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Generation Infonauts

The evolution of the informal infrastructure, so called infostructure, has turned us all into “generation infonauts”.  As internet coverage has exploded during the recent past, the usage of mobile devices as an inspirational information-base has become a habit. However, while toddlers in Europe try to use the television like an Ipad – making the evolution of technology an innate assuetude for the Westerner –  African families  to a general degree still do not possess these electronic devices creating a hole that must be filled.

According to  the internet world statistics around 13.5 % of the population has daily internet access. While the continent accounts for 15 % of the world’s population, only 6.2 % of the internet subscribers are based in Africa.  Now these statistics are quite biased. Internet access is irregularly distributed with two-thirds of online activity generated in South Africa. The remaining are primarily in Morocco and Egypt. On the other hand it should be borne in mind that these data only partially reflect the actual number of Africans who use internet on a daily basis. For example, internet kiosks and cybercafés are found commonly throughout urban areas. Before the “yet to be announced date” of when the assuetude goes fully global is announced  internet distribution must grow in quality and coverage. As the infostructure grows new networks evolve creating new communities of solution finders.

One of these nexuses that produces solution finders is the iHub, a makerspace founded by Erik Hersman in 2010.

The iHub prides itself with creating a place where “seeds are planted and [we] are easily found by the people with money to help grow”, describing themselves as a co-working technological community that sets the right environment for innovative people to create and form ideas. It consists of four departments:  iHub Research, iHub Consulting, iHub Supercomputing Cluster, and the iHub User Experience Lab (more info @ www.ihub.com). What is so inspiring about Africans starting to take an increasingly participatory role is that they are being directly affected and so therefore acknowledge what society really needs.  Foreigners might have a harder time to fall into a paradigm shift when needed, and probably one not as enigmatic. Bernard Kiwia, a Tanzanian entrepreneur and inventor, endorses this statement in an interview with Victor Grau Serrat from MiT: For me it’s easy because I live there, and I experience the same problems myself: I had to take a cold shower every morning until I decided that I would build a solar water heater to have access to warm water for showering. As soon as I build one, neighbours started asking for one. And so an anecdotal presumption is established: should African entrepreneurs in order to reach the low-hanging fruit exploit their talent and adapt to their clients needs, rather than becoming protégés of the West being guided by the inertia of adherence to an old model? What is the best solution to inspire growth?   These think-tanks are, as mentioned, of huge help in finding the path of development inspiring others into choosing the allegedly  correct direction and the iHub in Nairobi is just one of many. Finally this path could lead life-standards to first become adequate and mundane, thereafter reach new heights.

TG Teigland

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M-Pesa, Kenya’s Mobile Wallet

Buying a coffee and paying with your mobile phone is more common in Nairobi than it is in London, even though the Smart-phone to person ratio vastly differ. Kenya’s Mobile-money system M-Pesa, launched by Safaricom in 2007 is used by over 17m Kenyans and around 25% of the country’s gross national product flows through it1.

M-Pesa is a small-value electronic payment and store of value system accessible from ordinary mobile phones. Setting up an account is easy and once an account is made transfers can be made to both M-pesa users and non-users. One can also pay bills and the affordability of the service has made it possible for the poor to open the door to formal financial services.

M-Pesa has several benefits compared to ordinary banks and other ways of saving and transfer money. Keep in mind that internet access is not certain in most parts of Kenya. Sending money far distances is very difficult without any means of doing so and that’s why Safaricom’s commercial saying ”Send money home” was so succesful. Money also cannot be stolen due to the need of an ID and a personal code during each transaction. Most importantly the service has reached out to many people without banking all over Kenya, which means that M-Pesa fulfills
the need for a low-cost transactional platform that enables low-income customers to meet a range of payment needs. I don’t need to go to the bank when I have the bank in my phone, says John Makusi Simiyu, a Nairobi businessman.

Dozens of similar systems have been launched in other countries before and after M-Pesa, none of the other systems have been as successful. M-Pesa is believed to be prosperous due to several factors. First of the dominant market position of Safaricom, requiring the citizens to use the same system. Second, the remarkable high cost of other ways of sending money and finally, during the post-election violence in the country in 2008 meant that those trapped in Nairobi received money through their phone and this established a base of users for later.

Now a days M-Pesa offer loans and saving products, saving further time and money (No bank-queueing in a town 30 kilometers away). One study2 found that 84 percent claim that losing M-Pesa would have a large, negative effect on them; which shows the service has become a part of the environment and economy in Kenya. Business models building on the M-Pesa foundation are not rare and it is spreading to other countries like Tanzania and Afghanistan – and was even launched in India this spring. So next time you are in a coffee shop in New Delhi, you might to able to pay with your phone.

1 As of May 2013
2 “Mobile payment go viral: M-PESA in Kenya” written by Ignacio Mas and Dan Radcliffe.

Johannes Eklind