Free is a killer of innovation and entrepreneurship regardless of whether it is wireless or t-shirts

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Yesterday it emerged that Paul English the Cofounder of Kayak.com is planning to blanket the whole of Africa with free WiFi. Actually he is ready to dedicate his remaining entire life to ensuring that the project is sustainable.? Reading between the line i found out that this another sugar coated bad idea. And i am not talking about the entire project but the free part of it. It is obvious that wireless plans is more sustainable than the idea of 1 million t-shrts but my problem is not about sustainability, or how long it will last. The thinking that? Free internet in Africa will spur growth and people will start? being? innovative and entrepreneurial is just simply wrong. ? When you start giving people free things regardless of their? forms, you automatically block their thinking and breed the sense of entitlement.

I am surprised that many critics of the 1 million t-shirt are accepting? this and arguing that wireless is enabler. It started when I posed the question yesternight on twitter to Ory Okolloh (@kenyanpundit), as to why are we accepting free wireless while we opposed free t-shirts?? She in turn advised me to pose the same questions to a wider audience including the likes of @tmsruge @katrinskaya @alanna_shaikh @texasinafrica, some are well known critics of 1million t-shirts idea.

Free wireless will mean the companies providing internet (ISPs) will definitely loose their businesses and in the long run the people employed in those companies will loose their jobs. How about the cybers, there are many of them in? accross Africa, simply put? they provide employment to thousands and thousands of people. Definitely cybers will? loose out? when people know that they can walk in somewhere else and check their mails or chat on facebook for free. Unless we are assuming that when you provide free WiFi people will become so innovative and entrepreneurial to the extent that they will create jobs to employ cybers and ISPs workers loosing? theirs. To me I don’t see that happening,

How did the great mobile phone penetration came to be in Africa? Mobile phones? have never been given free, the fact is they are affordable and that enable the wananchi (the ordinary people) to buy them.? For that there are many people opening businesses of selling phones. I think i am? right to say that majority of the stalls?? in Nairobi business district area and even those operating on the residential areas deal on mobile phones or mobile airtime. In Kenya in what we popularly call juacali sector (working under the sun) mobile phones industry might be the biggest source of employment. But i repeat they are not free , people work to buy the phones which to me is the greatest enabler we have at the moment.

Take a look at places like iHub, they are providing free space for tech people in Kenya but there is a catch line, it is open for the doers and not idlers. That is the spirit, it is not just free, if you were to use it, you must have something to show for that. In other words there is still a price to pay for that.? Even schools like Starehe Boys Centre which provides free sponsorships to students, have a program where students have to give back to the community.? Many people who have passed through that school will tell you that the Late Dr.Geoffrey Griffins used stress the fact that from whom much has been given much is expected. He had come up with voluntary service program in which students work for free in Clinics, hospitals, government offices during holidays. That is on top of unwritten rule that students there just have to pass their exams highly and there is no short cut for that. The aim is to pay for the free sponsorship you getting in one way or another.

In 1960s when Jomo Kenyatta was the President of Kenya he used to tell people “Rudini mashambani na mfanye kazi, hakuna cha bure” (Go back to the firms and work, there is nothing for free). The main aim was to encourage people to work, create wealth and build the nation. True to the point Africans are not lazy, it is only that several factors have emerged to keep them behind. I don’t think we are doing any good when we encourage free things and at the same time talk of rising entrepreneurs in Africa.

I am not against the entire plan, i am against the free aspect. I would want them to just? bring affordable internet? to Africa.? The? point is with affordable internet JoinAfrica will not just partner with local telcos but there going to be many people who would want to be their agents or resellers.? The agents or resellers? will in turn employ more people to help them carry out the businesses. It will also provide competitions to local telcos.? I guess from there they will try to be more innovative and may fight for new untapped markets, which is basically would be rural remote areas.

What is your opinion on the topic?
Kennedy Kachwanya
Lead Blogger at Kachwanya.com
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Kennedy Kachwanya is a technology blogger interested in mobile phones both smart and dumb, mobile apps, mobile money, social media, startups ecosystem and digital Savannah. New media must not forget the strength of old tech.
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