Residents of Mkwiro village, only reached by boat from the shores of Shimoni in Kwale county, can now enjoy the convenience and security that mobile money transfers and uninterrupted phone calls due to the commissioning of a communication mast capable of relaying 2G signals. According to fishermen and other residents, the improved network reception has saved many lives.
Unlike other rural villages in Kenya that underwent rapid transformation in mobile communication, Mkwiro residents used to grapple with bad cell phone reception, dead zones and dropped calls. Safaricom’s recent installation of a communication mast in the village changed this scenerio. Amiri Hassan, a boat operator, said the mast is also a blessing as fishermen use it as a navigational aid helping them to keep on course.
“The light on the mast helps fishermen to avoid getting lost in the ocean. We have also been educated on the use of M-Pesa. If you want to send or deposit money it is instant unlike earlier when we had to travel to Shimoni,” said Mr Amiri.
Abdalla Mtundo, another fisherman, said they sometimes relied on networks of neighbouring Tanzanian telecommunication firms. “If you wanted to make a call there were network problems so you had to go to Mbogoa about 30 minutes away,” he said. Mkwiro Beach Management Unit Chairman Ropa Mohamed said the strong network connection and increased use of mobile phones has saved fishermen’s lives who can now send distressed calls from the ocean.
“We have been able to rescue fishermen stranded at sea. We are able to know where they are and send rescue teams,” said Mr Mohamed.
“Phones have saved lives. I have just received a call that a fisherman has called for help which is possible due to the mast. We have dispatched rescue teams,” he said. According to Assistant Chief Bey Hemed the mobile phone network complements residents’ efforts to keep the village crime-free by alerting security agencies and community police whenever they spot suspicious individuals.
The island has no police post. Safaricom Regional Network Manager Paul Gakiria said locals had previously suffered due to the poor network coverage. “We realised that even with a network on the mainland we still had a lot of customers far offshore. One of the reasons we came so far is to minimise the pain of residents,” he said.