By Paul Ndiho
For years, mobile money, possibly Kenya’s most successful invention, has been leading the way with an innovative mobile phone technology called mPesa. That technology has transformed the lives of millions of people.
Paying for merchandise through your mobile phone has been made extremely easy, thanks to Kenya’s world-leading mobile money transfer system, mPesa. Launched in 2007 by Safari-com, the country’s largest mobile-network operator, it is now used by over 15 million Kenyans, equivalent to more than two-thirds of the adult population; around 25% of the country’s gross national product flows through it.
“mPesa is not just a mobile money transfer service. Especially here in Nairobi, it has revolutionized the way business is done. People are using mPesa to transact nearly any kind of business you can think about from paying their utility bills to paying for merchandise in a corner store.
Basil Omondi a student at Kenyatta University says mPesa is the best thing that has happened to Kenyans in a long time.
“mPesa is a money transaction system whereby someone sends money and someone can do transactions through the phone, whereby I can even pay bills from my phone, I can even send money, receive money and or deposit to my account and stuff like that…”
mPesa was originally designed as a system to allow micro finance-loan repayments to be made by phone, reducing the costs associated with handling cash and thus making possible lower interest rates. But after pilot testing, it was broadened to become a general money-transfer scheme.
“I usually do the transactions. I help the customers withdraw or deposit their money— In a day I can get about two hundred customers in a day.”
The success of mPesa has no doubt taken the whole world by surprise. Operators in some other countries are doing an increasingly good job of imitating it. William Baraya Nyagweso is a regular customer and explains how it works.
“I use it almost daily. Like today, I have used it three times and sometimes I can do much more transactions… explaining the how it works…”
Baraya Nyagweso says that Mpesa’s business model is particularly useful in a country where many people don’t have access to banks. Those who work in cities often send money back home to their families in rural villages.
“So what Safaricom has done particularly on the transfer – is that it has had a significant impact you can say. And so the small enterprises, the women, and you know the technology that Safari-com is using is something that you don’t need to go to class to learn – an old woman can send you a hundred thousand shillings just a click on the phone. So the technology has made the banks bend low to the informal business sector.”
Philip Muganda, a resident of Mombasa, says mPesa is the new reliable way to send and receive money. Some Kenyans say storing money on mPesa is safer than the banks.
“I think mPesa has brought money to ordinary people’s pockets and it saves us the hustle of going to the bank and Que all the time and I think it’s a good thing. Personally, I bless the person who came up with mPesa.”
Economic analysts say some of the factors behind mPesa’s success cannot be copied; but many of them can, which means it should eventually be possible for other countries to follow Kenya’s pioneering example. Several countries, including Uganda, Tanzania, Afghanistan, and India have jumped on the bandwagon and are using mPesa.
Last November, the Kenyan operator Safaricom, reported a 24 percent jump in mPesa revenue — it’s active user base has also climbed to 15.7 million people, accounting for nearly $190 million dollars in transactions.
Paul Ndiho is a Ugandan – American video journalist/ executive producer, Africa Innovations & Technology based in Washington D.C with interests in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship in Africa. He is passionate about mentor-ship and developing the next generation of Africa’s young leaders. Email:email@example.com, Facebook: Paul Ndiho and Twitter: @pndiho