Mark Zuckerberg eyes Kenya’s mobile money payment system on first visit to East Africa


Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg landed in Kenya after visiting Nigeria’s tech scene on his second leg of his first-ever sub-Saharan tour. Joseph Mucheru, the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary of Information and Communications and Victor Kyalo, Permanent Secretary for ICT and Innovation received the American billionaire, as usual clad in his iconic grey t-shirt.

Top on the agenda was Zuckerberg’s interest in the mobile money payment structure, where Kenya is the undisputed world leader. Kenya’s M-Pesa, introduced back in 2007 was the first mobile money system in Africa following a similar mobile payment system launched in the Philippines by Globe Telecom and Smart Communications in 2005. Mobile money is now considered the fastest growing payment system in Africa and the world, especially for the unbanked populations.

Advertisement - Continue reading below

“Kenya is the clear world leader in mobile money, there are a lot of lessons that we can learn in financial services around the world from the mobile money system in Kenya. It’s interesting to see how fast money moves in Kenya via mobile money, even faster than places like the US,” Mark Zuckerberg was quoted saying.

Zuckerberg posted periodical updates on Facebook to his 78 million followers. Below is his first post:

“Just landed in Nairobi! I’m here to meet with entrepreneurs and developers, and to learn about mobile money — where Kenya is the world leader.

I’m starting at a place called iHub, where entrepreneurs can build and prototype their ideas. Two of the engineers I met — Fausto and Mark — designed a system to help people use mobile payments to buy small amounts of cooking gas, which is a lot safer and better for the environment than charcoal or kerosene. It’s inspiring to see how engineers here are using mobile money to build businesses and help their community.”

iHub is the brainchild of tech entreprenuer and TED Fellow, Erik Hersman and his team of software developers and engineers working at BRCK. Other notable innovations by the same startup include Ushahidi and Crowdmap, a real-time monitoring system that allows users to crowdsource crisis information which is sent via mobile. This system came into play on the aftermath of Kenya’s violent presidential elections of 2007.

Mobile Money Integrated Tech Start-ups

Zuckerberg paid a visit to Edna Kwinga and Marie Amuti of Twiga Foods, fresh fruit and vegetable supplier chain along with Eric Thimba and Porgie Gachiu, co-founders of Mookh, a digital payments start-up along and Wandia Gichuru and Makena Mutwiri of Vivo Activewear, an online store for women’s clothes. What these startups have in common is that they are powered by the mobile money ecosystem to conduct their  business. Mookh and Vivo Activewear integrate social media as a vehicle to propel their business forward and reach a wider audience.

What is Facebook’s Interest?

Zuckerberg’s visit to Kenya marks a pivotal shift for tech giants like Facebook. Only a small fraction of Africa’s population of 1 billion is banked and in possession of a globally acknowledged system of online transactions. The banking and credit card system of online payments has been eclipsed in Africa by mobile money. Zuckerberg has shown his true business acumen by acknowledging and travelling to study the viability by this payment system. As Facebook looks for more ways to increase their revenue, understanding locational challenges is the first step in the right direction.

A second guess points to Mark Zuckerberg’s quest to connect everyone on the globe to the internet in one form or another. Over a lunch of Ugali and Tilapia with Kenya’s ICT Cabinet Secretary, Joseph Mucheru, among the issues discussed included the Minister’s ambitious plans to extend internet access to far flung areas in Kenya, a sentiment shared by Zuckerberg. Kenya already has Facebook’s Internet.Org Free Basics which provides certain content on the internet for free.

According to Techweez, Zucckerberg was asked on whether Facebook will integrate mobile money in their various platforms which include WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. He intimated that such a partnership might happen. “We would approach such a solution from a partnership angle that includes banks and even government. We would be keen to provide parts of the technology as we have done with connectivity”.

Work without play makes Mark a dull boy

On a lighter note, Zuckerberg got to enjoy the best Kenya has to offer in the tourism aspect. What better way to round up a trip to Kenya than a sight-seeing tour of Africa’s spectacular wildlife. There is no telling where Facebook’s founder will head to next. But it has been a pleasure.