Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Just MPESA his ear
back on"

Nairobi, Kenya, 6am: Legishon, a night watchman, stumbles drunk to work, work he should have been doing since the evening before. He fumbles with the keys to the gate of this modest plot of land in the suburbs that he has been guarding for the past 4 months. Finally managing to remove the lock and chain, he swings open the gate to find the gardener, Anthony, a Luya man of about 36 years. The watchman slams the gate closed loudly and points his finger daringly in the face of the gardener. "You Luya are not to be trusted, why are you here watching the house?" he imposes. Angered by the late watchman, and tired from the sleepless night, the gardener shouts back, insulting the guard and his people, the Maasai. Legishon picks up a rock and throws it at Anthony's head, splitting his ear open wide. 

At the hospital Anthony is denied treatment because he has no money, no insurance and no prospects for paying. He calls his employer Theodore. Theodore picks up his phone, acknowledges the gravity of the situation, presses a few buttons on the phone and sits back, satisfied that he has helped out his injured gardener. He sips his beer and continues on with his evening.

It is that easy. In Kenya, if you want to send money to your family, if you want to pay for a bill, if you want to put down collateral on a purchase, you press a few buttons on your phone and presto, money is sent to anyone with a cellphone and an MPESA account. And like that indeed, the doctor received payment and stitched Anthony's ear back on.

Most urban people in Kenya have a MPESA account, some 10 milllion out of 30 in the entire country, and keep it well stocked with money incase a situation, like this one, arises. It has revolutionized bank transfers in Kenya.

One downside to MPESA is that it is a monopoly. Being a monopoly, MPESA kiosks can charge substantial fees for transferring and restocking accounts with money.

Can you think of any other reasons why MPESA might have any adverse repercussions? A potential one was recounted to me by Theodore himself: Men in Kenya often leave their home to find work elsewhere in the country and, when they can, bring money back home to provide for their family. Now, with MPESA, they don't have to travel back home, they can simply send it back, and the family never gets to see their father/husband.

Other than that, any ideas? All in all, I think it is a fantastic system and I wish it would spread around the world!

1 comment:

  1. Great idea, except instead of cell phones they should make it so that you can pay with your thumbprint. Also, people should start commuting to work and school on floating skateboards!