The introduction of Apple Pay, which allows users to pay via smartphone, has generated plenty of buzz. But when it comes to mobile money, America trails years — seven years — behind another country: Kenya.
The mobile money app M-Pesa launched in 2007 and now has more than 15 million users in Kenya — plus millions more across South Africa, Afghanistan and the rest of the globe. By 2012, the value of M-Pesa transactions reached $18 billion, equal to about 41 percent of Kenya’s GDP. For those interested in emerging markets, M-Pesa has become a larger-than-life success story: It launched a hundred research papers and became a sort of holy grail for other telecom companies, which have tried — largely in vain — to replicate its model around the world.
But M-Pesa’s model may finally be spreading. Last month, Kenya’s Equity Bank introduced a new piece of technology that literally piggybacks off of M-Pesa’s success. Called a “thin sim,” the paper-thin chip slips under a standard SIM card used in mobile phones by Safaricom, the telecommunications company that owns M-Pesa. Operating like a second SIM, the device will connect to its own cellular network to allow users to make instant money transfers, just like M-Pesa.
Those in the industry are watching closely, not just to see whether another player can finally shake M-Pesa’s dominance, but also because the technology could finally make mobile payments feasible in other developing countries. If so, it could further blur the line between banking and telecom, and potentially offer market access to the hundreds of millions around the world who have a phone but no bank account.
It started out as a nice idea that made a sharp left turn and then took a whole new direction. A 22-year-old Kenyan developer, getting the idea from a class at Strathmore University in Nairobi, wanted to create an app to help drivers avoid bad traffic and accidents. But when he learned that a friend had just been stopped by police at an alcohol Breathalyzer checkpoint, he decided to turn it into an app that would warn drivers about checkpoints — and it took off.
Fifty people downloaded it the first day. Three days later, 2,500. Then 5,000.
But the fun didn’t last. The police soon took notice, and Brian Osoro says an officer called him to try to persuade him to take the app down. “A friend of mine who’s doing law told me this was obstruction of justice,” he says. “In my conscience, I thought, ‘This is bad.’” He read about a drunk driver — of a bus carrying students — who lost control of the vehicle and crashed. No one died, but “I thought to myself, this could be my cousin, one of my brothers. This could get them killed.” Ultimately he took it down, and today he has a much different and successful app– one that helps, not hinders, justice.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — For 50 years, foreign do-gooders who wished to improve access to water in Africa went about it basically the same way. They’d dig a well or build a water pump for free. Then they’d hand off the project to the local community — leaving the responsibility, and the financial burden, of maintaining it up to them.
And yet, for the same 50 years, that model hasn’t worked. Wells run out of water. Fuel for electrical generators to pump water becomes expensive. Pipes spring leaks. And rural communities where most people live on less than $2 a day can’t come up with the money to fix it all.
So perhaps it is no surprise that aid money has not solved Tanzania’s notorious water crisis. But even as the $1.4 billion Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) showed signs it was not working after five years, the World Bank and other organizations provided even more money without first investing in identifying new solutions to old problems.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — The water sector in Tanzania once resembled the Wild West. The government did little to ensure that every person had access to clean and safe water.
Donors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worked to solve the problem, sometimes together and sometimes on their own. But there was a flaw, explained Amani Mafuru, an engineer for rural water supply in Tanzania.
“One development partner can go to a region and then another comes to the same place,” he said. “So there was a tendency to favor certain parts of the country.”
In 2006, the Tanzanian government launched the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP) to do things differently. When it came to constructing rural water points under the WSDP, decisions were not going to be set in Washington DC, nor in the Tanzanian capital of Dodoma.
Instead, WSDP managers would let communities decide for themselves what sort of water system they wanted to build.
Read what happened next in Part 3 of a GroundTruth Project for GlobalPost.
LUPETA, Tanzania — It’s a full day’s bus ride from Dar es Salaam to the district of Mpwapwa in north-central Tanzania. It is here that the earliest signs appeared of trouble ahead for Tanzania’s ambitious water development program.
Engineers dug boreholes in 2004 and 2005 to get at water trapped deep in the ground in Mpwapwa and in 13 other places across the country in a precursory step of a failed $1.42 billion water initiative supported by the World Bank, known as the Water Sector Development Programme (WSDP).
The idea was to learn how expensive it would be to create functioning water points, how long they’d take to build and how best to establish “community water councils” capable of keeping the water flowing. Leaders would learn from mistakes on a few pilot projects and work out all the kinks before the plan went national. But critics say those lessons went unlearned. Read the full story here.
This is Part Two of a series produced by The GroundTruth Project for GlobalPost, funded by the Galloway Family Foundation.
