‘dark continent’, where very few people possess computers at home, and where the mobile internet explosion failed dismally to improve internet penetration.

Mete Yildiz, Dr Türksel Kaya Bensghir and Ayhan Çankaya also emphasised the economic role of Internet cafés, saying that since the economic activity on the Internet (e-commerce, e-trade) is becoming a substantial part of the overall global economic activity, providing Internet access to the citizens will enlarge the customer base of the economy.

But when electricity supply in Africa suffers, Internet cafés owners also suffer and mourn.

“We don’t have a problem with connectivity or speed here in Dakar, but our major problem is power outages. You can’t make money if the electricity keeps going in and out every time. A lot of people, from travellers to business people, tertiary students, pupils, Skype users and online lovers depend on us,” Fall says.

As he spoke, a couple of customers waited outside, probably to escape the simmering heat of Senegal, hoping and praying that dear power will be restored so that they can start where they left off.

“I have an assignment to type, submit and email but now this, hey Senegal is no good,” complains 2nd year accounting student Amina Ndour.

Cyber cafés can function as centres for support, education and learning about new tools, and therefore could help people overcome skill deficits which would normally exclude them from access to information and new technologies, according to A.H Haseloff.

Due to the lack of credible figures to quantify these tools - nobody has bothered to conduct a survey of these digital houses so far – their exact number in Senegal and Africa is relatively unknown.

In spite of the increasing importance of Internet cafés, very limited research has been reported on their diffusion, even in areas of Asia and Africa, where they represent a major means of access to digital information and communication, Bjorn Furuholt and Stein Kristiansen, from Agder University College in Norway, explain in Internet Cafés in Asia and Africa –

Venues for Education and Learning?

As it is the case all over Africa, where unemployment is rife, most Senegalese Internet cafés owners and managers are IT graduates and skilled disillusioned by successive governments’ inability to create jobs in the ICT sector.

The Association for Progressive Communications reports that Senegal’s young graduates have difficulty finding work, and there are no visible structures specialised in financing ICT-related projects.

“There are very few IT jobs in Senegal, I regret coming back home and I regret even more for opening this Internet café,” a visibly pissed off Jean-Baptiste Ndiaye says after power failed to come back after half-an-hour.

Ndiaye says he had big business plans, including opening two internet cafés in rural towns.

“If Dakar’s electricity is so unreliable, I wonder how bad the situation is in the countryside,” he says.

In Senegal, 57% of households have electricity, 27% in the rural areas against 88% in urban areas, according to a 2012 survey published by the Agence Nationale de la  Statistique et de la Démographie (ANSD).


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