When a Safaricom base station goes up, the impact is great. It brings with it not just social connections but business and educational opportunities as well.
When I set out to go to Olgulului, I was going out to cover the story of the new base station that Safaricom had put up. By the end of my trip I had fallen in love with its landscape, its people and the Elephants that make the area of Amboseli their home. Being a city resident, network issues are not something I think about anymore, not like 10 years or so ago when we were on 2G and even then, we had it pretty good. Living in the city I take Safaricom’s 4G for granted. My life and work are connected to Safaricom’s great network from working from home using Safaricom fibre to paying my bills on M-PESA and even making my calls and sending texts. Even when I am far from home, my Safaricom data comes in handy so all I have to do is turn it on and I can call, text or WhatsApp. It’s a pretty great life.
Interacting with the locals in Olgulului made me really appreciate how far we have come in terms of access and how access can make such a huge difference both personally and business-wise. I found out that for this area, not having a network connection has really held them back. There are a lot of wild animals in areas like this and sometimes herders have to sleep out in the wild. When there was no network coverage this would cause worry for families who did not know whether their family member out herding cattle was safe until the next day. Imagine not being able to sleep because you don’t know whether your loved one is ok or not and there is no way to call to find out?
In this area, the network that was available was Vodacom from Tanzania. Of course, it was expensive to access because the locals would have to pay roaming charges but also getting that network was also difficult. People told me they had to go to Namanga to access the internet and go up to certain spots to get a chance to make a call. Of course, if there is no network this means that things that we take for granted like just being able to randomly call somebody to talk or taking out your phone to make a payment with M-PESA are not possible.
The base station has really made a difference in the lives of the residents. Also, it has made a difference for Rangers who are now able to get information from the community on poacher activity and also allowed them to respond very fast to emergencies. I covered the story of the rangers here. For the medical personnel, this has also made their work easier as they can now receive distress calls and go out to handle emergencies, like women giving birth kilometres away. Good Network Is As Important To Us As Medicine Is Important To A Sick Person – Community Health Worker Olgulului
Many of the locals in Olgulului are cattle and goat farmers. They faced challenges while out in the field and it was also hard for them to do business because they could not make calls because of no network this also meant they could not access M-PESA which would have made it easier and safer for them to transact. Now people are taking advantage of the network to set up M-PESA shops, sell their animals and get paid over M-PESA and now they are also able to access the internet. A good network has even more importantly brought families closer together. These days people are in a position to make calls to their relatives who live in different areas, thus strengthening the family bond.
I interviewed some of the residents to find out more about how access to the network has changed their lives.
“In the past, if I needed to carry out any kind of M-PESA transaction, I had to travel from home to the nearest town just to send or receive money. In the event that I would be receiving, I would be forced to once again embark on yet another journey to get to an area that had an M-PESA shop. The whole process would require you to dedicate an entire day to just carrying out transactions. These days we do everything from the comfort of our homes.” One of the residents told me.
Purity Lakara is one of eight female rangers in the Olgulului Community Rangers’ Team Lioness.
“I work as a ranger because I love wildlife and I would like to play a role in protecting them for the future generation. Being Maasai, I grew up around wildlife, we always had a close relationship with them because we shared most of the natural resources such as water points and grazing fields where we would take our cattle to graze. Our job not only includes protecting the wildlife, but we also protect their habitat, the locals that live near the wildlife. We are present for them whenever they need our assistance.
Our job can get very involving sometimes and we are often out of touch with our families. Sometimes they might need monetary assistance, and this was difficult in the past because we did not a reliable network that we could use for M-PESA services. Now that the Safaricom booster has been installed, we can communicate better and even transact via M-PESA with ease we did not have before. Better communication also extends to the work we do as rangers. The locals can alert us of any illegal transportation of poached animals, suspicious behaviour or even simply to call when there is an emergency where they might benefit from our help.” For The Love Of Wildlife; Patrick Papatiti Left Nairobi To Serve His Community As A Wildlife Ranger
Newton is a resident and businessman in Olulungui.
“We have experienced a lot of benefits from the installation of the Safaricom booster; communication between locals and their loved ones has greatly improved compared to how it was in the past when the network was really low. We now also have the internet. Businesses are also benefiting from the good network because customers can now pay for goods and services via M-PESA. We currently don’t have Lipa Na M-PESA but we can transact with ease. I hope to see Safaricom introducing Lipa Na M-PESA services here so that our customers can find it easy when it comes to sending money rather than sending to our personal numbers which is always a bit more costly.
The pandemic forced the children to say home. Now they can study via the internet, the booster came at the perfect time because the children can enrol on various internet classes and not fall behind on their studies despite being away from school. For the rest of us, we can now easily send emails and join social media.
