The story of mobile money in Africa is as much a one of success as it is one of failure. The rapid rise of M-PESA in Kenya and other competing ways to send money from cell phone to cell phone has been heralded for years. Today, nearly 70% of Kenyans who own a cell phone regularly send or receive money on their phones.
The growth has been staggering considering that M-PESA turned 7 years old this month. Estimates show that one-quarter of Kenya’s gross national product travels through mobile phones. As a result, it has helped to make it easier for people to send money home, pay for goods and services, and gain instant access to a savings account.
Due to the success in Kenya, the belief has been that mobile money can work elsewhere. Advocates are buoyed by the fact that the continent managed to leap past land-line phones for mobile technology. It means more people are connected by phones and as higher speed coverage expands, by the internet.
That is why USAID, the Gates Foundation and other funders have been making the bet to support the growth of mobile money elsewhere in the world. So, how are things faring in Africa?
It’s still early, but the results are not so great. As seen in the infographic of use across the continent, there is a steep decline from leading Kenya to Uganda to South Africa. There is reason for hope that mobile money will catch on elsewhere in the world, but it is evident that copying the success of Kenya is not enough. The trend also seems to be making its way north. T-Mobile is now letting its customers deposit checks in a mobile money account, which they can then access at ATMs.
“Some of the factors behind Kenya’s lead cannot be copied; but many of them can, which means it should eventually be possible for other countries to follow Kenya’s pioneering example,” said The Economist blog last year.