A Retrospect on my Trip to Kenya

I asked for feedback from you and got quite some. Some privately and some publically – thank you all who took the time to answer. One of the feedbacks I heard more than once was, that you are interested in my view on the region and the security there. So, what I will try to do is giving you some insights in trips I do to more "exotic" places (so I will most probably not cover my trips to Brussels and London next week).

So, I just came back today from Nairobi, Kenya. Let me share my impressions and my program. We mainly did three things

  • Visited a call center called KenCall
  • Did some internal business stuff (which I will not be talking of J)
  • Visited some NGOs helping the people in the slums.

So, there are two main areas to share with you, let's start with KenCall: KenCall is a classical outsourcer for call center services. The interesting thing were the regulative hurdles they had to overcome. As an example: In order to use Voice over IP, they need a certification. However, the government did not allow them to use VoIP as they would see that as a competition to their telecom providers. What they could get, however, is a certification to do Video over the Internet, even if they do not use pictures J. An other story: They are outsourcing the call center for a company in Tanzania. As both governments do not allow data to cross the border between them, a call coming in to the company is routed to the US, from there via Satellite for Norway and then to Kenya J.

The more impressive part however was our visit in the Slums of Nairobi. We were visiting different training centers in the slums. You have to realize that 52% of the 36 million people in Kenya are heaving <1$ a month! So, there are organizations that do trainings on PCs with the people there. We are supporting them with our Unlimited Potential program. We met a carpenter there who went through the training. He decided to buy a PC (costs him about half a monthly salary) before he buys any machines. The reason for that is that he told us that he has to earn trust first and make a difference. Then he will get "access" to people ready to pay higher prices which would allow him to buy the machines. He showed a sense for business you hardly see in Small and Medium Businesses in Western Europe. These people are smart! We had to answer the question from one of them: What is the strategy of Microsoft if the applications move more and more to the web?

So, they are smart and they get trained. What is hindering them? Three things in my opinion:

  • A stable and reliable infrastructure. This is power, streets, law enforcement, micro credits etc.
  • Fast and affordable access to the Internet: Their 128k connection to the internet costs flat $140 – per month!!! For that price you get kind of unlimited speed in Western Europe. This will change soon. There is a new cable being built at the Eastern coast of Africa, where Kenya connects to.
  • Affordable access to technology. This was a very interesting discussion. Would it help if we would ship our old PCs to Kenya. The longer we talked about that, I am convinced that it would not. They need access to state-of-the-art technology and this in an affordable way. Otherwise they will run old software (e.g. Windows 95) and we all know how secure and powerful this OS is when it comes to today's requirements. So this is something we are working on. Giving them the software for free does not work for two reasons: They have to learn how business works (this is not my statement but from an NGO-person) and we have to make sure that these English version are not "exported" to the US and UK but there will be ways.

So, they have a hell lot of challenges but seeing the potential there, I am more and more convinced that we have a very interesting market (and competitor) just in our neighborhood. My job is a similar one as in Nigeria: Make sure that take off in a secure and safe way (e.g. include Children's Online Safety into their curriculums).

BTW, we had to drive by the largest slum in Africa called Kibera, where approx 1.2 miollion people are living on 2.5 km2, which makes a density of 300'000/km2… It was depressing…


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