fred kayiwa

So, our last visit was with Abramz Tekya in Kampala. The next day I met with Kayiwa Fred and discovered the Kayiwa Fred Computer Club. I was humbled and embarrassed to learn that Kayiwa traveled 30 kilometers to meet with me and that he was “feeling a bit weak from a ’bout’ of Malaria.” I couldn’t believe he was standing at all. But then, Kayiwa Fred is the epitome of East African ambition.

His hope, his dream, is to start a cyber-cafe. Nothing elaborate – no world domination – just a business he can call his own. A place where he can both make money as an entrepreneur, but more importantly, make change as a social activist.

Secondary school is not public in Kenya. If you want a high school education, you pay for it. (In fact, even primary school was not freely available to all until this current administration.) Of course, this strengthens class divisions as only the wealthy can afford education and only the educated can secure high-paying jobs.

So what did Kayiwa do? He walked straight up to the director of a high school and said he would like to perform janitorial work at the school to pay for his tuition and book costs. He was nervous, he says, but had nothing to lose and four years later he was a high school graduate, this time facing college tuition costs, but again with no money to pay for them. He secured a scholarship at a local trade college run by the YMCA. This is where he is now studying accounting. He admits that accounting is the most compelling of degrees, but it ensures a job and, right now, that’s all he’s looking for.

He described the pressure he feels from his large family. Kayiwa is the first in his family to attend college and so while his siblings are able to contribute portions of their paychecks to family expenses, Kayiwa devotes all of his meagre income to his study and living costs. He says his family thinks that college study is a fast-track to a high-paying job, but according to Kayiwa, employment in Kampala is still more about who you know that what you know.

After tea and bread we walked down to a nearby cyber-cafe. I would show him how to start a blog using WordPress. The internet café was huge – at least 60 computers – and nearly completely full. I looked over a few shoulders and saw lots of gmail accounts, a few news websites, and just as many blogs. From the monitors alone, it could have been any capital city in the world. Internet access in Kampala isn’t affordable by Ugandan standards – over a dollar in hour. When you take into consideration how long it takes to load just one page, the real cost is around $5 an hour. Plus, sites that depend heavily on JavaScript like Gmail and Facebook frequently crash the old school browsers. In the corner of the cyber-cafe was a smiling young Chinese businessman in stylish glasses – clearly the owner. I did some quick math: $1.50 x 60 computers x 16 hours x 30. He was bringing in around $43,000 a month before rent, taxes, utilities, and the spare change to employ the staff. After all that, probably around $180,000 a year. Not a bad gig, especially when you’re living in Uganda.

The Chinese business community has an incredible level of support for its up and coming entrepreneurs. After talking with Kayiwa for a few hours, I was sure that he is just as shrewd a businessman as the young Chinese owner of the cyber-cafe, but he has no one to lean on for startup capital. So instead, revealing his resourcefulness, he’s taken to Facebook, Razoo, and a number of other social networking sites to try and convince people from the developing world to donate their used computer gear to him. His hope is that eventually he can gather enough equipment so that his only startup cost is renting out a locale. “Then I want to use the profits to do outreach work. To teach the people of my community how to use the internet to do good.” A burst of excitement started to show, despite his exhaustion from enduring malaria.

Throughout my travels this trip, one thing has been hammered home over and over again – and that’s now much harder people from the developing world must work to participate in the global economy. Access to documentation, the time and financial costs of translation, access to reliable communication and electricity – all these things that we take for granted in the US. A 9-5 Western workday translates into a 6 – 9 workday elsewhere because of all these added obstacles. If you have computer equipment – especially used laptops – that you are willing to donate to Kayiwa, you can reach him via Facebook.