A brief life history of the Mpesa Phenomena

Jul 21, 2012 9 Comments by

Mpesa. Uniquely Kenyan

Allow me to say this.

Ok, don’t allow me. I will say it anyway.

I always smile and LMAO everytime I realize that out of every 5 tumzungus who come to iHub to take photos of Africans using laptops and getting surprised that we are not in leopard skins and traditional African regalia dancing for them, jumping from tree to tree using Tarzan ropes and caressing our pet Zebras, 4 think that Mpesa is a type of food.

That is one side of the story. The other bit is a sad realization that out of every 6 Kenyans, 5.5 think that the current Mpesa system (written in .NET) was designed in Kenya. A sadder 5.6 Kenyans think that Mpesa was conceptualized by Vodafone and Safaricom. But worry not. This blog-post will educate you and demystify the source and critical success factors.

How mpesa was born

Most of this information is from AW and a few other ‘sources’.

It all started as a simple concept. May 2005. Safaricom launches Sambaza. Ofcourse I would be lying if I said Saf Invented Sambaza; but that is a story for another day. A culture shift for Kenyans. Suddenly, you could share the KSHS 1000 of Mpesa with your friends/family. Anytime of the day. No need to run to the shop to buy someone airtime. Good. Noble.

But like Michael Jacksonsef said once, something Kenyans repeat every day as if it is the cure for cancer and stupidity, “Kenyans are peculiar”. Kenyans started using Sambaza to pay small debts.

Safaricom started seeing a nerve-wrecking trend. Someone Tops up 100. Because Sambaza is Free, the person sambazas 50 bob to person A and 40 bob to person B. 90 bob debt paid. Sambaza became a bank that had no banking costs. An Mpesa with no transaction fees.

Ofcourse, it would be unfair to talk about the conceptualizing of Sambaza as a debt payment mechanism without mentioning K-Rep Bank and the support they had from the British Council. Story for another night, I tell you. Frustrated for 2 years with the Safcom’s famous demo-wait-demo-wait model, while they clone the system in the background. Story for a warmer night, I tell you.

2007. Mpesa launched. K-Rep told to go phurck a tree. The rest is history.

Critical success factor of Mpesa

“So, Why does Mpesa work in Kenya so well, and not in other countries. Not even Uganda?”, You might ask. Ofcourse it all goes back to understanding the “peculiarity of kenyans”. Copyright MJ, because he invented the words.

Kenyans have a way of making something a ‘CULTURE’. From using Sambaza as an un-official debt-paying model to retweeting garbage in twitter all day. From creating remix videos of miguna to respecting bouncers more than club owners, Kenyans have a UNIQUE way of doing their Shizzle. It is uniquely Kenyan. Simple as.

If you are NOT Kenyan, you will never get the gist.

Haiya, now you know.

Back to code.

Wazi

Personal, Startups

About the author

Coder, hacker, inventor, pool guru.

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