Signs of change in Kenya

February 22, 2009

In a country where basic living necessities are not fulfilled, where people survive on scarce food and water and struggle to have a decent home, dreaming about real democracy, they will probably be better off with cell phones. This is the main point of Paul Mason’s BCC short report on his journey to Kenya. The correspondent traveled through the country following the mobile phone networks and emphasized changes in the economy and democracy brought by these networks.
Mason describes the importance of the creation of M-Pesa, a mobile application built by Celtel and Safaricom that allows users to transfer money. In a place where most of the people don’t have bank accounts and barely use plastic money, this simple innovation can make Africa a more liquid economy. He also explains how the use of cell phone is already benefiting the population in terms of democratic actions. In Kibera, Africa’s biggest slum, people are using cell phones to fight evictions. He reports: “They used what we would call flashmobbing to call people from across the many different and rival settlements together where big evictions were planned, and threatened to sit down in front of the bulldozers.”
Even though the changes seem very small, Kenyans who own a cell phone consider it massive. Not that all the problems will suddenly disappear, but as Mason wrote on his report, they will give African people more power, and a bigger voice. It is definitely something for those who have never had anything.

Questions:

1. What other countries besides Kenya are using similar systems to M-Pesa? What are the security risks associated with the financial transaction?  

2. Could the Kenyan government shut down the mobile phone networks if it considered “dangerous” for political purposes?

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