Bordered by tall hills, deep forests and the Amboseli National Park teeming with practically all species of tropical wildlife sit the hot and dusty Olgulului trading centre in Kajiado County.
Unlike the rest of the country, and the world, basic infrastructure such as roads and modern technology are yet to become a common sight at the town where elephants and other wildlife roam and co-exist with the community.
But this does not stop a young man, Newton Koipap from dreaming of a bright future in entrepreneurship where the average business premise is a corrugated iron sheet shack.
Yet he speaks with enthusiasm of the business potential in the village soon. In addition to the small food kiosk he runs, he plans to open a cyber café as well as venture into mobile money transfer business.
Until September when Safaricom commissioned the first transmission booster in the village, such dreams would have bordered on fantasy.
“We had been left out mobile telephone coverage for a long time. The only available signal was Vodacom from neighbouring Tanzania and the roaming charges were exorbitant and simply unaffordable to most of us,” Newton recalls.
When he wanted to access internet, he would be forced to travel to Namanga town some 35 kilometres away. A costly ride since there is no public transport, he would hire a boda boda with a round trip setting him back by Sh1400.
Sometimes he would get to Namanga only to find that due to high traffic, the internet was too slow, forcing surfers to queue at cyber cafes. Sometimes he couldn’t finish surfing in time to travel back home. This meant additional costs for accommodation.
“Today the world is at my fingertips. I’m connecting with friends and relatives on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I can also follow happenings in the country and around the world,” he says.
He is most glad that the Safaricom network is helping families to keep into touch with loved ones. Previously when a family member left the village, there was no way of knowing how they were until they returned.
Philip Kiuro, a cattle trader is glad with the new Safaricom network His business takes him around the expansive county and across the border into Tanzania.
In the absence of mobile cash transfer services, he would be forced to move around carrying large sums of money with the attendant risks of robbery.
The closest he would come to M-PESA mobile money transactions was through a lady who used to offer her service from her handset in the bush.
“It was an excruciating process because you would have to travel for many kilometres to a place where there was a signal. You had to get there at a designated time to meet the lady and the maximum cash you could transact was Sh1000,” Philip recalls.
The distance from the village to meeting pointing with the roving M-PESA agent consumed most of the day. If walking down valleys and up the hills of Olgulului was a taxing experience, there was the ever present danger of encountering wild animals in the bush.
The first M-PESA outlet in the village opened its doors as soon as the Safaricom booster was commissioned. Philip now enjoying a faster, convenient and safer way of doing business.
“I have people moving around looking for cattle for sale. Once we identify suitable animals and negotiate prices, I can send money directly to the sellers without leaving the convenience of my home,” he says.
Kantai Oloititip, who operates a barber in the town, is seeing endless business possibilities.
“I’m planning to open a football centre. All I will need to do is buy bundles to screen matches at a fee. They are many football enthusiasts here. Some of them travel and stay overnight in Namanga to catch global football bonanzas. I’m confident it is a viable line of business,” says Kantai as he trims a customer’s hair using a battery-powered shaving machine.
Operating a boda boda business has been a test in endurance and resilience for Lazarus Noni. His customers are scattered in a radius of more than 50 kilometres.
“Since we couldn’t communicate through mobile phones, a customer would make his travel arrangements well in advance in the hope that he will be able to get an emissary to me in good time. If he couldn’t reach me in time, he would have to postpone their date of travel until the person to person communication gets to me,” says Lazarus.
Now a call or a text is all that is needed to hail Lazarus for his boda boda services. A new and exciting experience for him to better plan his days and work.
This story is part of the Safaricom@20 celebrations. For 20 years, Safaricom has developed new technologies and innovations to support and enable Kenyans to communicate, connect and to go beyond.