According to the chairperson of the Kenya Counselling Association, Catherine Gachutha, Internet addiction is rapidly increasing in Kenya. The problem, she says, is most prominent in young people aged between 18 and 28.
“Incidentally, the number of youths addicted to various internet sites surpasses that of those addicted to drugs and alcohol,” Gachutha said.
“This is because most of them are idle and the cost of accessing the internet is much lower than drugs and beer.”
The typical price of beer in Kenya is Sh75 at the least, while internet access in a cyber café usually charges 50 cents per minute. Cigarettes are a minimum of Sh5.
Gachutha says that the bulk of internet addicts seeking rehabilitation say they cannot control their urge for pornography, entertainment, and social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Badoo and Linkedln.
The problem is apparently multi-faceted, because aside from pornography, the patients often find themselves addicted to online relationships, says Gachutha. She argues that the end result is that “some derive satisfaction from just watching porn and end up sacrificing their marriages and relationships.”
Among the top ten sites in Kenya, Facebook is unsurprisingly ranked first, with YouTube, Twitter and Linkedln in the top 10 according to the global web metrics site alexa.com. The file sharing website Pirate bay ranks 28 on that list.
According to another research at the University of Maryland’s International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda in the United States, most of those addicted to the internet cannot do without it.
The research, conducted in 2010, was carried out among 1,000 college students in 10 countries around the world including places such as Uganda, Mexico, China, the United States, Argentina and the United Kingdom. The test subjects were asked to abstain from the internet for a day.
Apparently, more than half of the participants exhibited withdrawal symptoms in less than 24 hours of detachment from social networks, leading the researchers to conclude that internet addiction is real.
The participants reported feeling isolated, distressed, confused, bored and harbouring ‘feelings of addiction’ when their internet access was cut.
“Clearly, I am addicted and the dependency is sickening,” one of the students was quoted during the trial. “Between having a BlackBerry, a laptop, television set and an Ipod, people have become unable to shed their media skin,” he added.
Apparently, a study carried out by Cradle –Kenya revealed that more than 40 percent of children in Kenya are addicted to the internet. Their statistics show that the children’s online activities include downloading music, playing games and social networking through Facebook.
The study goes further to suggest that most of the children accessing social sites are subject to sexual suggestions or pornographic materials, in effect making them candidates for porn addiction.
Kenya’s internet subscription and user base are growing rapidly, and by the end of the next year internet users are expected to reach 15 million by the end of next year.
“Just like alcohol and drug addiction, it is about control. If you spend more time on the internet than planned and you end up failing to accomplish your obligations, you are a candidate for addiction,” says William Gituru, a social counselor at Amani Counseling and Training Centre in Nairobi.
If one goes online because he can’t avoid it rather than going to accomplish a planned activity with tangible rewards, then there is a problem,” he concluded. Quite often in this day and age, work of some sort will require the person to be constantly reachable, via email, phone and often also through Facebook. As a result, internet addiction is often unavoidable and unnoticeable until it has tremendous effects.
“I think internet addiction is real, considering depression is a form of withdrawal,” said Xiomara Hurni-Craston, a Canadian university student to Bikyamasr.com