By Jacob Kushner and Tom Murphy
In 2006, the World Bank launched an unprecedented drive to fix Tanzania’s water crisis once and for all. In the past, international donors funded different projects in the country’s water sector. This time, the World Bank would provide Tanzania with the financial and technical support to organize them to pool their money together, in a grand experiment that combined rural and urban water resource management into one plan.
To date the drive has attracted more than $1.42 billion in funding from various donors and the Tanzanian government, an incredible sum for a single project in a small country like Tanzania. The initial goal was ambitious: to bring improved access to water to 65 percent of rural Tanzanians and 90 percent of urbanites by 2010, and continue until each and every citizen had safe drinking water.
By all metrics, the project has failed categorically.
Read Part One in the series: Seven years and $1.4 billion into an unprecedented, World Bank-led collaboration to improve water access in Tanzania, a grand experiment in development aid has achieved none of its goals.
For more than two centuries, The Old Farmer’s Almanac seemed to hold the answer to every crop grower’s questions, like when is the best time to plant onions (“as soon as the ground can be worked in the spring”) or harvest potatoes (“after 10 weeks, usually in early July”).
Agnes Mwaki prefers to use an app. After the 49-year-old banana farmer in Meru County, Kenya, recently switched to growing onions — a more profitable crop — she needed help determining when to transplant the seedlings and when to harvest. Through a government program that provides her with a smartphone, Mwakinow uses WhatsApp to send a photo of her onions each week to an agronomist. “When I spot a problem, I just take a photo and send it to the agricultural officer, and she describes the drug [I’m] supposed to use and I buy it,” says Mwaki.
In recent years a growing group of mobile apps has moved in with access to real-time advice and market intelligence, and the latest of that technology is originating where this kind of data is increasingly vital: Africa.
Read the full story at OZY.
The U.S. Department of State regularly issues travel warnings for people heading overseas. These travel advisories recommend precautions that travelers can take to better avoid and react to dangerous circumstances. Erring on the side of extreme caution, the State Department often posts alarmist messages, comically inflating the risks posed in foreign countries.
There’s only one country the State Department won’t warn you about. It’s a country where there were 12,664 murders in 2011, where there are almost as many guns as people, and where there’s a shocking lack of preparedness for natural disasters, even in the most advanced cities. Here’s how a State Department travel advisory might look for the land of the free.
Read the satire at Vocativ
Even the smallest of bribes can stifle an economy when they’re magnified millions of times over.
When a police officer gets caught soliciting a bribe, most people would tend to blame the cop. In Kenya, the government is trying a new approach: clamping down on the people whopaythe cop.
And they’re going about it in a strange way, ordering that Nairobi’s public matatus— the beat-up, privately owned vans that ferry most of the city’s commuters — go high-tech. Passengers are being asked to use popular mobile banking applications like m-pesa to pay the fares. No more cash-carrying passengers, no more bribes, the thinking goes.
Many in Kenya say government officials aren’t naïve in their hope to stem corruption this way — they’re just plain lazy. High-tech solutions like digital fare cards or mobile phone payment apps abound. But Kenya may be no exception to the rule that ending bribery must begin and end with old-fashioned justice for the people who solicit the bribes.
new balance heart rate monitor
Read the full story at OZY.
Coca-Cola is partnering with governments, NGOs, and other companies to improve access to water, occupying a gray area where genuine charity meets corporate profit.
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania — For years the Mlalakua River overflowed with garbage during each heavy rain. Homes would flood with water contaminated by sewage and trash. Even in the dry season, the narrow river had a nasty grayish hue, the product of runoff from the factories situated alongside it, residents and local water experts say.
Some here call the Mlalakua River by a different name: the Coca-Cola River. The nickname comes from the red-brown hue of the water. But it may also reflect the fact that among those factories that line the river’s banks is a Coca-Cola bottling plant, one of three in Tanzania. As the world’s largest beverage retailer and one of its most recognizable brands, Coca-Cola goes to great lengths to protect its image. And a few years ago, someone at the company seems to have realized that being associated with a garbage-filled river was putting the company’s local reputation very much at risk.
So in 2012, Coca-Cola entered into a public-private partnership, or PPP, aimed at cleaning the river. The company — partnering with nearly a dozen government entities, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and other private companies — would dredge the sludge and garbage from the river, then engage the locals in a plan to keep it clean.
But there are currents of criticism about the project — both from local residents and from a number of NGOs that focus on sustainable development. Critics wonder whether the cleanup was intended to achieve genuine and lasting change or to advance the short-term public relations goals of a multinational corporation. Indeed, most water experts and residents interviewed by GlobalPost say the Mlalakua River cleanup was inherently flawed. They say that while the river is undeniably cleaner, the project did not address the root causes of the pollution: the absence of a sewer system and trash collection for the communities along the river’s banks.
A two-month investigation examines what happens when motives of good will and profit mix.