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Internet connectivity, Kakuma: Improving Internet Access for Refugees in Rural Areas

Do refugee camps have internet? How do they access internet? Do internet service providers offer coverage in Kakuma refugee camp?

The inquiry into internet accessibility within refugee camps, particularly Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana County, Kenya, has gained significant interest, especially among urban dwellers in other parts of the country. Kakuma, situated in the rural and remote parts of Turkana County, shares borders with Uganda.

Kakuma refugee camp Location map
Map of Kakuma Town and Kakuma Refugee Camp. Courtesy of Rahul Oka.

Despite its semi-arid climate, with annual rainfall averaging 200mm and temperatures fluctuating between 40°C to 30°C, the area faces challenges like dust storms and strong winds reaching speeds of up to 17km/hr. These environmental factors often damage rooftops, sheds, communication towers, and power transmission infrastructure, thereby impacting internet connectivity and power supply not only in Kakuma town but also in the Kalobeyei settlement scheme

Even with the challenging climate of Kakuma, refugees continue to access internet platforms due to the efforts of private and public enterprises providing digital resources and connectivity equipment in the area. The abundant sunshine has made solar power a dependable option for rural homes, businesses, and organizations lacking connectivity, enabling access to internet and other communication services

However, internet connectivity remains a persistent challenge for organizations and service providers in the Turkana West region, hindering their integration into the digital economy and access to digital education. Some of the obstacles to internet connectivity in Kakuma refugee camp include:

Solar power security lights, kakuma
Solar powered security lights at RAI campus in Kakuma 2
  • Weak Signal: Partly due to weather interference, terrain, and limited infrastructure. Kakuma is in the heart of rural estate surrounded with hills and strong winds that bounce signal and affect equipment.

  • High Costs: The expense of installing and maintaining internet infrastructure is prohibitive.

  • Unreliable Power Supply: Frequent power outages, especially when sunlight is obstructed or power transmission lines are damaged.

  • Remote Location: The remote nature of Kakuma makes transporting materials and accessing services expensive.

  • Equipment Damage: Digital equipment is susceptible to damage from dust and high temperatures.

  • Exclusion from National Grid: Lack of connection to the national power grid complicates the establishment of cyber cafes or digital services within the camp due to the high cost of establishment.

  • Legal Restrictions: Legal barriers make it difficult or nearly impossible for refugee freelancers to work online, both locally and internationally hence low utilization of particular internet infrastructure in the area.

Despite the prominence of internet providers like Safaricom, Airtel, and Starlink in the Kakuma area, internet connectivity remains problematic, impacting outreach efforts within the Kakuma refugee camp and the Kalobeyei settlement scheme.

Even with challenges, Resilience Action International (RAI) persists in its mission to provide media and data literacy training and access to e-learning platforms for higher education refugee students in Kakuma 2 and Kakuma 3. RAI collaborates with partners such as to enhance internet connections in the area, demonstrating a commitment to overcoming the obstacles posed by the harsh realities of internet connectivity in the Kakuma region.

Facing numerous challenges between April and June 2024, including reliance on solar power and enduring extensive flooding, Resilience Action International (RAI) with support from and other partners, persevered in their efforts to provide digital skills training to 150 youths and adolescents in Kakuma 2. Despite being temporarily disrupted by flooding in May, the RAI training center swiftly resumed operations after professional assistance drained floodwaters from the campus within a week.

Heavy rains have caused flooding and widespread damage in Kenya, affecting both urban and rural areas, including Kakuma refugee camp. This has significantly disrupted internet connectivity in Kakuma and Kalobeyei, rendering them 'off-grid' for several weeks.

Refugee-led organizations and community-based groups working with displaced populations in Kakuma have been particularly impacted by these adverse weather events.

Over the years, Turkana region has witnessed significant improvements in its internet and power infrastructure, thanks to the development initiatives of the Kenyan government and humanitarian organizations.

Back then in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, obtaining a network signal in remote parts of Northwest Kenya, was akin to witnessing a miracle. The unconnected regions, especially Turkana and Kakuma, compelled organizations to resort to satellite phones and endure lengthy journeys to Lodwar, the capital town of Turkana, for essential services like money transfers, email communication, and other internet-related work.

Digital skills, internet connectivity Kakuma
3 Digital skills training at RAI campus. Trainers are specialists from the refugee camp passionate about their work

According to a 2018 report by Samuel Hall on innovative mobile solutions for refugees in East Africa, it was found that over 72% of refugees in Kakuma have access to 3G connectivity. Additionally, the report highlights that access to mobile devices is nearly universal, with a staggering 96% of the refugee population in Kakuma owning such devices.

Despite the current challenges, the statistics from the 2018 report indicate a positive trend towards increased internet connectivity among refugees in Kakuma. This underscores the potential for further improvements and the importance of ongoing support from both government and humanitarian organizations to ensure universal access to digital resources and opportunities

The recent internet connectivity issues caused by heavy rains and flooding highlight the vulnerability of displaced populations in Kakuma to environmental factors. Refugee-led organizations and community-based groups are particularly affected, emphasizing the need for resilient infrastructure and disaster preparedness measures for internet connectivity in Kakuma refugee camp


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