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Smartphone boom in Kenya creates thriving phone repair business


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In downtown Nairobi, Kenya’s Capital, one business that stands out among the hundreds in the streets that bustle with people is phone repair services.

Green and red neon signs announcing the services hang from shop after shop as the service providers seek to catch the attention of potential customers.

Services offered include replacement of broken and malfunctioned screens, fixing mouth, ear pieces and ringers, repair of faulty charging system and camera, software problems and unblocking locked phones.

This is besides the dealers selling various phone accessories like screen shields, chargers, batteries and phone covers.

Some years back, there were only a handful of phone repairers in the capital Nairobi, but a boom in smartphone usage in the East African nation amid declined gadget prices has brought a whole new thriving business.

“You have to buy a new screen at 50 U.S. dollars because this is broken,’’ Nahashon Njihia, a phone technician with a shop on River Road informed a woman who had taken her phone for repair on Friday.

The woman protested that the price was too high and after some haggling, the two settled on 45 dollars, plus 10 dollars for labour the minimum standard charge for most technicians across Nairobi.

“If you want to protect your screen you should buy for it a screen cover and also buy a phone cover for your phone.

“This gadget can serve you for more than five years but you have to take care of it,’’ Njihia said, later selling the woman the screen cover for 12 dollars.

Smartphone screens are among the most expensive parts to be replaced, with prices ranging from 40 dollars to 150 dollars, depending on the make of the phone.

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As the woman left, Njihia commended her profusely and is certainly happy that he had made 67 dollars in about 30 minutes.

He then turned to the phone he was repairing before the woman popped in.

“This one has a display problem. I have diagnosed what the problem is but would fix it once the owner comes and pays the down payment,’’ he said.

It does not take long before another customer pops in with a phone that has a faulty charging system.

“I cannot use it unless it is on power bank or charging on electricity. The battery is new yet it is not charging,’’ he tells Njihia as he hands him the phone.

In a good day, Njihia makes at least 100 dollars in repair charges, with most customers who visit his shop coming through referrals.

“Some of them send me phones from upcountry via courier, I repair and send them back home. Trust is crucial in this business,’’ he said.

From iPhones to Samsungs, Nokias, Chinese-made brands like Xiaomi, Oppo and Tecno, and tablets, most of the phone repairers have mastered their crafts.

Most of the technicians are self-employed.

A good number of the technicians learn on the job and by reading tutorials online, getting knowledge to do minor repairs.

There has also been a boom in phone repair schools in the East African nation, which are offering four-month certificate courses, where students learn, among others, trouble-shooting techniques, unlocking and formatting and disassembling and assembling phones.

Students pay between 100 dollars and 150 dollars fees.

The phone repairers, however, are not only in downtown Nairobi, some are located in the upmarket areas, including malls, serving high-end clients and charging handsome fees.

“Phone repair certainly is big business though it is hard to get the actual data about the sector because it is largely informal.

“Millions of Kenyans own smartphones, and because these are electronic gadgets.

“They will always have issues, therefore, the technicians are playing crucial roles not only in repairing the gadgets but also sustaining the smartphone spare parts business,’’ said Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT Solutions in Nairobi.

As at Sept. 30, 2018, the number of active mobile subscriptions in Kenya stood at 47 million, according to the Communication Authority of Kenya, with most of them being smartphones.


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