MY VIEW: Hats off to pioneers of simple, futuristic ideas - Daily Nation

Hats off to pioneers of simple, futuristic ideas

Sunday July 8 2018

There is something in the DNA of all successful pioneers that needs to be documented and shared. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH

There is something in the DNA of all successful pioneers that needs to be documented and shared. ILLUSTRATION | IGAH 

By ELVIS ONDIEKI
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Being a journalist dictates that, however introverted I may be, I have to meet people and talk to them.

With news this week of a restaurant in Nyeri that is accepting payment in Bitcoins, I have flashed back to past interviews with people who left me with admiration of Central Kenya residents and their openness to new currencies.

In early 2017, I interviewed Patrick Macharia, one of the first people to embrace the idea of being an M-Pesa agent when the mobile money concept was in its infancy.

He flashed back to a time when many people thought the new SMS-based currency was a con.

But somehow, despite the explanations offered by Safaricom not making much sense to him, and despite the feeling that they had been duped to enrol for fear of being locked out of mobile services, he decided to give it a shot.

He received a first dividend of Sh54,000 from the business and it left him assured. From then on, it has been a roller-coaster. He would graduate to become an M-Pesa super-agent, covering up to 400 shops throughout Kenya in 2013.

And in November 2017, I interviewed Anthony Mburu and his fiancé. They were in the news because he had paid part of his dowry using Bitcoin. He said his father-in-law, John Thiong'o Chege, had to take a crash-course on cryptocurrency and he finally accepted payment in Bitcoins equivalent to 25 goats then.

I could visualise the conversation in the thick of Nakuru County, and the talks that led to the father of nine installing an app to help him get Bitcoins — often marketed as the money whose value keeps increasing.

To add more perspective to my story on Bitcoins, I looked for someone who has dealt in them for a while. My search for contacts led me to Michael Kimani, the chairman of the Blockchain Association of Kenya.

RISK-TAKING

As he explained to me the nitty-gritty of Bitcoins, which sounded like a Form Three mathematics class, I was so sold to the concept that I toyed with the idea of buying some. I did not act, though.

It does not mean only people from Central Kenya were the first to take up M-Pesa or Bitcoins, but it is no coincidence that the individuals mentioned above cut their teeth in forms of currency that were not making much sense then.

Cap that with the Nyeri example of Betty Place Restaurant, where three people had by this Wednesday paid for food using Bitcoin. For starters, one Bitcoin costs anything from Sh600,000. The good thing is that it can be transacted in a figure as low as a number with eight decimal places, meaning that 0.00015 of a Bitcoin, roughly equivalent to Sh100, can get you something at the restaurant.

It is all about risk-taking. The Central Bank of Kenya still frowns upon Bitcoin because it operates on an unregulated framework, where money launderers and scammers loom large. Be that as it may, some people are already plunging into the world of Bitcoins full steam, having weighed the pros and cons. Even M-Pesa faced turbulence from all manner of regulators in its early days, while some people embraced it.

The adventurous spirit of people from Central region, should offer lessons to other Kenyans on the need to embrace innovations that offer solutions to various aspects of the economy.

In the course of duty, I have also travelled to Murang’a County to see the first ever headquarters of Equity Bank — a lowly shop which can pass for a struggling trader’s idling spot.

While there, I once again heard the story of Rwathia Village, which has produced some of the wealthiest people in Kenya. Former Equity Bank chairman Peter Munga, the bank’s CEO James Mwangi, investment banker Jimnah Mbaru and Britam managing director Benson Wairegi come from that village.

While all these men may have taken different paths to success, the story of Equity Bank is also a pointer to risk-taking. It gained its roots at a time the government was cracking down on small banks, and the people who stood by it lived to reap its fruit.

There is something in the DNA of all successful pioneers that needs to be documented and shared. How about that for embracing our diversity?

 

[email protected] Elvis Ondieki is a reporter with the Nation. Caroline Njung'e will resume in August.

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