Regions_of_the_African_UnionPreparing to go to Tanzania with some of the students here, it is good to challenge some of the stereotypes that they are carrying with them.  First of all – Africa is a continent, not a country….   Northern Africa with its failed Arab Springs and Isis breathing down its neck is very different to Southern Africa, so long dominated by South Africa, which hosted the World Cup. Although Johannesburg has now economically been taken over by Western Africa, as Nigeria surges ahead.  The Nigerian Film Industry, Nollywood, is the second biggest in the world after India.  Not surprising since the average Nollywood movie is produced in a span of 7-10 days on a budget between $7,500-13,000. Compare this to Hollywood’s average budget of $6.7 million per movie and one year production time! It seems that the internet and digital technology has allowed it to take off.

IMG_2890-480x480However East Africa, dominated by Kenya, leads the world in mobile banking.  It is easier to pay for a taxi ride using your mobile phone in Nairobi than it is in New York.  M-PESA Kenya’s world-leading mobile-money system, is used by nearly three quarters of the adult population allowing them to transfer cash using their phones. A micro-financing scheme –  you pay money into the system by handing cash to one of Safaricom’s 40,000 agents (typically a corner shop), who credits the money to your M-PESA account. You withdraw money by visiting another agent, who checks that you have sufficient funds before debiting your account and handing over the cash. You can also transfer money to others using a menu on your phone. It is quick, safe and easy and  useful where many workers in cities send money back home to their families in rural villages. M-PESA has since been launched in Romania & Albania.  A technological innovation that has reached Europe.

disruptive_technologies_rbb-300x263It is a disruptive technology (like Uber & Air B’n’B) and of course the banks are upset.  But in a part of the world were bank branches are few and far between, and bank accounts were seen as a luxury and only obtainable to the elite it has proved phenomenally popular. It reminds me of travelling to India with a group of students 13 years ago and having to rent a very expensive satellite phone for emergency use – it cost about £800.  A year later – all I had to do was by a sim card when I got off at Bangalore airport.  It was easier to cover the country in mobile phone masts, than put up pylons and landlines.  In a similar way M-PESA avoids having to put up branches every where.