As recently as seven years ago, millions of Kenyans were struggling to access basic financial services. Without bank accounts, they were unable to transfer money or receive microcredits. Then, a locally developed mobile payment system called M-Pesa was introduced, allowing people without bank accounts to transfer funds as quickly and easily as sending a text message. Today, more than two-thirds of Kenya’s population use M-Pesa to make and receive payments and an estimated 43 per cent of the country’s GDP flows through the system.
This speedy adoption of mobile payments captures the enterprising spirit of African innovation. It reflects the resourcefulness with which people in Africa find local solutions to local issues. It also shows how Africa’s challenges are opportunities in disguise and how the continent can leapfrog development stages without paying for their replacement. Mobile phones, for example, were rapidly adopted in Africa because of the lack of fixed telecom infrastructure. And solar panels are being adopted faster than in other parts of the world, because kerosene is so expensive that the payback time for investments in solar power is months rather than years.
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