An upsurge of crime targeting mobile money shops in Kenya has prompted operators to come up with new ways to ward off criminals.
Many mobile money agents across the country have fallen victim to criminals, who target their businesses because of the huge sums of money they handle.
In Nairobi, it has become routine for criminals to attack mobile money shops and steal cash from agents. Mobile money shops located in the city centre and various suburbs across the capital have fallen prey to criminals, some of whom attack with guns. Installation of CCTV cameras and an increase in police patrols have not stemmed the crime as criminals change tactics.
One incident captured on camera, which illustrated the plight of many mobile money agents at the hands of criminals, happened in Nairobi last year.
Armed criminals stormed a mobile money shop and ordered the operator to hand over cash. Although the agent complied with their demands, the gun-wielding criminals shot him dead.
The incident prompted an outcry from Kenyans as mobile money agents called for protection from the police. Caught between a rock and a hard place, mobile money agents have resorted to fortifying their shops with metal bars and glass as they seek to keep criminals at bay. “We can no longer take chances with our lives and businesses,” said Mr George Mogire, a mobile money agent.
Mr Mogire runs a mobile money shop in Doonholm, in the east of the capital. Like many others in Kenya, his mobile money transfer shop is located inside a chemist store as he seeks to maximise profits.
Mr Mogire has partitioned the place where he services mobile money customers, fortifying it with iron bars. “I did it last year after seeing on television thieves stealing from a mobile money shop operator and shooting him dead. It dawned on me that I could be the next victim if I did not secure my cash transfer shop and make it a separate entity from my chemist business,” said Mr Mogire.
A walk along Nairobi streets confirms that mobile money shops operators are not taking any chances with security. Most of them have fortified their shops with metal bars and heavy glass the way commercial banks do.
But one operator on Tom Mboya seems to have beaten them all. He has put a heavy wooden door on his shop and reinforced it with another one made of metal. The agent has drilled two small holes in both doors which he uses to serve customers on the busy street.
“You cannot take chances with security. It is better that my shop looks like a cell and be secure than I become a victim of crime,” noted the agent, identified simply as Ben.
The mobile money transfer service is one of the most lucrative businesses in Kenya, with agents handling millions of dollars every day.
According to the Central Bank, Kenyans make an average Sh128 billion mobile money transactions every month. In 2012, the business transacted on mobile money transfer platforms was worth $18 billion (Sh1.5 trillion), the highest in the history of the innovation in Kenya. With such figures, criminals believe mobile money shops have a lot of cash.
A survey by Security Research and Information Centre revealed that criminal activities in Nairobi are on the rise, with robbery and theft accounting for 41.1 per cent and 34.9 per cent of total crime, respectively.
Most of the crimes take place between 6p.m and 3a.m.