How M-Pesa has changed our lives

Friday March 17 2017



GRAPHIC | JOY ABISAGI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

GRAPHIC | JOY ABISAGI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By NG'ANG'A MBUGUA
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Before M-Pesa came to be, I used to send money to my mother in Nakuru via Molo Line.

I would walk to the fleet’s offices at Nyamakima, on the dustier side of Nairobi, and register the money in the office.

The cashier would then hand over the money to the driver of the departing vehicle, and within two and a half to three hours, the money would be delivered at the company’s office at the Nakuru bus terminus.

I would then call my mother, who lives in Bahati, 10 miles from the town centre, and ask her to pick the money at her convenience. Later, when Equity became the people’s bank, she asked me to be depositing the money in her account there.

This was very fine in the beginning but the queues at the bank grew longer with every passing month. With time, even getting to the teller became work.

Soon, however, I discovered that you could jump the queue if you had Sh1,000 notes. This worked for a while until everyone else discovered the trick.

So when M-Pesa became a reality, my job became far much easier.

AGNOSTIC TO CLASS

Although I had initially resisted buying a phone back in the early 2000s — when making a call cost Sh40 a minute — I embraced M-Pesa because it made life so much easier for me. I no longer had to spend time in a bank queue or walk to Nyamakima.

I still remember the day, a few years back, when a bar in Ruaka put up a big sign announcing that it was now accepting M-Pesa payments for those who enjoyed their favourite beverages there. It was so much of a novelty that I shared this information on Facebook. If I am not wrong, I even wrote about it in one of my columns back in the day.

These days, I use M-Pesa to settle my bill at the Villa Rosa Kempinski. I always laugh every time. I find it such a downmarket way to make a payment in such an upmarket establishment.

This, however, goes to show just how much M-Pesa has become an integral part of our national life. It has even become agnostic to class. In fact, it is one of those few things we expect to function like clockwork in a largely dysfunctional society where you cannot even estimate how long it will take you to drive five kilometres.

In all honesty, I get worried on the few occasions an agent tells me that M-Pesa is experiencing delays. In my mind, it is not meant to.

All I know is that as soon as I deposit my money with an agent, my phone pings to alert me that the money has been deposited. It is like breathing. It goes without saying. The worst situation is when you urgently need to send money and an agent tells you that M-Pesa is “down”.

A FINANCIAL BIND

The one thing that I have said I will never do is to queue to make a deposit or a withdrawal; I would rather walk an extra block. But what miffs me most about M-Pesa is finding an agent without float. And I have never gotten around to the idea that I can get my M-Pesa from an ATM.

As far as I am concerned, the money has to be given to me by a person, not a machine. Almost always, that person is a young woman.

Of course, whenever I find I need money quickly, I usually call a friend or relative and tell them: “Niempese!” This, for me, is the best thing about M-Pesa. It can get you out of a financial bind in a jiffy.

The worst M-Pesa moment for me was when, after I had sent money to the wrong person I dashed to a customer care shop and the attendant turned me away because some of the money had already been withdrawn. My attempts to get the balance were fruitless.

“We do not witch-hunt our customer accounts,” the attendant said.

Witch-hunt? That was my money!

Anyway, the man who received the money called to thank me. I consoled myself that God had answered his prayer. I accepted and moved on.

The writer is the Editor, Saturday Nation. [email protected]