As the undersea cables are connected and we prepare for Kenya’s technological great leap forward, one thing that has been troubling me is the certainty expressed by some that increased bandwidth is going to transform the country. This seems premature, especially when the other problems the country faces are taken into account.
No doubt certain industry sectors will benefit; better connectivity means it will be quicker, easier and cheaper to do business. There are already entrepreneurs talking about setting up outsourcing operations similar to those in Bangalore to attract foreign investment, while quite a few freelancers are hoping to make bigger names for themselves once they can rely on higher speeds to bid for work. In a decade, the Kenyan business landscape could look very different. The Kenyan web experience, however, will probably stay the same.
According to Alexa, the top destinations for Kenyan internet users are not to homegrown websites but to those that the rest of the world use. Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter are all more popular than any local websites. Since the last time I looked at Kenyan browsing habits, local websites have seen an increase in traffic, but have rarely moved up more than a couple of places, with one notable exception. NyeriOnline.com is offline at the moment, and didnt exist when I looked at the list, but has nevetheless leapt up to claim 25th place overall in the list of top 100 websites, having seen an increase in traffic of 150% in the last three months alone.
It’s notable, however that Nyeri Online have a .com domain rather than the local .co.ke variant. Could this have anything to do with the fact that private individuals find it a bit of a chore to register domains? The KENIC website states that .co.ke domains are for “companies” with no reference to personal use. It seems a little unnecessary to expect everyone to register a business if all they want is a small personal website. It’s almost as though our benign overlords don’t want us to make any use of the internet. Just as well that other countries aren’t so hung up on similar issues of control.
This could actually hinder the homegrown Kenyan internet. By making it too difficult for speculative entrepreneurs and private individuals to claim Kenyan domains as their own, the authorities are simply sending them elsewhere. A good idea will not go unexplored because of a lack of a website address. KENIC claim to be “supporting the Kenya country code,” but setting up hoops that Kenyans have to jump through before they can make use of a local domain seems counterintuitive.
So my prediction is that the Kenya web will stay much the same. There will be an increase in the number of local domains as more businesses get themselves on to the web, but the majority of Kenyans will continue to make use of the .com websites, rather than those closer to home.
[Image by SeemingLee]