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Africa’s largest mobile money service is now under full African ownership—for the first time

A man leaves an M-PESA booth after a money transaction in Nairobi May 12, 2009. Teaming up with Kenya Commercial Bank to let phone users who do not have bank accounts send each other money, M-PESA, the virtual cash network, hit on a formula that has attracted 6.5 million customers, or one in six Kenyans, in just over two years. Picture taken May 12, 2009.
Reuters/Noor Khamis
Africa’s largest technology companies face trying times ahead.
  • Yomi Kazeem
By Yomi Kazeem

Africa reporter

M-Pesa, the East African mobile money service, is now fully owned by two of Africa’s largest telecoms companies.

Kenya’s Safaricom and South Africa’s Vodacom have acquired the stake of UK telecoms operator Vodafone, a long-time stakeholder in the service since it was first launched in 2007. Even though the service has been mostly associated with Safaricom over the years, Vodafone has earned license fees from use of the service. But under the new terms of ownership, Safaricom and Vodacom will fully control the M-Pesa’s products, brand and future plans.

Given the extensive evidence of M-Pesa’s impact on financial inclusion and services in the seven countries where it operates, including Kenya where it has become deeply entrenched in the local economy, Safaricom and Vodacom, who both have roots with the British mobile phone company, are now looking to expand M-Pesa into even more African countries.

Those plans are likely driven by the size of the mobile money opportunity that still exists in Africa. The latest mobile money industry report by GSMA shows Sub-Saharan Africa remains “the enduring epicenter of mobile money,” as the region recorded 12% growth in registered accounts—the second highest globally in 2019. Sub Saharan Africa also accounted for over 60% of the $690 billion transacted through mobile money services last year.

And with Nigeria and Ethiopia—Africa’s two most populous countries—being more open to mobile services, the size of the opportunity is set to become even bigger. But Safaricom and Vodacom will have to compete with a familiar rival: MTN, Africa’s largest telecoms operator, already launched its mobile money service in Nigeria last year, having seen significant uptake of the service in neighboring Ghana. Orange is another hugely successful mobile money player in Francophone Africa.

M-Pesa’s Africa-focused expansion plans also suggest its new owners will no longer be targeting opportunities in emerging markets outside the continent, at least in the interim. While it remains the dominant mobile money force across East Africa, attempts to expand M-Pesa’s service to India, Romania and Albania over the past decade have all proven unsuccessful.

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