Around 35.8 million people live in rural areas in Kenya as per 2016 statistics, a number that has now increased two years down the line, yet accessing fast and reliable internet is still a tall order in some of these areas where fast 3 G and 4 G internet is the stuff of legend, read only in books. However, in what seems to be a different world, residents of Nanyuki county have over 1,100 Wi-Fi hotspots, connecting 600 small businesses to the internet and active users exceeding 11,000 people courtesy of Mawingu Networks, an innovative internet provider.
Mawingu, in partnership with Microsoft and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is using a technology often ignored (more on that later) to provide fast and reliable internet to rural folks in Nanyuki and Laikipia counties. Mawingu has connected government offices, dispensaries, public libraries, the Red Cross and over 26 schools with fast internet. Among them is Sweet Water Secondary in Nanyuki, where the students have a library fully equipped with ICT equipment; computers, a screen etc, through which they can watch educational videos and research online, whatever picks their interest.
This has already improved the students’ performance and further exposed their minds to a global world that only the internet has the power to open up. “Internet has brought a new method of teaching, arousing interest in various fields that were difficult for the teacher to teach in class, so when you incorporate the ICT together with their notes, the students are able to understand better, explore and research,” said Judy Nyambura, teacher at the school.
The technology used to avail high speed, affordable internet connectivity to the rural areas utilises TV white spaces technology to transmit internet. How it works is that when TV stations apply for a broadcasting licence, they are allocated frequencies that they will use for their channels, however, to prevent frequency interference between the different TV stations, some frequencies are left free to act as gaps and these are known as white spaces and these can be used to transmit internet. Since some of the areas served have underdeveloped electricity infrastructure, solar panels are used as a source of energy.
According to a World Bank Study, increase in broadband internet penetration by 10 % increases GDP growth by 0.65 % (which translates to Ksh.455 million for Kenya) in developing countries. Additionally, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development also recognises that the spread of information and communication technology, together with global interconnectedness (accelerated by the internet) has great potential to bridge the digital divide and develop knowledge societies. Furthermore, ICT and internet technologies are mentioned as indicators needed to achieve four (quality education, gender equality, infrastructure, industrialisation partnership for the goals) of the 17 Sustainable development goals.
The penetration of internet technologies has increased the range of possibilities in rural areas and this has been epitomized by the launch of the AppFactory (Apprenticeship Factory for Developers) by Mawingu in Nanyuki.
The project will teach youth in the area with digital and computer programming skills in addition to spending up to six months working with senior software technicians, developing essential workplace skills and the ability to design and implement modern software solutions. After graduating, apprentices will have access to jobs, both at Mawingu Networks and within its linkage of small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs).
The AppFactory in an initiative of Microsoft 4Africa who provide the relevant support, platforms, and tools to successfully run the programme while franchising it to host partners like Mawingu Networks in different countries. The Nanyuki AppFactory will be the 16th among franchises in Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mauritius, Uganda and Rwanda.
To learn more the internet in Kenya read Highlights From The iFreedoms Kenya State Of The Internet Report 2017