Kenya in the late 90s was one of those countries where technology had gained little inroads. In 1999 there were only 300,000 landline phones and the mobile technology was in its rudimentary phase. People living in the remote tribal villages continued to their existence as if nothing had changed since the time of their ancient forefathers. Most of the financial transaction was through cash. Money used to be sent to the villages from people in the cities through couriers.
In 2007, the scenario changed substantially when mobile payment system came into being. Safaricom introduced this through an SMS –based money transfer system. An application called M-Pesa was created for this purpose. Kenyans soon found that the electronic money transfer was a quick and risk-free method of transferring money when needed. As in the case of loading talk-time in the phones, users of M-Pesa can load money in their accounts and then send the money to a receiver’s phone through a simple text message. Hence a far-reaching technology revolution started using mobile phones that swept many developing countries including Kenya. Kenyans are now carrying fewer cash in their pockets and the snatchers, who used to rule the roost, are facing declining revenue from their business.
As the use of mobile phones increased, many people who loved to play online casinos started using their Smartphone for playing online casinos. Many reputed casinos like casinos-online.co.ke have opened their online version and have got many users playing there.
Several factors are responsible for this fast adaptation to mobile money transfers by the Kenyans. Out of these, two stand out as the chief contributors. Kenya’s urban population largely consists of people who have come to the cities from the villages, and have financial commitments to their families. Hence, many of the urban people had hitherto relied on informal money transfer means like bus drivers to send money to their families. This entailed considerable risk. As such, Kenyans were quick to adapt to this system as M-Pesa provided a safe and fast system of money transfer.
Secondly, the facility of formal banking was not available to the majority of Kenyans residing in remote locations. Now, literally speaking M-Pesa provided them this facility at their fingertips. However, there was an issue that with M-Pesa the formal banking sector was being bypassed and a need to legalize the system came up. Thereafter, the Central Bank of Kenya set up a regulatory framework within which Safaricom could operate without the restrictions of a financial services operator.
In 2012, Ethan Zuckermann, the well-known tech blogger and Harvard Researcher mentioned that an estimated 3 million Kenyans used the Internet, which is one of the highest Internet penetrating countries in the Sub-Saharan Africa. 12 million Kenyans had mobile phones, which is about 30% of the population of Kenya. Further, 17 million Kenyans (about 70%of the adult population) used the mobile application, M-Pesa to buy groceries or send money to their families.
However, the use of M-Pesa for transferring money through mobile was adopted earlier by the Kenyan companies. The Kenyan companies used another complex SMS-based application called Kazi560, which used mobile phone to match jobseekers with employers with vacancy.
At present there are other similar operators like the Safaricom who have developed their own applications such as Zain and Orange. This has given rise to healthy competitions and the consumer is benefitted.
In most of the countries in the African continent the telecom infrastructure is world-class which has also helped in the way the use of mobile technology has grown. The culture of digital transaction has also brought about a big change in the IT scenario thus making Kenya a global focal point of IT companies.
The growth of mobile technology has helped many IT enabled services to flourish in Kenya so much so that the country has become a host to numerous software applications, which has penetrated to the very core of Kenyan livelihood. The best part is that many of these technologies are not targeted towards the urban tech-savvy people, but are developed to benefit the rural poor.
M-Kopa is building solar lighting to energize an LED lamp and charge mobile phone. It has a unique financial model. Each family is required to pay an initial nominal amount to have it installed. To keep it running they have to recharge via M-Pesa. After a certain fixed amount say about ten week’s supply of kerosene has been paid the family can own it. Payment is ensured as the system can be switched off remotely.
Grundfos, the Danish pump manufacture has implemented a program called Lifelink in about 24 villages in Kenya to provide clean drinking water. The program uses mobile phone technology in an innovative manner so that payments are ensured. A RFID tag is attached to a fob chain, which hangs from a plastic jerry can. If 20-liter water is to be purchased, the person has to recharge the RFID fob with 2 shillings paid via M-Pesa.
Another significant software innovation resulting from the growth of mobile technology in Kenya is an application called Ushahidi. This application allows people in crisis-ridden areas to send information through e-mail, text messages or social media that can be located on an online map. In 2007 Kenya underwent a post election crisis. At this time this application helped to obtain ground information, which could not be easily obtained. Ushahidi has since been adapted around the globe for use in crisis relief operations, as it can be deployed quickly and allows analysis through digital dashboards. Ushahidi has done Kenya proud by receiving many international awards.
In order to have a common working space for Nairobi’s technology entrepreneurs and creative people a company named Omidyar Network established iHub in Ngong Road of Nairobi. Many new technology companies have sprung up from iHub and have attracted international focus from companies like Google, Microsoft, and Nokia.
The government of Kenya has partnered with iHub to boost the technology growth and is determined to use the success in mobile technology sector to provide employment opportunities and boost Kenya’s economy. In view of the tremendous potential of Kenya’s potential in the technology sector major global tech giants like Siemens, HP, IBM and Samsung have set up their operation in Kenya.