A customer conducts a mobile money transfer, known as M-Pesa, at a Safaricom agent stall, as he holds Kenyan shillings in Nairobi, Kenya. Picture: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
A customer conducts a mobile money transfer, known as M-Pesa, at a Safaricom agent stall, as he holds Kenyan shillings in Nairobi, Kenya. Picture: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Salute to an African success story

By Victor Kgomoeswana Time of article published Oct 13, 2019

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TWO MONTHS before he died, then Safaricom chief executive Bobby Collymore spoke glowingly to the Financial Times about his company’s mobile money service, M-Pesa.

The Project Management Institute has included M-Pesa among the top 10 projects that have revolutionised their sector and transformed the business landscape. The Kenyan innovation finds itself in superlative company of Apollo 11, the world wide web, Live Aid Concert, Intel 4004 Processor and the Prius car; might we add, ahead of Netflix, Walt Disney and Google Search?

“We got lucky with M-Pesa; it was not designed to be like that, but now it gives us a chance to go into other things,” Collymore had said in May.

Safaricom had just announced a 7% rise in revenues for the year ended March; but a 19% increase in revenue at its mobile money service.

To illustrate how critical M-Pesa was to the financial health of Safaricom - of which 35% is owned by South African cellphone network operator Vodacom - Collymore said: “If you strip M-Pesa out of our results, you will see that our growth is only 4.2%, not 7%.”

Collymore, sadly, gave in to acute myeloid leukaemia on July 1, and Michael Joseph returned to the company he once led to succeed him in an acting capacity.

M-Pesa’s recognition as an African solution to an African problem of low access to banking, could not have come at a better time than now when Africans are running to Russia, China, US and Europe to find answers to the problems they could easily solve by looking inside.

Safaricom bought the rights from Bernard Gesora Satia, a student from Moi University in Kenya who had developed the software.

The sensibility in 2007 to provide an answer to about 70% of Kenyans who were unbanked is commendable today as it was then. All M-Pesa customers need to turn their cellphones into a bank is a PIN-secured text message to other users, be they taxi operators, shop owners or regional airlines like Fly540. Money can be redeemed and sent from agents, who include airtime resellers and other retail outlets. The service was exported to countries like Tanzania, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Ghana, Romania, India and South Africa.

M-Pesa had become more than just a banking service; and it has led to other Kenyan innovations like Ushahidi, which was deployed to monitor election violence, including in the US.

Thanks to M-Pesa, Safaricom is the largest telecoms provider in Kenya and one of the most profitable companies in east and central Africa. Of the joint 55 million subscribers Vodacom boasts in Africa, Safaricom contributes more than 30 million.

It remains to be seen if Collymore’s prediction that M-Pesa will contribute more than 50% of Safaricom’s revenue in three years materialises.

However, it would be folly to bet against a breakthrough which in its first three years of service funnelled more than $600 billion, making nearly $100 million in revenue for Safaricom and Vodafone; especially when an organisation of more than 550 000 ranks it in the world’s top 10 innovations of the past five decades.

Let us take a moment to salute Moi University - the alma mater of African legends.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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