Phone network opens fresh opportunities in Kitui rural

Mr Noah Mwinzi, a businessman at Nguuku market in Kitui County makes a call outside his shop. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

Parts of Mwingi North in Kitui County hitherto underserved have seen more businesses open up, thanks to mobile network connectivity rolled out in the region for the first time since independence.

Some of the areas that were in the past not connected included Thagicu, Nguuku, Nthangani and Ngomeni.

But now, electronic money transfer outlets and internet cafes are coming up.

Making a telephone call in the area was hard, and few people bothered owning a mobile phone.

However, following the construction of three telecommunication base stations in the region, the area that in the past witnessed high incidences of crime including banditry, is now connected. The locals as well as business people remain upbeat about new opportunities coming up.

At Nguuku market, several M-Pesa shops have cropped up, making it easy for people to trade and for locals to receive and send money to friends and relatives.

“I have been operating here since February this year, and business is looking up. The network connectivity has created job opportunities for us young people,” says Eunice Musyoki at her M-Pesa shop, where she has also installed several computers for internet café.

She can now download online documents for clients and serve those who want to fill up documents online. Ms Musyoki says in the past, such services would only be found at Kamuwongo market, some 20km away.

General shop

Another businessman Noah Mwinzi who operates a general shop, says the network connectivity has come in handy for traders.

“Today, I can make a call from the comfort of my house and order for new stock. And in case of insecurity incidences, it is easy to call and report to police,” says Mwinzi.

Before the area was connected to the network, shop break-ins were common as robbers took advantage of the “dark period” to terrorise locals.

The nearest place they would find a network signal was five kilometres away, yet the network was not strong enough and would disconnect often as one made a call, he says.

The mobile phone connectivity has also made it easy for boda boda operators to do their business since they can conveniently communicate with clients.

“Unlike in the past where we would hurdle together at a certain point waiting for clients, today, we plan our work smoothly through phone calls. I know whom to pick and at what time,” says Eric Mutinda, the area boda boda chairman.

The common border banditry at Kasiluni area, which is near the border with Tana River County has also whittled down.

Before the connection, camel herders from Tana River and North Eastern Kenya would cross over to Kitui County and engage the locals in bloody battles that would routinely result in loss of lives, livestock and property.

However, the connection has seen the attacks go down since locals can easily communicate with the police.

This week, the Senate Committee on ICT led by Halake Abshiro Soka toured the region to assess the connectivity.

Also in attendance was Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua, who has been pushing the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) to ensure unserved regions of the vast county are connected.

The CAK acting Director General Mercy Wanjau said they will ensure all unserved areas are connected to the mobile network.

Even areas that have already been connected with the basic 3G network will be optimised to make the network more efficient she noted.

“We want to improve communication and security as well as businesses. Our plan is to connect all the pockets that are currently unserved and those with weak signals by the end of next year,” Wanjau said.

She said phase two of the network connectivity implementation will roll out in January next year, targeting about 200 unserved sub-locations across the country.

Of these, five sub-locations in Kitui among them Mutha, Kaatene and parts of Kitui East have been mapped out for connectivity

Senator Wambua urged telcos to come up with a sustainability programme to support the communities through connectivity.