Liaison Congo is working on making internet access possible for everyone in Bukavu
Liaison Congo have made it their mission to find a way to bring the online revolution to the people of Bukavu. They launched in 2004, offering language and computer training to international NGOs and local UN staff, but for the past four years, Liaison Congo have been setting up communal Internet cafés and Internet literacy schemes in the region, starting in Nyawera, a district of Bukavu. The ambition of Innocent Misabiro, Liaison Congo’s Director, is “to demystify computers, so that they no longer remain a tool for the privileged few”.
Anxious to meet the needs of their customers, Innocent explains "We have reduced the cost of access to computer training by half, so children from poorer families can learn the basics of computer science, as well as the internet…”
Levelling Up Local Services
Liaison Congo set itself apart from the competition by addressing the main issues around Internet cafés in the region. The traditional cafés are cramped, airless spaces, with poor connections and power outages. Servers that cater to these cafés are usually based outside the DRC and often cut the connection. Dilapidated equipment (computers, photocopiers, scanners, generators etc.) is another constant problem, in need of maintenance by competent - but rarely present - personnel.
An increasingly important challenge is the sale of mobile data at almost every street corner, which eliminates the need for an Internet café. However, Liaison Congo has loyal customers who “prefer the human warmth of the cafés and the insurance of a stable connection."
Widening the Net
Liaison Congo’s first Internet café opened in Nyawera, a busy intersection, close to several large academic institutions, restaurants, cafés, an urban market, and the entry point to a residential area. The venue is spacious and machines are regularly updated. The manager of the facility is also an expert in the field who can do on-site repairs. The staff guide and tutor the clients to use the equipment going forward without help.
The second location, on the ‘Downtown Plateau’ is at Ave. Kibombo. It is close to offices, NGOs and public and private radio stations. The new café was eagerly awaited. Parents, anxious to make the most of summer school breaks, signed up their children for a programme of computing and English at the new centre.
Liaison Congo is also looking into offering their own mobile data subscriptions, providing cheaper, more reliable Wi-Fi over an area of early five square kilometers. "Our customers will feel like they are in café, without leaving their office or living room." says Innocent, eyes shining with pride and bright possibility...
The Café’s Visitors
Liaison Congo's clients come from all walks of life, including scientists, students, teachers, academics, job seekers, mechanics and pastors.
Kakumbi Katondo Enoch: "I often come with my wife to Liaison Congo because we feel at home here. I use Google to update my courses in Biology and Chemistry. For many of us, Liaison Congo makes up for the lack of libraries in Bukavu.”
The Job Hunter
Unemployed job-seekers (mostly young university graduates) and former United Nations system and agency staff come to search for roles and take online job tests.
The Civil Servant
An increasing number of public and civil servants use the service as their government offices are not yet online.
After some online research, the local mechanic was able to find better tools and offer new products and services to his customers, including detergents that improved his speed and effectiveness at washing vehicles.
The Parents and Children
During the summer holidays, parents were concerned that many children would be stuck for something to do. Liaison Congo, together with these parents, created an affordable programme in computer studies, allowing young students to spend one or two hours a day at the centre. This programme has been very popular, particularly as it includes online parental controls.
Pastor Dismas Biringanine is the coordinator of APRODEA in the region. “Liaison Congo helps us to connect and keep in contact with our donors. Other cafés undergo many power cuts. In addition, the price is affordable, so even the less fortunate can come here. One day, my church asked me to teach a lesson in Biblical geography. I was able to use Google to find what I needed... Generally, I am here until around 5pm in the evening, mostly attaching and downloading documents and corresponding with my contacts…”