The business of internet café in Ivory Coast is no longer what it is used to be five, six or even 10 years ago due to various factors.
Technological advances and the cellphone explosion in this West African nation of 22 million people pushed internet cafés to the edge and challenged its reign, reducing it to simple tools of search, entertainment and betting centres.
The entry of new cellphone players and the Chinese ‘dumping’ of cheap Web-enabled devices in the market meant that the environment became very competitive and cellphone ownership increased, culminating to the decrease of price of data, and forcing many people to have three or more devices.
“I don’t see the need of going to an internet café because I have three cellphones from three different networks, which help me to Facebook, Twitter or send a few emails,” 22-year-old Vanessa Aby told Moon of the South.
“It’s true. the number of internet cafés in Ivory Coast, and especially in Abidjan, has dramatically decreased compared to some five years,” 40-year-old Sebastien Williams said.
However, there are also other important factors that caused this business to flounder, like the ones revealed by internet café owner Nicodème Saraka.
Saraka told Moon of the South: “Electricity bills can put you off and can reach up to 200 000 FCFA (US$400) per month, and that’s a lot of money.”
He also said computers need to be maintained or replaced time to time, and that also needs money. “Look, we are not using new computers in this business. These are old and second-hand machines that were used somewhere else. “Sometimes we buy parts here and there, which we repair and put together.
“And when they are broken, you will have to fix them yourself, and if you are not a computer technician, you have to pay other people to do it for you. And that is another set of money.”
Saraka also said financial mismanagement is another major cause of business failure.
Asked if internet cafés owners get any help from the state or private sector such as banks and other companies to boost their business, he replied: “None that I know of. Banks? Don’t even talk about banks in this country.
“Their process is too complicated and can take years. They ask too many things that you don’t even have.”
Bouba Coulibaly, an internet café owner in Bouake (second-biggest city), said since he applied for a small business loan two years ago at a local bank, he has yet to get a phone call or an email from them.
“Small businesses in Ivory Coast are on their own and it has been like this all these years. The cost of living is fast rising in this country and everything has become expensive,” Coulibaly said emotionally.
“And when you don’t have enough funds to boost your business, at the end of the day you get frustrated and have no choice but to close down the business,” he added.
Photo: Nicodème Saraka busy at work in his internet café in Cocody, Abidjan.