Internet replaces physical meeting spaces for Kenyans

A woman on video chat
A woman on video chat. PHOTO | COURTESY 

2020 is unlike any other year. Njoki Wairua would have been toasting and laughing with her two sisters and parents celebrating her father’s birthday. However, this past Sunday, Njoki was on Google Hangouts in a nuclear family chat she dubbed #QuarantineBirthdays celebrating her father.

“Normally we would meet as a family to celebrate dad’s birthday, but with the cessation of movement in and out of Nairobi County, we took the celebration online.” Asked if she is also catching up with friends using technology she says “Yes I am. Actually Google Hangouts as it's safer than Zoom.”

Life as we know it has changed. Before, shoppers would spend hours milling about malls browsing, shopping, and meeting with friends for the random drink or meal, purchasing their necessities, watching the odd film, simply being with people, connecting in person.

Foot traffic in malls, supermarkets, boutiques, open-air markets has since seen a steep decline following directives by the Ministry of Health to maintain physical distance with repeat calls to stay home by the Presidency, schools being shut indefinitely and a section of the labour force being asked to work from home.

Google’s latest Covid-19 Community Mobility Report shows that there has been a 43 percent reduction in foot traffic at retail and recreation places in Kenya. This include restaurants, cafés, shopping centres, theme parks, museums, libraries and movie theatres.


Njoki is not the only one. Millions of users globally have taken to their devices to stay connected to each other, with apps recording a surge in traffic.

Mbithi Nzau, a guitarist and creative, has taken to creating content online.

“Well I had an idea for a show after watching Queen Sono so I talked to a friend of mine who’s a writer and he said we start it so we decided to block time from 9 am to 2 pm for writing. We are four of us, we basically just video call or WhatsApp call or just text ideas then write and share them on email until we form something.” Says Mbithi.

Mbithi and his friends are not the only ones creating socially while leveraging on technology. Former radio presenter Larry Asego has taken to creating “Quarantine Productions” a remix of popular songs made by friends and friends of friends.

“A friend of mine just sent me a video of him singing as he was working from home. I added an extra line to the song he was singing and sent it back, he added the next and I added a track to it and we decided to rope in other friends. And voilà we were singing.” Larry explains

“We posted on my Facebook, Instagram pages and my friends saw the posts, with our bad singing voices and before we knew it we had requests on the next song we should do. For each song we “annihilate” we hope new people can join the fun. All they have to do is just record themselves singing a line of a song and send it. The end result is always a surprise because you don’t know who will feature in the video.”

The fun homemade videos are tailored for “anybody who’s in quarantine, who’s dealing with isolation blues, friends we’ve not seen for a while or even new friends who just want to break the TV fridge routine” Larry muses.

The aim he reflects is “probably just to share a message of hope and try have fun and afford a smile even through these trying times. We are a resilient people and hopefully we can afford a smile even in adversity. I know it doesn’t solve any Covid-19 problems, but it doesn’t hurt either. I just hope to be able to reconnect with as many friends as possible and hopefully get a smile with our bad singing from someone having a bad day. If we can’t meet socially we can connect virtually.”

Avid reader and book club lover Saiton Tameno-Righa misses these connections with friends from her book club even though technology has greatly enhanced connectivity, it’s not the same. Although she still has her digital books, “My book club is the thing I miss the most” she reflects.

For the readers, book stores are now seldom being visited. Readers are now looking online for book purchases.

Samuel Muraya alias DJ Mo mixing live gospel music during NTV Crossover 101

Samuel Muraya alias DJ Mo mixing live gospel music during NTV Crossover 101 show on April 5 2020 from his house. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Text Book Centre posted on its website, “Over the past one month, we have recorded a surge of more than 300 percent in online orders and purchases. The unprecedented influx has put a stretch on our E-commerce resources since we have been compelled to comply with the nationwide curfew.”

This influx versus the pile-up of orders has led to a revision in delivery timelines by the firm up to the end of the month.

