Opportunities and barrier to using mobile technology and the internet in Kakuma refugee camp and Nakivale refugee settlement – a case study by global charity

21 April 2020

Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya and Nakivale refugee settlement in south western Uganda host a diverse range of nationalities from across the region, including Somalia in the east, to the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west.

Diversity helps to better understand the role mobile technology plays in refugees’ travel around the region and how it can support their lives once they reach settlements.

Refugees were purposefully selected based on nationality, age, gender and population distribution in each location.

The primary data collected represents the first dataset of its kind to focus on understanding the use of mobile technology and the internet within refugee populations in Kenya and Uganda.



Although Kakuma and Nakivale have very different geographic, urban and infrastructural differences, there are many similarities in the way refugees access and use mobile technology and the internet, as well as the challenges they face. Furthermore, there are close similarities in refugee needs across both locations, as well as in the role mobile phone technology can play in addressing these needs. Based on analysis of the data collected, eight key trends have been identified that are common to both Kakuma camp and Nakivale settlement. The close correlation of the eight trends identified in Nakivale and Kakuma suggest a broader relationship between; (1) refugee needs that can be addressed through mobile; (2) barriers to mobile phone and internet access and; (3) mobile phone usage across settlements and between countries in east Africa.

When taken as indicators for the potential adoption of mobile and internet-based solutions, these trends have important programming and policy implications for those working with refugee communities and should be considered as part of future programme designs.



Although access to any type of mobile device provides a channel (voice/text) through which humanitarian organisations and others can deliver services to refugees, smartphones clearly offer the most effective way to connect to social media through the internet and, in turn, with refugee communities to address a diverse array of needs.

Based on the key trends identified in this report, the strongest indicators of access to mobile technology and related services are connectivity, education and age.



Access to internet enabled devices such as smartphones is only part of the challenge. Connectivity, defined here as reliable access to 3G/4G data services, is the keystone for accessing services beyond voice and text. It is therefore one of the biggest determinants in how practitioners can target mobile and internet based services in refugee communities.



This study has shown that age and education are strong influencers of smartphone ownership and increased use of mobile-based applications and services. Younger refugees are more likely to own a smartphone, with the average age of an owner being 28 in Kakuma and 30 in Nakivale. Increases in levels of education also affect smartphone ownership, with University graduates the most likely to own a smartphone, followed by those who completed secondary education.Lamu patients now have access to earlier, cheaper and better diagnosis and treatment as well as better follow-up care through remote specialized consultations, medical education, and monitoring. n