Cell phones replace wallets in Kenya | Africa | DW | 12.09.2012
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Cell phones replace wallets in Kenya

Life hasn't been the same in Kenya since phone provider Safaricom introduced M-Pesa in 2007. The mobile phone-based money transfer system is the most popular on the African continent.

In Kiswahili, the official language of Kenya, the word "pesa" means "money." The name M-Pesa stands for "mobile money" that's available round the clock. M-Pesa allows users to deposit money, to send sums via SMS and to buy or sell goods and services, all with the help of their cell phones. For each transaction a small user's fee goes to mobile provider Safaricom which developed M-Pesa together with British company Vodaphone.

Sammy Lewa lives in Nairobi and is one of many enthusiastic M-Pesa customers.

An M-Pesa agency in Nairobi. Photo: Alfred Kiti (DW-correspondent) Wann wurde das Bild gemacht?: 22.08.2012 Wo wurde das Bild aufgenommen?: Nairobi, Kenia Bildbeschreibung: Bei welcher Gelegenheit / in welcher Situation wurde das Bild aufgenommen? Wer oder was ist auf dem Bild zu sehen? Kunden stehen an einem Schalter für Geldüberweisungen in Kenias Hauptstadt Nairobi an. M-Pesa ist eine Anwendung, mit der Mobiltelefonnutzer Geld in Form von Gesprächsguthaben überweisen können.

An M-Pesa agency where customers can buy credit

"Life has become easier for me. I am now able to send money to my parents at home using M-Pesa, I pay my bills - electricity bills, water bills - through M-Pesa. I also use it to pay school fees for my child," he told DW.

On practically every street corner, M-Pesa agencies are to be found, where customers can purchase cell phone credit with which they can pay their bills. There are around 11,000 agents across the country offering this service.

Protection against robbery

M-Pesa has quickly grown to become a lucrative business, providing jobs for more than 250,000 people in Kenya.

Economics expert Joy Kiiru (Photo: Alfred Kiti, DW-correspondent) Foto: Alfred Kiti (DW-Korrespondent) Wann wurde das Bild gemacht?: 29.08.2012 Wo wurde das Bild aufgenommen?: Nairobi, Kenia

Joy Kiiru says the Kenyan economy has benefited from M-Pesa

The country's economy has profited noticeably from the increased number of people using their cell phones for financial transactions. Joy Kiiru is an economics expert in Nairobi. She says M-Pesa "has added to the vibrancy of the financial sector and has also deepened it, all of which is good for economic growth in Kenya."

Using M-Pesa reduces the risk of cash being stolen. More people are prepared to make small investments or even start their own businesses. Today, 70 percent of Kenya's adult population use M-Pesa. Since its launch five years ago, M-Pesa has become the most successful mobile phone-based financial service in any developing country.

Not an easy start

But it hasn't been success all the way for M-Pesa. Elizabeth Mafura recalls the early days when the system frequently broke down. "Initially, there were problems. Maybe you mess up a number and then you're sending money to the wrong person. Getting the money back was really hard. If you called Safaricom they sometimes didn't pick up the phone but now they have M-Pesa customer care and everything is cool." M-Pesa makes it possible for people to save money without having a bank account. It's possible to accumulate money with the system, as long as customers don't change their SIM card. Other mobile phone providers have been quick to introduce similar schemes, for example in Sudan, South Africa and Tanzania, and also outside Africa, in countries such as Afghanistan and India where many people do not have a regular bank account. The first trials have also taken place in Europe.

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