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Mobile money success shows how Africa can offer solutions

By Kizito Temba | June 6th 2020

The need for the international community to further develop partnerships with African countries to resolve issues has been evident for years. What has uniquely become clear from the Covid-19 crisis is the important role Africa can and should play in providing solutions to global challenges.

The global threat that the Covid-19 pandemic poses has surprisingly led to many positive developments on the diplomatic front.

Countries that have been less successful in addressing the pandemic have taken example and received assistance from those who have succeeded in stemming the virus. This has been the result of a common interest in eradicating the pandemic.

At a recent pan-African panel, President Uhuru Kenyatta rightly observed that; “Africa is not the problem but through partnership we can be a solution.” 

A lot can be learned by the international community from the way in which Kenya is managing our war on Covid-19. Despite the amount of cases and considering our size, we are doing pretty well. An important tool that our government has been utilising, and which our international partners would do well to learn from, is digital innovation.

One of the primary mechanisms through which the virus has spread domestically has, according to experts, been physical monetary transactions. US studies have estimated that a country’s lowest denomination bill can exchange hands up to 110 times a year. Further studies examining the most widely used notes and coins found that 94 per cent harbour bacteria. Such finding led the WHO to identify cash as a significant enabler of the spread of the virus.

Our country’s widespread adoption of digital finance platforms has therefore understandably played an important role in containing the virus while enabling our economy to continue functioning. One of the first requests Uhuru put forth to leading economists when efforts to curb the spread of the virus commenced was, “to explore ways of deepening mobile-money usage to reduce risk of spreading the virus through physical handling of cash”. 

At the encouragement of the Kenyan Central Bank, mobile payment platforms, such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa began waiving transaction fees for small-scale transfers. Seeking to facilitate the continued functioning of small business as well, the company later doubled daily transaction limits. Companies in other African countries, such as Ghana, Rwanda and Uganda, at their respective government’s encouragement, implemented similar measures.  

Not only has the use of mobile money helped prevent the viruses spread, it similarly facilitated the continued functioning of our retail sector and allowed Kenyans to get what they need from the safety of their homes. According to GoBeba, not only did online sales triple during the first few weeks of the virus, but the majority of goods sold were household basics, which citizens would have otherwise needed to leave the house to buy. Technology, supported and encouraged by our government, can indeed save lives. 

Global solutions must be provided for global challenges to be addressed. We must also be willing to adopt successful strategies and learn from policy failures elsewhere. While many have been struggling to contain the virus, Africa and Kenya in particular, have been making significant headway in preventing further spread of Covid-19. Our global partners would do well to see our country and continent more widely as part of the solution.

-The writer is a political commentator.

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