Kefilwe, a 25-year-old marketing graduate who doesn’t have a job, can use the internet for an hour at Unique Solutions, an internet café in Francistown, Botswana’s second-largest city, for 15 pulas ($1). She wants to apply for Chema-Chema, a government scheme that gives 500 million pulas ($37 million) to people who want to start their businesses.

Empowering Communities through Internet Cafés in Botswana

Kefilwe uses Orange for mobile data and owns a smartphone. Her sole affordable monthly subscription includes Facebook, TikTok, X, and WhatsApp for 60 pulas ($4.40). The internet cafe is her cheapest choice for accessing the Chema-Chema website as she cannot afford data packages to access the internet beyond social media.

“I can’t afford those expensive capped data bundles,” she explains at the internet café. “Here, I can browse freely without worrying about data limits,” she adds. “And if I need more time, I can ask the owner for extra minutes.”

Many young individuals in the country use internet cafés, including Kefilwe. Even though Africa has a 74% internet penetration rate, internet cafés are a good option because internet connection is expensive.

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“We serve around 60 customers daily who come in for social media, job applications, school projects, and services like document printing and scanning,” explained Tshepo Kelentse, founder of Unique Solutions.

After realising Monarch Township needed solid internet connections, he opened the internet café in 2021. He opened another facility and plans to open two more in three years to accommodate demand. While praising the café’s significance in improving internet connectivity nationally, he emphasises its management issues. He helps nearly every customer connect, especially during peak times, despite its self-service design.

As an internet café owner, Kelentse stresses the financial difficulties of rent, internet, and machine upkeep. Sometimes weeks earn over 1,000 pulas ($74), but profits are rare, especially during school holidays when children, a significant demographic, are away.

To maximise his café’s three computers, he encourages social media users to use their phones. Since many young people come here for ‘Fezana’ (slang for Facebook) and TikTok, he gives them the WiFi password and lets them browse at the same speed as PC users.

Internet cafés and their clients are affected by increasing internet costs. After seeing an internet service gap in Francistown’s low-income townships, Tshepo Monageng opened his café in 2017. He bought an Orange router with 10MBps speeds for 550 pulas ($41) monthly to provide an internet connection.

Monageng regularly struggles to reach 5Mbps during peak business hours, even though statistics show an internet café needs 25Mbps to serve consumers. “When we have a lot of customers, those who come for connectivity end up leaving due to slow internet,” Monageng told TechCabal.

Monageng’s internet café provides auxiliary services like CV drafting, printing, laminating, and email to address unreliable connectivity and lack of computer literacy among clients. 

Despite rising smartphone usage and data packages, Monageng’s café has seen increased foot traffic due to network operators’ lack of low-income customer service.

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Setting Up an Internet Café in Botswana

A café in Malawi is expanding its services to attract more enterprise and government clients. The café uses word-of-mouth marketing, social media promotion, and listing on Google Maps to promote its services.

In the next five years, the café plans to open more branches, acquire larger printers and laminating machines, and expand its product offerings to include branding. Robert Golebetswe, who has been running the café since 2017, plans to introduce a subscription service to attract recurring customers.

He believes that the private and public sectors must support his business to ensure internet cafés continue providing crucial internet access, particularly in low-income neighbourhoods. 

Golebeletswe encourages businesses to use local cafés instead of travelling to town for nearby services and believes that access to funding for his expansion plans would greatly help. Cafés serve as community hubs that connect people, and Golebeletswe believes both sectors need to support his business.