With much less fanfare than banking and accounts, a quieter revolution has been taking place on the electronic pathways connecting people in African regions. Historically competitive telcos are shaking hands and joining forces on mobile money. Interoperability has long been a dream and it is only now that we see things starting to take shape. Since the news has been dribbling out in bits and bobs over time, lets take a comprehensive look at the landscape of the operating environment and the connections being made across the continent.
Safaricom, the progenitors of MPesa, the grandfather of all mobile money payment systems, isn’t actually a major telco on the continent. Its monopoly on mobile services is only in Kenya. However, when it comes to active mobile money users, its in the lead.
This is the current state of the art of mobile money across the continent
And here are some of the connections being made, with the most recent, first.
You’ll note the significant leap that MPesa has made by going beyond its original agreement with Tanzania’s Vodacom – a Vodafone group company – by joining hands with MTN. Using the same colour coding for the graphic below, we see the flows in West Africa:
- Three of Tanzania’s four mobile networks, Tigo, Airtel and Zantel announced Africa’s first agreement to allow their customers in the country to send money to each other whether using Tigo Pesa, Airtel Money or EzyPesa on their mobile handsets.
- M-Pesa Tanzania and Tigo Pesa Tanzania interoperable
- Airtel subscribers could also begin cross border remittances of money on its platform sending and receiving money amongst other users in Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia.
- The other countries that will be offering the Airtel Money service soon include Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria.
That last is interesting, because the Zambians are asking the $64,000 question even as all eyes are on the media hoopla.
Our concern is that the other 2 countries, DRC and Rwanda, are not exactly the first options for trade by Zambia, but are some of the markets Airtel is in. If countries like Nigeria and Tanzania were the first to get access, we’d see so many transfers from here.
For now, we predict the transfers made will be more personal, to family/friends, than for trade purposes. If not, we would gladly appreciate any statistics on this from Airtel itself.
I don’t think the telcoms are even thinking about trade. The GSMA cross border report focuses on the remittance aspect, with the broadly unquestioned assumption that its all to family and friends.
Mapping it all
I’d love it if someone could capture all of this into one map and infographic – not only the cross border transactional ability but also the cross border interoperability as well as in country interoperability. Like the Zambians, I think the potentials for business, trade, e-commerce and biashara are far more than anyone has even considered. Top down reportage on banking and interoperability seems to focus only on the customer’s individual needs, and overlooks their agency as entrepreneurs, traders and business people.