By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal
Internet cafés full to capacity especially at nightfall, people of all ages screaming in front of computers while chatting and laughing with their overseas friends, family members and lovers, young Senegalese men swearing undying love to their older white girlfriends they met online, and many more. All this is being done through Skype, the VoIP service bought in 2011 by US giant Microsoft for 8.5 billion USD.
There are no figures to quantify Skype’s success in Africa, but Statistics Brain says the total number of Skype users as of January 2012 amounted to 31-million worldwide.
“Despite connection problems in some African countries, Skype’s success is being really felt in African countries with good broadband connectivity, such as Egypt, Morocco, Senegal and South Africa,” software developer Ousmane Ndoye tells Biztechafrica.
Ndoye, an IT graduate forced by the lack of formal jobs to open an internet café, said Skype has taken Senegal by storm. “Families whose members live overseas see in Skype a cheap way of chatting with them live and getting instant feedback to solve their problems,” he says.
There are conflicting figures about the number of Senegalese living abroad. The government says 2-million, while the International Labour Organisation put that number at over 500 000. Other independent but unofficial sources, however, says 4-million.
Senegal’s remittances, which account for 10% of the country’s GDP, amounted to 1.4 billion USD in 2010, and were expected to drop in 2011 and 2012 due to the global economic meltdown, the World Bank says.
“This is a bustling township with a market place, street traders, and bus and taxi stations around. I’m pretty sure that all these people have one or two family members living abroad. All day long, I see them coming here to chat with them to ask money for food, business and school fees.
“Skype is cheaper and is really helping Africa a lot.”
One hour of internet in Dakar townships costs 250 Fcfa (0.50 cent USD, roughly 4.40), while Expresso airtime is sold at 500 Fcfa and Orange at 1000 Fcfa. Only Tigo has the cheapest rate, starting from 250 Fcfa.
“The choice is clear,” says schoolgirl Nafissatou Traoré. “Every two days, I chat on Skype for 30 minutes with my brother who lives in France. I see him live and he sees me live, it’s like he’s here with me. And that only costs me 125 F.”
Mariama Bah, a 60-year-old mother whose three children live in Europe and one in South Africa, says: “I’m a poor woman who can’t afford to call my kids with my cellphone. With my network Expresso, it’s only about five minutes and it goes quiet. Besides, you only hear the voice, so you wonder if they are okay or not.”
No need to worry for people who cannot use computers.
“We help them by opening accounts and keep their passwords safely. They can use it whenever they show up,” says Pape Souaré, the manager of an internet café in central Dakar.
“Yes, we make most of our money out of Skype. Not Facebook, neither faxing nor typing. There are people who chat for hours.”
The number of time active Skype users spend on Skype per month is 100 minutes, while the number of monthly log-ins to Skype is 124 million. Skype revenue in 2010 was 406.2 million USD, Statistics Brain says.