A friend who works with a telco surprised me last week that a whole lot of mobile borrowing happens after midnight and before dawn.
He told me that at first they were disturbed by this data; what nocturnal activities were driving their customers to borrow in the wee hours of the morning? He then said something quite pleasant.
Further research pointed to traders — Mama Mboga, hawkers and other micro traders — who borrow, trade and repay the loans the same day and repeat the cycle the next day. They do so to derive the greatest benefit and pay the lowest cost. That’s brilliance!
Businesses have five- and 10-year strategic plans; the government has Vision 2030. Being at an economic level that does not have the supporting structures to allow them that many years of planning, the women could not access long-term credit from mainstream financial institutions. Until mobile money came about, they were left to their devices or clutching on the goodwill of wholesalers or rich relatives.
The conversation got me thinking about how powerful an economic tool the mobile phone has become — especially in the hands of women, who have traditionally been left out of mainstream conversations about property and money.
The amazing detail about those who are borrowing to trade and repay in the short term is that they are mostly women. And the turnaround of the borrowing shows high velocity of money going into markets like Gikomba and Marikiti, which are major sources of Nairobi’s food.
That women are the main players in that borrow-after-midnight-pay-before-midnight economy means that households are gaining economic advantage; the formerly excluded and marginalised have found a way of playing in the formal economy and improving their lives and that of their children. It has saved them the indignity of relying on relatives or neighbours for credit. It boosts their dignity and cements their social relationships.
In Kenya, a woman’s right to own, inherit and manage or dispose of her property was, for a long time, subject to patriarchal behaviour. Traditional societies categorised women among a man’s property. And even when we started making strides towards modernity, anachronistic cultural practices persisted, or subtly changed face, remaining innocuously with us.
According to the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya, (Fida Kenya), 32 per cent of Kenyan households are headed by women — but alas! they hold only one per cent of land titles with another five per cent owning land jointly with men.
That women had no access to property meant they were excluded from participation in economic activities and access to financial services. But economically and financially vulnerable women are less able to protect their dignities or fend off backward cultures that keep them and their households from achieving their full potential and contribution to the economy.
As former Central Bank Governor, Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, writes in the paper “Digital Revolution in Africa”, digital financial instruments allow women to participate in financial transactions, savings, and credit with instruments that cannot be encroached.
Those who borrow and spend it on activities that return no economic value can take a leaf from the wise who have identified the real advantages of what mobile credit offers.
Research by the GSM Association, a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide, says women value four things about their finances: Convenience, security, privacy and reliability. Mobile money offers that and more.
The technological revolution that brought such parlance as mobile money and mobile lending is liberating women economically and uplifting our dignity. It must be enhanced and accelerated for optimal socioeconomic progress.
Ms Rugene is consulting editor. [email protected] @nrugene