Prosperity may not always directly translate into demand

By | December 18, 2011

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.

2 thoughts on “Prosperity may not always directly translate into demand

  1. Jonathan Stensland

    Now I understand exactly where you are in the geography of the problem you’be been chewing through. I grew-up in Madagascar and Nairobi, even then, in the 60s and 70s, was the sexy spot for global charitable outfits. How would you suppose does your Catholic upbring fit into your finding yourself in this role? Rhetorical question.

    I grew up the son of Lutheran missionaries in the far south. There was very little wealth of any kind. But there was an amazing quality to daily life and to the people who lived those lives. Hardship was a part of that. Social networks were very broad, following tribal and congregational lines of affiliation; the two not always in sync, yet very present. Is it possible that the idea of ‘social capital’ is an already fully employed, spiritually speaking. It might well be that these other two social networks would have to collapse before that idea has a genuine need to crystallize a new form, per the web. However, we’re people such as yourself, able to graft the web version of social capital onto the existing ones, you could really root this in the African psyche. There are many displaced for reasons of work. People who no longer live in the tribal zone of their heritage. My guess is that these people are adapting to cyber because they have the genuine need.

    We tend to equate ideas with innovation, but ideas are co-eternal with the life-form that gives rise to their expression. It is only when a once satisfactory mode of giving expression to such ideas suffers a collapse that the idea gets active again in order to generate a new solution to the of a congealed instinct.

    Isn’t it possible that the give-away dilemma you are looking at has some deeper psychology underneath it. African indigenous economics was largely a gift-honor economy, where having and giving conveyed a great deal of Mana on the giver and the receiver. Giving was how the societies preceding colonialism kept the spiritual batteries of their various spheres of communities charged

  2. Niti Bhan

    Hi Jonathan,

    The give-away dilemma of charitable donation of items that small businesses are trying to make, sell and service in the market is exacerbated when the givers are not indigenous but swooping in from outside, the former colonists themselves.


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