While Google Pay is getting starting to get adoption Kenyan M-PESA mobile payment system is rising since 2007 …

Ismaël Kizito PAPA

During my last holiday in Kenya last year I have been impressed by how advanced the country was and in particular Nairobi the capital. I procrastinated a long time that article on one of the success story of the country.

Imagine a massai Shepherd in the middle of the savanna with a Nokia like mobile phone. The mobile rings. He just received money. He then goes to the nearest town and withdraw money from his local agents. One of the 218 495 M-PESA agents in Kenya.(1)

Unlike Western union the sender did not have to pay endless and non-transparent fees. No need also to fill out a long form at the local bank too. All you need is the phone number of the person you are sending the money to.

There are a lot of those systems in the world but here the simplicity of the system seduced over 20.5 Millions(2) people and growing. Today it is almost half of the country GDP that is processed through M-PESA.(3)

Simplicity is a key word here. Banks are such complicated organisation. You need big premises, overqualified employees and ATM and still your order will be processed in 2 to 3 business days.

When I was in Comoros last summer I remember my dad asking me if I withdrew enough money. As the good French living in the UK that I am I told him I will withdraw in the city. “Withdrew where ?” he replied. Comoros main Island as one and only one place for banks located in the middle of the capital with 4/5 ATM serving the 400 000 inhabitants of the Island. And this is the same in Kenya with 2000 ATMs for a population of 49 Millions (4). There was no way traditional systems will match the demand.

Costs is also a key word. Indeed with banks and payments system as Western union main benefits is in the transaction fees they charge for the service. The idea is to maximise ROI. Safaricom’s vision is different. Their objective is to get customer loyalty therefore transaction fees are low. This doesn’t stop them from making a decent profit from transacations with a solid USD 620M of revenue last year (KShs 62.91bn) (5).

The brand is everywhere and the use cases don’t stop expanding.

But everyone as a mobile phone in Kenya, to be exact 41.8Millions (6) . In 2007 Michael Joseph wrote the business plan for the system targeting more particularly the workers sending money home.Internet Rumors says that the technology was developed by a student who won a price for the competition created by Safaricom.

Michael Joseph asked his team how many users they will have at the end of the year, and his team replied 358000 users to which Michael Joseph threatened to fire all of them if they did not reach a million user by the end of the year. End of the year results 1.2 millions. The rest is history.

The story repeats itself with openings Tanzania, Afghanistan South Africa India Romania and Albania and we can be sure that the story of M-PESA is far from being over.

If you go to East Africa have a try at M-PESA. It si extremely convenient from paying your Taxi driver the Matatu (van) for your Safari to buying Airtime to call home and food from groceries shops.


(1)Number of Registered Mobile Money Agents July-September 2018 218,495

(2) As of press release Year ended 31st of March 2018 users 30-day active M-PESA customers to 20.5m

(3)As of August 2017 Money processed through M-Pesa in Kenya is half of the Gdp.

(4)2.000: The number of ATMs in Kenya, down from a peak of 3.000.


(6)During the period under review the number of mobile data/Internet subscriptions grew by 2.7 per cent to post 41.8 million from 40.7 million subscriptions registered during the previous quarter.