The country's first dating website was launched in July and, according to Erastus Wachira, who co-founded the site, nearly 16,000 people have joined.

 

Traditionally, parents and relatives chose a husband or wife for young Kenyans, but with professionals working long hours, youngsters are finding it hard to meet mates.

Mary Kimani, 25, who uses the site and lives in the capital, Nairobi, said: "I haven't been lucky finding a friend so I thought I would try the internet. I am almost giving up hope I'll ever find a partner."

The beautician pays 200 shillings ($2.80) a month for the service in a country where about half of the estimated 34 million people live on less than a dollar a day.

 

Wachira says the site has about 9000 active members, with about 1200 new subscribers joining www.lovepot.com every week.

 

Other options

 

Wachira, 30, said:  "We just thought we should give people another option of finding love."

 

"It is like in marketing, where you say this product does A, B, and C. But the question is: What is it that it doesn't do?"

Paul Mbatia,
Head of sociology,
Nairobi University

Some radio stations that broadcast in local languages also help the lovelorn. Listeners call in and leave their contacts and descriptions of their ideal partner.

 

Paul Mbatia, head of sociology at Nairobi University, said: "In the traditional sense, marriages were negotiated by families - not by individuals. We are increasingly making this issue an individual affair, rather than a community affair.

 

"The risk is that it would bring people together who do not really know each other. They know each other through what has been posted, but it may not actually be true or it may only be true subjectively.

 

Mbatia said: "It is like in marketing, where you say this product does A, B, and C. But the question is: What is it that it doesn't do?"

 

Breaking traditions

 

Setting up a business that breaks centuries-old traditions was not easy. Parents and friends told Wachira it was a bad idea.

 

Still, he and his partner put 400,000 shillings ($5600) into the site for hosting fees, start-up expenses and advertisement.

  

"I am almost giving up hope I'll ever find a partner"

Mary Kimani,
Beautician

The site offers an insight into Kenyan tastes and hopes.

 

A woman who goes by the online name of Fauna knows what she wants in a man and is willing to list it.

 

"Handsome, financially stable, outgoing, industrious, loving, understanding, Christian, loves to have fun, non-smoker, drinks casually, loves the gym, wants to settle down eventually and we can support each other to achieve our individual goals," the 30-year-old said in her posting.

 

The service is also popular in neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia - countries that do not have local dating websites - Wachira says.

 

South Africa has Positive Connection, the only online dating forum for people with HIV, the virus that causes Aids. Itzamatch helps Zambians find dates.

 

Mbatia said: "We are getting used to communicating very fast. We are breeding boys and girls who are used to being efficient at processing information and getting quick results."