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Monday, 18 November, 2002, 09:52 GMT
Tanzanian women get online bug
Internet cafe in Tanzania
Internet cafes springing up across Tanzania

Two Tanzanian women sit alongside each other checking e-mail and surfing the web.

It may be an unremarkable sight to many people but these two women are part of an internet boom which is sweeping across Tanzania and in which, unlike many other African countries, women are actively participating.

An increasing number of women are accessing internet services in all parts of the country following a massive growth in internet cafes offering cheap access.

In Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital, some estimates put the number of public internet access points at several hundred, but internet cafes are also opening in rural locations.

Money and know-how

It is perhaps a bit misleading to call them cafes. Very few of them serve food or drinks.

Anna Mbattah runs an internet cafe
Anna Mbattah: Difficult to set up in business
Most of them are bare rooms partitioned with pieces of roughly cut wood. They typically have anything up to 15 computer terminals but not a lot else.

Anna Cafe in the Magomeni district of Dar es Salaam is a typical example.

Six computers, two ceiling fans crammed into a room which measures no more than three metres wide by four metres long. But, unlike the majority, it is run by a woman, Anna Mbattah.

"I saw so many men opening internet cafes and thought I could do the same," she said.

"It is quite difficult to set up in business. You need a lot of money to buy the equipment, but you also need to know a lot about technology.

"You need to find an internet server, you need a reliable technician in case things go wrong."

Anna Mbattah is one of a growing number of women running internet cafes in Dar es Salaam.

Ease of access

Many of her customers are also women. The majority work for small companies which do not have internet access.

Some women are now finding customers on the internet for goods like handicrafts

Fatma Alloo, Media Women's Association
These could be small trading companies which need to check the prices for imported goods or which communicate with customers using e-mail.

Some customers are students like Zuweni Bakari who visits Anna Cafe at least once a week. The internet has changed her life in small but significant ways.

"I'm studying sociology and can carry out research very easily online," she said.

"This is better than sitting in a library at university. I also use e-mail a lot to communicate with my friends. The days of queuing at the post office for stamps are over for me."

The reason why women are using the internet to a greater extent is the ease of access in Tanzania which has seen huge growth in the number of cafes over the last two years.

Internet cafes run by women are clearly broadening the technology's appeal.

"I can come to Anna Cafe and feel comfortable here,' said Ms Bakari, "especially because if I need help there are women around to give me advice.

"Using the internet is a lot easier than I thought it would be."

Making a living

One of the stimuli behind the boom in internet cafes is the relative cheapness of surfing. It costs from as little as 30 US cents for 30 minutes.

Internet cafe in Tanzania
Net access is cheap and affordable
Tanzania is also fortunate in that wireless technology, used by mobile phone companies, is also being used to provide internet access, a huge benefit in a country in which fixed line coverage is patchy.

"The situation with wireless broadband in Tanzania is that you can get access as reliable as and as high speed as any connection you could get in Europe," said John Tumelty, the general manager of Mobitel which provides businesses like Anna Mbattah's with a wireless service.

"People in Tanzania have excellent access to the internet."

As more women in Tanzania begin to use the internet, women's groups are beginning to look at ways of expanding its use and making it work better for women.

Fatma Alloo, the founder of the Tanzania Media Women's Association which promotes the use of the internet said the women are already rising to the challenge by successfully using the information they find online.

"Some women are now finding customers on the internet for goods like handicrafts," she said.

"This shows that they can make money using the internet. Other women are likely to follow their example."

You can hear more about how women in Tanzania are using the internet on the BBC programme, Go Digital.
See also:

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