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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 09:22 GMT
Conakry's dark streets turning orange
James Copnall
BBC News, Guinea

Although power-cuts often plunge Guinea's capital, Conakry, into darkness, some of the city's streets are turning bright orange.

Front of Mouna internet cafe, Conakry, Guinea
Mouna is Conakry's most popular internet cafe
Stroll down the city centre's Avenue de la Republique at night and you cannot fail to notice the intense blaze of light streaming out of the first floor windows of an internet cafe, Mouna.

The building is painted orange, and houses a restaurant, a cafe, a money transfer agency, an Internet Service Provider (ISP) and Conakry's most popular cybercafe.

Unusually for Guinea, it is open 24 hours a day.

So how does an internet business flourish in a city without regular electricity?

Mouna's founder and president of Mouna Moustapha Naite says it has been difficult to set up his chain of cybercafes.

"For any business to be successful, electrical deployment can be a problem," the American-educated Guinean told the BBC.

"We use generators and regular electricity. That adds to the running costs, and unfortunately we have to transfer that to the customer, so it is only available to those who can afford it."

And Mouna's city centre headquarters have a far better supply of electricity than most parts of Conakry.

'Clean and new'

Half an hour surfing the internet costs between 2,000 and 2,500 Guinean francs, about 35-40 US cents, a lot of money in a country where many civil servants only earn $30 a month.

All the same, the cybercafe is packed both during the day and at night.

Moustapha Naite
The start will be difficult, but in an environment like with Guinea you must bet on the future
Moustapha Naite
Mouna founder
The clientele is a mix of foreigners and young, trendy Guineans.

One student, Ibrahima, says Mouna has made a big impression in Guinea.

"It is new to us, and the internet is so important if you want to stay in contact with the outside world.

"Here everything is clean and new, so it is a place of luxury for us."

According to a recent Transparency International report, Guinea is seen as the most corrupt country in Africa.

The scale of the problem is apparent from the moment a traveller arrives at Conakry's Gbessia airport, and the rotund customs ladies in faded uniforms ask: "What did you bring me?"

They expect a small "present" before they will let you into the city, where the corruption intensifies in scale.

"I am not surprised by the report," one local businessman says, "because corruption is present in every part of Guinean life."

Daily reality

Budding businessmen, both Guinean and foreign, have other problems too.

Even in Conakry, power-cuts and water shortages are not so much common as a daily reality.

Surfers at Mouna, Guinea
The cafe is full by day and night
Huge swathes of the city are lit only by the headlights of passing cars once darkness falls.

At exam time students leave their dark house and swat for exams by huddling round the lights on petrol station forecourts, which are equipped with generators.

Moustapha Naite says he hopes his business can be an inspiration to other Guineans.

"We have shown that you can have success in Guinea," he explained.

"The start will be difficult, but in an environment like with Guinea you must bet on the future.

"I try to ignore the negative side of business here.

"If I think about giving internet connections to the whole of Conakry, I might think that it will be difficult if most people don't have electricity.

"But instead I should think of other ways for them to get online without electricity."

Here to stay

Mr Naite's determination and dynamism come, he says, from his American education and his Guinean mother, an entrepreneur in her own right.

Passers-by in Conakry
Foreigners and young, trendy Guineans frequent the cafes

The success of Mouna is apparent not just by the customers flocking to its bright building.

Perhaps the biggest testimony comes about 50 metres down the road from Mouna's flagship building.

On an anonymous street corner perches a new business, charmingly called The Advanced Cyber Cafe and More.

It hopes to entice customers with staff smartly attired in white and red, and with a pool table - as well as high speed internet.

Even in Conakry, a difficult business environment and a city without regular electricity, bright and modern internet cafes are clearly here to stay.


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