The astronomical growth of cell phone ownership across the developing world is providing more benefits than simply improved communications. In Kenya, the cell phone is giving many people access to things they never imagined possible; in this case, a bank account.
In 2009, only 19 per cent of Kenyans had access to a bank account. Today, thanks to banking on cell phone, 30 per cent have access, and $4.4 billion dollars have been transferred by the 12 million Kenyans using the service.
Kigwama, 37, works as a housekeeper in the bustling city of Nairobi. Like many other urban workers, the mother of two children, aged eight and 12, helps support relatives in poor rural areas. Each month, she sends about $20 of her monthly salary of $115 to her mother, who lives in a rural village about 200 kilometres away.
Although only one per cent of Kenyans have a land line, Kigwama is among the 70 per cent who have a cellphone.
“This mobile has changed, really, my life,” she said.
Before the introduction of M-Pesa — the money transfer service offered by Safaricom, the country’s largest wireless provider — she had to put the cash in an envelope, send it with someone on a country bus, and hope the person she gave it to would deliver it.
Now, she can send the money to her mother instantly and more securely with the push of a few buttons.
“I feel so good because if she has no food in the house she just goes and buys food immediately — no suffering about hunger again,” she said.
One of the major problems facing developing countries like Kenya is the lack of modern, effective infrastructure. Families can’t stay in touch or access government services without it and development from within the country is problematic since investors can’t easily access capital. Services like these can go a long way to providing the security and independence that countries like Kenya have been striving for — all with a few keystrokes on a cell phone.