Pesa means money in Swahili, M is for mobile; in 2007 M-Pesa was launched by the Kenyan operator Safaricom, with UK partner Vodafone’s backing; Kenya is M-pesa’s champion market with circa 20 million (2/3rds of the adult demographic) active users transacting an estimated KSh 15 billion (approx $150 million) daily. Today M-pesa claims a subscriber base of 25 million and a network of plus 261,000 agents in various countries of operation.
In Kenya cashless payments are a revolution in the fight against petty corruption, in a world where people do not carry cash, petty bribes to low level government bureaucrats become easy to detect or difficult. Likewise with traffic cop corruption, often vehicles are stopped for no reason other than paying a recompense not to go to court. M-pesa is a marvellous system evolving to eliminate grassroots bribes, when an officious bureaucrat or bullyish traffic cop demands a sweetener to get something done or undone, people “say of course no problem, let me M-pesa you the money right now, what’s your number?”…So the bribe is either withdrawn or these transactions can be tracked and have to be accounted for, which is great for ordinary people trying to move their lives forward.
In 2014-2015 M-pesa transactions apparently totalled $3.4bn, in September Mark Zuckerbeg (Facebook) arrived in Nairobi “to learn about mobile money”, he denied rumours he was about to acquire M-pesa. Visa Inc., the world’s largest payments network, just introduced a mobile-phone application to enable more wireless transactions in Kenya as a prelude to a pan-Africa program; clearly Kenya leads the way in going cashless and eliminating many elements of grassroots corruption.
1. The conversion rate used in this article is 1 Kenyan Shilling = 0.01 US Dollar
Antonia Filmer is a former British Vogue Fashion Editor and Design Director of Laura Ashley; Antonia was a freelance contributor to Harpers and World of Interiors, she produced summer Garden Operas for 10 years to benefit a children’s charity. In 2012 Antonia wrote produced, directed and edited a documentary “The Last Maharaja”. Antonia is currently the London correspondent for The Sunday Guardian- India.
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