With nearly 39 million mobile phone subscriptions and a device penetration of almost 90 percent, Kenya could be described as one of the most wireless nations not just in Africa, but also in the world. Kenya is not only a global leader in smartphone usage, but also in development of mobile technologies. At any given time, Kenyans are using their mobile devices not just to make calls and send text messages; they are also making purchases, paying for services, transferring money, hailing taxi rides, getting information on medical treatments, and even buying government bonds. Kenya is as mobile as Finland, the spiritual home of wireless technology by virtue of the legendary smartphone manufacturer, Nokia.
Whereas tech giants such as PayPal and Apple are still trying to figure out how to become market leaders in the digital wallet sector, Kenyans have been using their mobile phones to store cash and make payments since 2007. It all started when mobile giant Vodafone partnered with the British Department of International Development and a Kenyan wireless service provider to come up with a system to address the issue of access to banking services. The solution developed, M-PESA, was inspired by the use of wireless minutes being used as currency by crafty Kenyans whose previous system of remittances and money transfer was conducted by means of sending cash via rural bus routes.
M-PESA does not require fancy smartphones; it provides a secure money transfer platform that can be used with text messages. This system is often cited as a case study by economists who present it as an example of how mobile technology should be leveraged. These days, Kenyans transact a fifth of the $22 billion transferred by mobile solutions around the world each year. The success of M-PESA has resulted in even more mobile developments such as Little, an Uber-like taxi service in the populous Nairobi and Mombasa metropolitan areas; there’s also Fafanuka, a mobile health information service sponsored by the government and the medical community, and M-Akiba, a government savings bond that can be purchased and managed via cell phone.
As can be expected, M-PESA has inspired Kenyan mobile developers to continue coming up with solutions that leverage wireless connectivity. The M-PESA system has been adopted in India, Pakistan and a few nations in Eastern Europe. This mobile development prowess should be a source of pride for Kenyans because it proves to the world that developing nations in Africa can become examples of technological ingenuity for the rest of the world.