The Google Covid-19 Community Mobility Report shows that there has been a 29 percent decline in the visits to grocery markets, food warehouses, farmers markets, specialty food shops, drug stores, and pharmacies.

This means more people are looking online for shopping and as a result of the influx in orders online, most retailers have warned of delays or longer wait times for delivery as well as stock outs.

Retailer Naivas has at some of its stores introduced dedicated counters for its delivery partner Glovo as demand has surged more than five times on the platform.

The World Health Organization and the Ministry Of Health guidelines that focus on improved sanitation, reduced physical distance among others to reduce risk of Covid-19 infections, has led to a leapfrogging in innovations that aid in this, from electronic makers such as LG with their natural steam options in their dishwashers and washing machines to remove germs and bacteria to jua kali innovations that allow the citizens to apply soap and wash their hands without having to touch the soap dispenser or tap.

Alice Muthoni, a mother of three, admits that she is a huge fan of the washing machine.

“I like the washing machine because my babies are young, the smallest one is three years old. With the kids at home, laundry piles up a lot. We are changing towels and beddings more frequently too.” She says.

The machine disperses steam that penetrates fabrics and cuts through dirt and splattered food, removing visible stains and invisible germs too.

According to the newly released 10-sector analysis of Covid-19 by Nendo, the pandemic is accelerating digital transformation.

“Necessity is the mother of invention and the world is defining means of communication, collaboration, and cooperation while combating the virus.” Reads the report.

Jambo Pay’s Danson Muchemi admits that his firm has had to adjust its operations as a result of Covid-19. The organization has had to adapt 85 percent of its work force to working remotely to keep them safe.

“(Jambo Pay) decided to avail our e-commerce technology to businesses, traders, farmers and the general public at zero initial cost through a multivendor online platform now known as the JamboPay Market.” Says Danson.

“The multi-vendor platform will go live April 29. The focus on targeting businesses moving to e-commerce to on board their product and we give them a link to clients, logistics with partners so as a business you don’t really have to invest in moving the business online.”

The rise in business inquiries for shift digital sales and transactions as e-commerce and cashless transactions gain traction to reduce risks associated with handling potentially contaminated cash, has been echoed by leaders calling even those in the transport sector to go cashlite.

Carolyne Ndolo IQVIA General Manager Eastern Africa

Carolyne Ndolo IQVIA General Manager Eastern Africa. PHOTO| DIANA NGILA

Like most entrepreneurs Muchemi is still having six to eight meetings daily on Google Meet and Zoom. It is not just an operational adaptation but tactical and strategic as well to safeguard business long term survival.

Among these business leaders holding virtual meetings with her teams is Carolyne Ndolo,General Manager Eastern Africa for IQIVIA.

“We hold weekly virtual meetings with the whole team, as well as several others with different people from across our Eastern Africa region. We have a lot of technology as a company, so we are busy helping our clients with tools to keep their teams connected at this time.” She says.

“Given the current situation, face to face interactions are not possible. It is still important for the representatives to keep interacting with the doctors and pharmacists, we have a tool that enables the remote interactions to continue.”

Looking ahead, Muchemi reckons “We expect and upsurge in new business models going forward.”

Telcos have increased their internet offerings to consumers, Safaricom with double the speed on their home fibre, Liquid Telecom with Liquid Virtual Workplace for remote working even as Google’s Loon project beams 4G connectivity.

The 10-sector analysis of Covid-19 by Nendo forecasts “ride hailing companies like Uber, Bolt, and Little preferred, when necessary. The demand for Boda Boda riders will become one of the signature traits of the present and future world post-Covid-19.”

The report also sees in retail, e-Commerce players such as Jumia, Kilimall, and SkyGarden will experience greater demand and sales during the pandemic even as major brick-and-mortar supermarkets strike partnerships to accelerate their digital transformation and serve customers as seen with Tuskys partnering with Sendy, Carrefour with Jumia and Naivas with Glovo.