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How mobile phones shaped the last decade

By Wainaina Wambu | January 5th 2020 at 02:00:00 GMT +0300

If you want to disorient the average Kenyan, seize their mobile phone for just a day.

In the last 10 years, the handset has evolved from a mere communication gadget to an ecosystem that solves everyday hassles and buoyed the digital economy, where everything is just a click away.

The mobile phone is now a hub for almost every sphere of the economy and has even churned out millionaires along the way. It has also popularised a cashless economy.

As 2010 kicked in, connection to fixed lines dropped significantly by over 72 per cent, signalling the inevitable shift to mobile phones.

Over the decade, mobile subscription in the country grew 138 per cent from 22.3 million in 2010 to 53.2 million as of September last year, according to the latest statistics by the Communications Authority (CA).

The decade also saw the rise in internet penetration, especially in mobile phones. The decade started with phones having basic ‘edge’ internet before evolving to the current fast 5G that is still being rolled out.

As of 2010, internet penetration in the country stood at 7.8 million Kenyans, before growing to over 26 million currently.

However, the digital economy has not come without its fair share of challenges, especially with regulators. For example, the digital lenders have been accused of being rogue due to lack of proper guidelines to govern them.

We take a look at some of the impacts of the mobile phone in the last 10 years

Financial inclusion, mobile money and banking

At the start of 2010, mobile money services were just taking off and at the turn of the decade, the mobile phone’s role in the country’s financial inclusion became a global case study.

In 2018 alone, Kenya’s moved almost half the equivalent of the country’s GDP through their mobile phones, according to data from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK).

Seventy-nine per cent of Kenyans are registered mobile money account holders, while 88 per cent have access to mobile money through their own or other people’s accounts, according to a 2019 survey by Financial Services Deepening (FSD).

Mobile banking has also led to the deepening of financial inclusion.
Between July and September 2019 alone, Kenyans conducted mobile money transactions worth Sh1.7 trillion.

The decade coupled with the rise of technology has revolutionised traditional banking. Even though traffic in banking halls has not completely dwindled, the decade has seen banks shift to a “digital-first” mantra.

After telcos introduced mobile money services, banks had no option than to shift their focus, with every financial institution launching a mobile banking platform.

The rise of digital lenders

Helped by the success of mobile money platforms, digital lenders found a booming market. Currently, digital loans are the most common type of loans in the country, according to FSD.

There are currently more than 50 digital mobile lenders and even though they’ve been praised for easing access to credit, critics blame them for pushing many Kenyans into a debt trap, with some borrowing from one platform to pay the other.

Close to three million Kenyans have been blacklisted by the Credit Reference Bureau (CRB) for defaulting on mobile loans.

Due to lack of regulations, the digital lenders charge interests as high as 17 per cent monthly, especially for the "small" amounts ranging between Sh500 and Sh6,000.

A 2019 report shows that 400,000 of those listed with the CRBs are for amounts less than Sh200.


The mobile phone enabled digital taxis to flourish in the decade. Since the entry of Uber into the Kenyan market in 2015, the country now has at least five digital taxi firms operating. Heck, there’s even a boda boda hailing app!

However, it has not all been rosy, especially for the drivers of the digital cab-hailing apps who spent the better part of the last year fighting with the platforms over their commissions.


Kenyans are buying more products daily from the convenience of their phones. Some surveys even show that online shoppers in the country are responsible for pushing the country’s internet usage. The country ranks fifth in Africa in terms of e-commerce, according to a UN report last year.

Sports betting

Increased mobile phone penetration propelled gambling in the last decade. The industry minted new millionaires but also wrecked countless lives as millions of youths fell into gambling. New regulations last year such as the introduction of a 20 per cent excise tax on betting stakes saw the exit of giant betting firms Sportpesa and Betin after months of a back and forth with the government.

Food industry

Food delivery became the newest fad in the last decade. From the convenience of their homes, Kenya’s through their mobile phones can now order and have their favourite meal delivered to their doorstep.  

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Mobile phones Mobile Money Mobile banking Smartphones
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