New app that insures matatu drivers against traffic offences
By Lee Mwiti | November 15th 2016
When 26-year-old Fred Abere left Jomo Kenya University of Agriculture and Technology in 2013 with a degree in Information Technology, the future looked bleak.
Unemployment figures were soaring and gloom clouding every aspect of his ambitions.
But the lanky, cape-wearing, precocious software developer did not give up. He chose to shun formal employment and went into innovation.
Mr Abere, who ranks IT big-wigs like Apple founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft guru Bill Gates among his heroes, went ahead and developed a nascent application called M-sheria, which primarily offers a platform for matatu drivers to be insured against traffic offences.
This means they can access bail through the application once arrested, and with subsequent legal costs coming from the offences also covered. The platform not only guarantees bail for matatu drivers, but also for the ubiquitous boda boda riders who often find themselves in the wrong side of the law.
“M-sheria was started this year on February 9 as a pilot project which later scaled and was officially launched in May,” Abere explains. “The motivation behind coming up with M-sheria was from our daily experience and encounter with the police.
Drivers I had met had a hard time with the police and constantly needed bail. With such an experience, I approached a few programmer friends who I had studied with at university. It was them who helped me come up with M-Sheria which bails the matatu drivers out once they commit traffic offences,” he adds.
Abere explains that Msheria works in a very simple way: “All you need to do is to download the app on android and register yourself in it. Then you will see how much cash bail you qualify for, as per the monthly premiums you pay.
And if you are in need of cash bail, you select the specific place where the arrest has taken place for example Central Police Station in Nairobi. The application automatically identifies an agent who is tasked with handling that area. It prompts you to call that agent who comes and bails you out.”
With M-Sheria, drivers deposit monthly assurance fees and access cash bail of different range. For example, a driver who pays Sh200 monthly premium can have access to a bail of up to Sh20,000. Upon payment of premium, a client’s account will automatically be activated and be able to access cash bail. Payments are done through the other revolutionary innovation M-Pesa.
Abere says the platform which is now worth Sh10 million has managed to employ a team of 30. It also has 10 agents whose role is to bail out anyone arrested in their assigned region.
So far, a total of 25 matatu drivers from different Saccos like Embassava and Forward Travellers Sacco have been bailed out as well as well as 40 bodaboda riders.
One of the drivers who has benefited from the platform is 32-year-old Erick Obae who plies the Jogoo road route in Embassava matatus here in Nairobi.
Mr Obae was ferrying passengers to town when he was accosted by traffic police officers who accused him of picking customers from undesignated places along the route. He was immediately arrested and bundled into Central Police Station.
“I was in a difficult position and required a cash bail of Sh3,000. I took hold of my phone and accessed the M-sheria app. Immediately after I keyed in the details of my arrest, I was given an agent’s number whom I called. He was able to come and settle the cash bail,” Obae explains.
Obae joined the platform in June this year and has been contributing Sh200 monthly. Another driver Peter Mutuku who plies the Thika Road route from Kahawa West to the city centre also found himself in the bad books of traffic police officers.
“My vehicle was overloaded and I was arrested last month. A cash bail of Sh7,000 was demanded and I had to access a Msheria agent who paid it. I was registered in M-sheria in July and I have been paying Sh200 as monthly premium,” Mr Mutuku says. Mutuku is now a taxi driver with Uber but is still registered with Msheria.
Abere says he dreams of expanding his platform to cover other offences that attract huge cash bails, but is badly in need of an investor. The application, which covers only the Nairobi area also needs to expand.
“We don’t have any investors yet, but we are looking forward for willing investors to come on board as we plan to expand nationwide by mid 2017,” Abere says.
The potential for innovation among a caboodle of youthful, tech savvy minds is great as many graduates seek to beat the curse of joblessness.
And like Abere puts it, M-sheria will not be the last of his innovations. He seeks to dream even bigger and come up with other innovations that could end up being appreciated globally.
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