In the past, when you needed to respond to an email or do anything on the internet you had to travel long distances. The nearest town to Olgulului is Namanga which is around 25km away. To get there, you need to hire a motorbike which cost around 700 shillings one way. That being said, the availability of motorcycles here in our area is also very rare so you have to go searching for the riders in their homes. Because it was so costly to go to Namanga, you had to combine different errands such as shopping so that the trip was worthwhile. It would be unreasonable to spend 1400shillings on fare and 200shilling on cyber charges just to respond to an email. Other times even after all that hassle to go to Namanga, you would find that the cybers were full and be forced to sleep over and wait for the following day.
In future, we expect our children to benefit from services such as “Shupavu”, in the past it was difficult to access this but now with the good coverage, things are looking up in all aspects. For the rest of the community, improved communication and better internet will be something that will significantly change our lives. Personally, I am looking forward to expanding the business by setting up an M-PESA shop and probably a cyber cafe too.”
Antony Kelakoi is a Safaricom agent
“Before Safaricom came, we experienced a lot of difficulties when it came to communication because we did not have any network provider that was reliable. Now we can communicate not only with those around these areas but also with those beyond our borders in Tanzania. Moreso, we are now able to be a part of social media, now that we have a good network and a reliable internet connection, we can log in to Facebook and Instagram.
I register lines for new customers. In the past, my work was a bit stressful because I had to travel some distance to get to an area that has network. Sometimes I would be out in the cold or under the scorching sun but these days I can do SIM card replacement and registration from the comfort of my shop.
Now that we have a good network I can get my M-PESA shop branded with the Safaricom colours and logos. I can stock more sim card lines, swap lines and even airtime. In the past, this was not necessary because the lines would end up expiring in the shop because people did not see the use of buying them.
Lipa Mdogo Mdogo is one of the services that would benefit our area because people now have a reason to buy smartphones. With good network coverage, they can buy smartphones and pay slowly within their means. Smartphones will improve communication with their loved ones.
I expect businesses to thrive now that communication has been made easy. Business people can easily make calls to Namanga when they need stock and pay via M-PESA. In the past, if you wanted to buy anything you had to physically go and shop for it yourself. The nearest town to Olgulului is Namanga, that is where we would also go in search of the network. Namanga is not only far from here but the roads are in bad condition so it was always a hassle to travel there.”
Philip Olopa is in the business of buying and selling livestock.
“Sometimes I buy cattle from Tanzania and take them to Emali or to the nearby market here in Olgulului. Before Safaricom erected their booster, we experienced a lot of difficulties when calling or browsing because we would use the Vodacom network from Tanzania which was expensive and unreliable. With the Safaricom network, we can call and surf the internet from the comfort of our homes without having to stress too much about the network. In my line of work, I now no longer have to go all the way to Tanzania or send someone to go and buy the livestock on my behalf. I simply make a call and agree on the price and the cows are sent without the hassle of having to physically travel all the way. This saves a lot of time and money.”
Robert rears livestock for the purpose of selling the meat in the nearby market.
“Since Safaricom our area of Olgulului, life has really improved for us, now we can send money with ease, the customers can pay via M-PESA which has made business very easy. In the past, we relied on the Vodacom network from the neighbouring country of Tanzania, but the charges were very expensive. With Safaricom coverage better now, we can call comfortably without feeling the pinch we would feel in the past. These days we can do business with people who are as far as Nairobi. We call, take orders, receive the money and send the meat to them. I personally don’t use the internet that much, but my wife has since joined social media and she is enjoying the good internet that is now available.
Before we had the Safaricom network, we would really struggle to communicate when we had issues with the livestock. For instance, if the cows had been attacked by the wildlife, we had to deliver the information by word of mouth with was time-consuming. The roaming charges for the Vodacom network were also very unfavourable because you had to part with a thousand shillings worth of airtime for you to have a conversation on call. With Safaricom, I only need two shillings, which is way cheaper.”
Adrian Kenya deals with the integration of telecommunication networks for Safaricom.
Here in Olgulului, we have put up a 45metre tower in response to the coverage needs of the people in this area. We managed to put up this tower in 21 days. Since its activation, we have received a lot of positive feedback from the locals and this goes to show how much the people here were missing because they did not have a reliable network to serve their communication needs. Here at Adrian, we have a group of very able engineers, that coupled with the immense support we get from Safaricom, we are in a position to set up these boosters in record time.”
I know if I go to Olgulului in a year’s time the place will be completely transformed. I am glad I got to see first-hand how Safaricom changes lives and “goes beyond” to make sure that Kenyans are not only connected to the network but that they are also thriving both economically. Safaricom is celebrating 20 years and it is clear to see that they have had and continue to have an impact on both communities and businesses enabling them to communicate and transact business.