We are finding out firsthand how Kenya is a country of old and new. While Kenya (and Africa overall) may lag on basic things we take for granted in the U.S (roads & infrastructure as an example) – they also lead in other ways.
One area in particular is mobile. Virtually everyone in the main areas of the country has a cell phone, and most if not all use it as their main form of cash transactions. Safaricom is the market leader for mobile phones, and their M-Pesa platform is nothing short of revolutionary. People link their M-Pesa accounts to bank accounts – so they can make purchases at stores, ATM withdrawals, transfer money to other people and many other functions all from their phone. No need for a wallet full of debit and credit cards. The technology is pretty straightforward, and I know it’s available in the states - but the usage and market penetration here is staggering. You literally can’t travel 100 meters (see, I’m already adapting to life outside the U.S…) without seeing an M-Pesa sign - and it has literally become the primary form of transactional finance.
When you think about it, the root cause of this phenomenon is quite simple. Very few people in Kenya own their own personal computer – but everyone has a cell phone. So while, in the US, it is second nature for us to pay bills and do our banking online – this is not possible elsewhere in the world.
Definitely an example of a smarter planet in action.