How the Mobile Phone Revolutionised Kenya.

Spending 3 months in Africa this summer was safe to say, one of the highlights of my short life so far. While my activities there are out of the scope of this blog, there was a quote from an old friend of mine, one of the chief pilots for a local aviation company, that stood out to me:

” There are two things that have revolutionised Kenya, the cheap motorcycle and the mobile phone.”

While the motorcycle revolutionised how Kenyans get around, what interested me most was why and how the mobile phone did so much for Kenya.

First and foremost, the reason why we all use our phones; communication. Networks like Safaricom and Airtel reached out to Kenyans with cheap prepaid phones with competitive rates; When I spent the summer in Kenya, 500Ksh ( roughly 5 euro) lasted me the whole summer for texts and calls, which begs us the question, are we paying too much? Demographics aside, the 3rd world was now a part of the global communications network.

However, what really changed everything was when, in 2007, Safaricom launched M-Pesa, “which that makes mobile phones all-in-one credit cards and bank branches.”(Bright Y J, 2015)

mpesa-logo

While many Kenyans don’t have access to a computer, credit card, or doctor, many do have mobile phones. M-Pesa is actually the world-leading mobile-money system, being streets ahead of its 1st world counterparts. In fact its easier to pay for a taxi, or a burger with your mobile phone in Kenya than it is in New York . Once you have signed up, you pay money into the system by handing cash to one of Safaricom’s 40,000 agents, who credits the money to your M-PESA account. You withdraw money by visiting another agent, who checks that you have sufficient funds before debiting your account and handing over the cash. You can also transfer money to others using a menu on your phone, and this is something that has revolutionised the country. People can now send money all over the country when previously they would have had to make long and dangerous journeys to support their relatives. Now its just a simple click of a button to send some money to a friend, business, or relative, even if they are in the middle of the Masai Mara, or on the slopes of Mt Kenya. (The Economist, 2013)

M-Pesa outlets can be find all over Kenya from the cities to the middle of the savannah in poor townships
M-Pesa outlets can be find all over Kenya from the cities to the middle of the savannah in poor townships

M-Pesa is used by a staggering 17m Kenyans, equivalent to more than two-thirds of the adult population, and around 25% (roughly 14 billion dollars) of the country’s gross national product flows through it. Cash is almost secondary to M-Pesa, you could even call it the lifeblood of the country, if M-Pesa stopped, so would the country!

But whats next for Kenya and its mobile money revolution? 

Keeping costs small has attracted 21 million subscribers who make a million transactions a day, says Safaricom. And the overwhelming majority of that business happens in East Africa. You know what they say: More money, more transfers. And more Kenyans get online, more services are going mobile.

“Today in Kenya, you can check your account with the national social security fund very easily from the comfort of your house,” says Fred Matiangi, Kenya’s ICT cabinet secretary. “That M-Revolution as it were is the focal point around which innovation has grown in our country and continues to thrive.”

Safaricom is showing no signs of slowing down. The company is planning to invest 315 million dollars into building new features.”Government is invested heavily in building the infrastructure and working with private sector players to ensure that we support digital broadcasting,” says Matiangi. “Players like Safaricom have a whole world of opportunity to invest in digital broadcasting.” (Nurse and Court, 2015)

It just shows us that not all innovation is churned out from the 1st world. In this case it was innovation coming from an innate need to move money around a country where it was dangerous to do so. And now as a result the 1st world is looking to the 3rd world for guidance in the mobile money in a rather bizarre turn of events. I for one cannot wait to see whats next for mobile technology in Africa and the rest of the emerging economies as they join the first world in the digital age.

References

What’s next for Kenya’s mobile money revolution? – CNN.com. 2015. Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/15/business/m-pesa-future/.

Bright Y. J., (2015) ‘App-rica: Kenyas mobile-phone revolution.’ Newsweek (Blobal Ed.) January 15th.

The Economist explains: Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money? | The Economist. 2015.  Available at:http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/05/economist-explains-18. [Accessed 02 November 2015].

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