Turkana
Lodwar town in Turkana County

The Turkana region – otherwise referred to as the Cradle of Human Kind following the discovery of one of the oldest human fossils nearly four decades ago, had remained frozen in time.

As the rest of Kenya enjoyed high-speed internet connections and quality calls, calls to and from this part of the country were accompanied by crackling background sounds.

The reception had been so poor that a video loading within seconds in Nairobi for instance, would buffer for nearly five minutes.

An attempt by the government to connect all Counties with the National Optic Fibre Backbone laid down between 2013 and 2016 had failed to reap the desired benefits to residents as the region’s geography defined by dry river beds which turned into raging rivers in the wet season undermined the connection.

Since then, the region had to clutch on to microwave technology to stay in touch with the rest of Kenya. However, the reliance on high-frequency radio waves would run out of capacity.

Now the region’s fortunes are set to change after telco giant Safaricom breached the hurdles to set-up a reliable 4G network in the region beginning June this year with the COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding.

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Two months earlier in March, a team of technicians and engineers from Safaricom braved the unknown as they began digging trenches across the 420 kilometres stretch between Kitale and Kakuma against the odds of an untenable terrain and extreme weather patterns.

At this time, the government had also issued restrictions on movement including a blanket night time curfew.

The crew of about 20 personnel drawn from three departments were however determined to warp the region’s connectivity issues into oblivion.

“Our task was to improve the existing network. To make it more efficient to serve the growing needs of the region. If I was to put it in in another way, we were going to transform the network from a single road into a super-highway. This would come with super speeds, access to 4G network and a much better user experience,” said the Principal Transmission Planning Engineer Andrew Njeru.

The unpredictable weather patterns were the first to hit the probe as the team endured temperatures in excess of 40 degrees Celsius.

Turkana County

“At that point it becomes difficult to work. The weather informed the decision to use machines. We usually prefer manual labour but dehydration is a big risk in these conditions and progress of work would have been slow,” said Safaricom’s Fibre Rollout Manager James Njuguna.

The next challenge that followed swiftly was local’s demanding jobs. The telco operator would yield , giving manual jobs to local youth as the project progressed closer to the reality of 4G connection to the people of Turkana.

Safaricom’s Senior Manager at the Digital Network Operations Centre would take over in mid-June as the project entered the homestretch.

The evening of June 20 was the climax. A team of technicians and engineers in Kainuk-a town in Turkana South declared their mission accomplished.

A call by the operator’s regional manager for Rift Valley Mr. James Lang’at to the Network Operations Centre at Safaricom Care in Nairobi would affirm the mission’s success.  Kainuk town had now become the first in the Turkana region to get the magic connection.

The operator’s customers estimated at roughly 350,000 had initially doubted the strength of the 4G network coining the phrase ‘4G ni jina’ . Now set to enjoy the full complement of high-speed connectivity.

The Kakuma refugee camp which plays host to more than 200,000 people is expected to be one of the top beneficiaries of the improved connectivity.

Previously, refugees at the camp would at best receive a 2G connection during the network’s busiest hour in the region which fell between 8:00 and 9:00 pm when people catch up with friends online and when NGO’s link up to their headquarters abroad.

Of all the region’s recent discoveries including more than 250 million of barrels of oil in 2012 and underground water in 2013, the fibre connection in 2020 is likely to pass as the next great theme in the region.

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