Are Internet Cafes Running Out of Business?

Internet cafes were a booming business in the early 2000s. Sometimes, getting a seat in an Internet cafe would need an hour or so of patience. People would go there to read their mail, scan documents and play games. That was a time when smart phones where not anywhere on the market and getting an internet connection was expensive.

Fast forward, many of the cafes that were a name then are no more. Even those that started a decade later eventually ran out of business due to the low returns. The chances of starting and maintaining a café right now are very low.

If you moved around Kampala today looking for an internet café, you certainly have to make a few rounds before landing on one. In 2010, Nabbingo my current town of residence had 5 internet cafes and only 1 stands today – E-zone Internet Café. Main street in Jinja town was home to many Internet Cafes in the 2000s but on my last visit in 2018, I chanced on only Sizoomu and Zeinsoft Internet café.

Why are Internet Cafes closing?
Investment vs. Returns: A modest Internet café will require about 10 million Uganda Shillings to start. But of the cafes owners I have interacted with, the average daily income of 30,000 Uganda Shillings without expenses is too low to sustain their existence.

Cafes, need good location and that means setting it up in a prime location which is expensive. If the staff take around 10,000 Uganda Shillings in meals and transport, the owner is left with just 600,000 Uganda Shillings to divide between rent, wages, UMEME and Data bundles. This simple maths leaves the proprietor with nothing left to take home.

Smartphones: With recent developments in the way people acquire internet, cafes find themselves with no options but to close. The advent of smart phones was one trigger that added a reason for one not to visit a café. One needs only a few MBs to check their mail and reply in real time.

The price for data has also gone down in that one may get internet for as low as 300 Uganda shillings. The minimum one may need to surf in an internet café is enough to take you through a day of basic internet needs on a smart phone.

How can an Internet Cafe stay in business?
The fact the others are closing business doesn’t have to stand in your way if you own one. Zeinsoft Internet café in Jinja and E-zone Internet Café in Nabbingo are examples of cafes that have stood the test of time. In fact, the E-zone brand has been built around cafes. When a friend of mine opted out of the café business, we took on the challenge in Kyengera and became number one in that area.

Zein (Pictured with the writer), my mentor in this business and owner of Zeinsoft in Jinja shares his experience. He advised that diversifying was one way he employed to keep his business thriving. In the same premises, he has a video library, and an electronics shop.

At E-zone Internet Café, we build our business around clients. Listening to clients needs is very key in helping you understand what they need in the same location. We have learnt to listen to clients, understand their needs and adjust accordingly.

From an Internet Café, we also offer computer repairs at the station, have a school, and offer secretarial services.

Hanging out with the right people will help you focus on your business and not in your business. A cafe is so demanding that you can work for 365 days without leaving the shop. This denies you the space for innovation. However, if you hang around other people, your mind expands and this helps you think outside the box. This is key in keeping your venture afloat.

I have taken on the habit of attending related meetups and social events like those offered by Kafeero Foundation,  Ujamaa, WordCamp Kampala and also subscribe to the the ICT Teachers’ Association of Uganda. In the picture, I spent a Saturday with guys I met at the 2018 Word Camp where I got inspiration from like minded people who helped me venture into Web Design.

A few years ago, I met a friend Alex Atuhaire who owns an internet cafe on Kampala Rd. When I asked him how he manages to pay 700k in rent every month,  he told me he has other things he does including but not limited to web design. This was motivation enough for me and when I got an invitation by Rogers to attend the 2018 Word Camp Kampala, I didn’t hesitate.

An internet cafe may not bring in the monies you want but it is a good central point for all related services. You get to interact with people in real time and if you are keen enough, the clients will guide you about their needs. And remember, you are not in business if you are not serving a need.

Also, although phones have sent people away from your cafe, online services like URA,  online applications on local portals like the Health Service Commission, The Petroleum Authority of Uganda and KCCA are on the rise. More and more institutions are embracing this new trend of online applications.

So, even if one had a phone worth 5 million Uganda shillings, navigating through the Health Service Commission website on phone can prove tricky. At some point, you are required to upload scanned copies of your documents and I bet every phone owner has a scanner.

If you are doing any URA service, downloading the forms and filling them in is certainly tricky on the phone.  Remember too, you will also need a printer to get a copy. Don’t lose hope!

In case you pick interest in starting an internet café, you may find my article on what you need to start an internet cafe helpful.


Stephen Dumba
E-zone School of Computing
0772 111 223 /  0752 111 223