A case study to start with
Do you know that IT Guru Internet café closed? This was asked by my peer whose concern was about our once one stop center for all our internet demands. I told him, yes since it was no surprise to me given the few internet cafes that are still operational are resting on time bombs that are a mere seconds away from blowing stemming from the empty seats that have come to describe them.
This reminds me of my early days with the not so visually alluring classical game called Mines Sweeper where you detonated mines and only waited for them to explode so as to make way for the protagonist. Today’s internet cafes in Uganda are awaiting a similar situation since the mines were long planted and it’s about time they exploded to pave way for the new era.
A short story that everyone ought to remember
Before IT Guru closed shop, it was our only gateway to the online world that has almost conquered everyone including the one reading this. With the growth of social networking most internet cafes in Uganda were a lucrative business that expanded from the initially one shop into a huge business with duo shops not until everything came crumbling down. Thanks to the numerous telecos that have made the internet available to us 24/7. If you’ve come to notice or went through those English classes, you might have somewhat realized I am speaking of IT Guru in past tense. It lived through its times till it came down to its knees as if the global recession didn’t leave it standing tall.
While IT Guru was still operational, it was our only gateway to sending emails or just saying hi to my then pals on Hi5 or checking out MySpace. Yahoo was hot by then so were the insane names given to many peoples’ mails with yahoo domains. We had to endure the slow speeds of dial-up connections not by choice but simply because it was the technology available until mobile broadband came knocking at the door that earlier budding entrepreneurs in the internet café business got a head start of their nightmares.
Is the smartphone debut to blame?
Don’t beat about the bush by failing to ask me why I have drawn conclusions so early about the imminent death of the said cafes and not your regular coffee shop where you go to sip some cappuccino. The fact is we long buried them the day this thing called ‘The Smartphone’ used superficial forces and made its debut on Ugandan soil. It was and still is a count among others that are leading to the gradual collapse of the guy next door.
Besides the smartphone, this gradual decline is being catapulted by the growth of mobile broadband which doesn’t require one trekking a long journey from the town outskirts to the main trading centers to get an experience of the online world. It has saved us the sweat not forgetting the “Boda boda” fares and so the advent of mobile broadband is one hell to thank.
Not forgetting the Chinese, the private players and of course the government
Once you add cheap to the above statement, then the answer just comes up outright. The People’s Republic of China is also another player thank for their continued churning out of cheap mobile broadband hardware, we also owe the private players a big thanks for their continued investment in broadband especially telcos.
When the first fiber optic cables arrived in our landlocked Uganda, mourning hymns started rhyming through internet café owner’s minds as if a doomed spell had been cast onto them. Internet rates that previously made the internet an affluent only commodity that my once economics syllabus preferred to call articles of ostentation saw a downward spiral and dropped. Many internet consumers rejoiced while the once mighty café owners wailed.
And then Warid, Orange and Other ISPs joined the loop
To add some icing on this damn sweet cake merry merry Warid (R.I.P) stepped foot on Ugandan soil and launched an assault on the ashes of the decaying internet cafes with their viral marketing chants coupled with subsidized handsets, queues followed their shops like the iPhone craze had been exported to Uganda. They sold out like craze which reminded me of the days of MTN’s “Kabiriti” whose marketing headliner and motor mouth was famed local Musician Bobi Wine that when every kabiriti verse of him that dropped on Radio or TV, stacks of cash were added to MTN coffers. The same can be said of Warid with their ZTE handsets that sold like hot cakes.
The same acknowledgement can be accorded to the former Orange Uganda with its Internet Everywhere campaign that introduced many to the world of dongles with their super-fast 3G internet speeds and increased coverage. This also saw legions join the internet bandwagon while the café guys cried foul since common figures at their once famed establishments disappeared into thin air. Soon after, other ISPs upped their game to offer some competition which was good on the consumers side.
It now only remains to public spaces like libraries (which are a rare sight by the way), school computer labs that still serve the same purpose as the olden internet cafes but see traffic in insane amounts.
Featured Image Credit: mytechportal