Prosperity may not always directly translate into demand

Kajiado town, Kajiado county, Kenya Nov 2011

News has it that the richest county in Kenya is Kajiado where only 12% of the population are below the poverty line as compared to the national average of 46%. A snippet reveals:

Commenting on the fortunes of Kajiado district, commission Vice-Chairperson Fatuma Abdulkadir said: “Kajiado’s riches are concentrated on areas in proximity to Nairobi.”  She cited Ngong, Ongata Rongai, Kitengela, Isinya and Kajiado town. “The interior is as poor as any other marginalised areas of the country,” she said.

And yet, we discovered, that Kajiado town has the least demand for internet services among all the places we visited.  Worse so was Isinya, where we’ll never quite know if there even would be demand for browsing the internet since they have very poor infrastructure with signals too weak for a decent connection so the cybers are usually empty as the internet is often down.

Wealth doesn’t always translate directly into demand for a particular service or product. Malindi’s beach boys who are mostly half educated unemployed dropouts spend most of their time in the cyber making global connections and setting up future business with forthcoming tourists during the low season. Its a boomtime for the local cyber whose revenues can reach as high as Ksh 250,000 a month during this time. In comparison, the cybers in Kajiado are lucky to make about Ksh 3000 a month  or a little higher when schools have their vacations and the majority of their business is from other services like typesetting, photocopying or scanning et al.

We tend to assume that as population incomes increase their demand for modern technology will increase as well – that prosperity and the world wide web go hand in hand is implicit in so much of the ICT4D frameworks. But every once in a while there comes along an example like Kajiado’s where the exception to the ‘rules’ can be found and it does us good to pause and think for a moment. Maybe not everyone wants exactly the same things we aspire to own, and maybe there is a different path to progress and wellbeing than the one we have taken.  And just maybe, the cyber is a pretty cool place to sit and have a cold drink and shoot the breeze with one’s friends on the sofa, and just watch the real world go passing by.

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