Laptops, smartphone imports surge 56 percent during Covid lockdown


The jump in orders of telecommunication equipment from abroad came in a period when staff in many firms worked from home to reduce the probability of spreading the virus. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The value of Kenya’s telecommunications gadget imports, including computers, laptops and smartphones, surged by more than half to Sh8.01 billion in four months of Covid-19 lockdown as people worked from home and students turned to e-learning services.

This was an increase from the Sh5.18 billion that Kenyans splashed on tech items in the four months to July last year, according the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), reflecting a 56.29 percent growth.

The jump in orders of telecommunication equipment from abroad came in a period when staff in many firms worked from home to reduce the probability of spreading the virus.

Private schools turned to online classes to generate income from fees as they fought for survival in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has led to the closure of learning institutions.

The Covid-19 restrictions on travel and mass gatherings and a dusk-to-dawn curfew also increased demand for items like laptops and smartphones and saw a surge in data traffic for telecoms firms such as Safaricom #ticker:SCOM.

“The pandemic has been a technological equaliser of sorts, where people previously unaccustomed to using technology in the workplace have had no choice but to adapt,” Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) executive director Jacqueline Mugo told the Business Daily via email.

“Companies have quickly figured out how to serve their customers and clients remotely, and there is no going back.”

The number of coronavirus infections in Kenya had by Tuesday hit 35,356, with 600 deaths reported.

The first positive case was confirmed in the country on March 13, and a steady rise in infections prompted the government to impose movement restrictions on March 25.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on July 6 announced a phased reopening of the country, lifting restrictions on travel in and out of Nairobi and Mombasa as well as allowing air travel to resume.

Benson Wairegi, the chief executive of Britam Holdings which has about 70 percent of its staff working remotely, said working from home is here to stay.

“We shall never go back to the old ways of working. That means we are going to reconfigure our office space. We will perhaps require less working space because people are going to be enabled to work from home,” Mr Wairegi said in a recent interview.

Corporate meetings and seminars are also being conducted on video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans and Cisco Webex, while closure of learning institutions has also meant classes are conducted online.

Safaricom, which offers both mobile and home Internet connection, reported a surge in data traffic from early April on remote working and online classes.

The telecoms operator doubled Internet speeds for more than 300,000 on its home fibre connection and accelerated new connections.

“People are discovering they can work from home. Education and learning will change. Small businesses are going to learn they can digitise their operations and operate more smartly,” Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa said earlier.

As people disperse to their homes to work and study because of the coronavirus pandemic, taking their laptops and company data with them, cyber security experts say hackers have followed, seeking to take advantage and infiltrate corporations.

Many workers are moving their employers’ data from professionally managed corporate networks to home Wi-Fi setups protected with basic passwords.

Some organisations are loosening restrictions to allow employers to access work-critical information from their home offices, heightening the risk of information leaks.