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MPesa: What does Kenya’s mobile darling look like five years on?

When MPesa launched five years ago, only the most optimistic would’ve thought that it would turn into the economic force of nature it is today.

Stuart Thomas: Senior Reporter
Stuart Thomas joined the Burn Media team in 2011 while finishing off an MA in South African Literature. Eager to prove his geek credentials, he allowed himself... More

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Today the mobile money service has around 15-million users and about a third of the Kenyan GDP passes through it. Some think that MPesa has disrupted entire economies and others that it is the only real economic disruptor of the 21st-Century.

The numbers bear that kind of thought out too. People can deposit money into MPesa accounts from 70 countries around the globe, 25 banks are connected to the service and KSH 1.8-billion (US$22-million) is moved between people daily.

But MPesa’s success in Kenya and Tanzania hasn’t been easy to replicate in other countries. One reason that this hasn’t happened is because banking regulations are a lot harsher in countries like South Africa.

Another reason is because of the throat-hold Vodafone has on it. In early 2011, Ushahidi and iHub founder Erik Hersman suggested that Vodafone should spin MPesa out as an independent entity “and let it take on the world”.

Within Vodafone, he said, “MPesa is like all of the services and startups eaten up by other large companies that die due to not being within an ecosystem with an entrepreneurial bent, but instead are sucked down by bureaucracy.”

While the model may not have been easy to replicate, there’s no doubting it’s a force to be reckoned with. Not bad for something that started out as a microfinancing service that allowed borrowers to conveniently receive and repay loans.