Steve Chiotakis: In famine-ridden Somalia, there are new reports that tally an increasing flow of refugees to Kenya — almost 9,000 a month. And in refugee camps, there’s a new economy emerging — where Somalis get food, medicine, and even money from relatives — through their cellphones.
From the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, Marketplace’s Scott Tong reports.
Scott Tong: Just past the kids, the goats and camels at this refugee camp, there’s shack that says Safaricom — a cell phone store. A refugee steps to the counter, fiddles with a cheap Nokia, walks out with $16.
Store manager: This man withdrew 1,500 shillings.
The store manager explains: The refugee got noney from a relative far away, via cell phone. Just now, he cashed out — all you need is a text message and a PIN number. Out of every 10 people here, five live on $1 a day. Three have electricity. Seven do mobile money.
John Hoddinott: The potential for mobile phones is absolutely fantastic.
That’s John Hoddinott of the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Hoddinott: You can transfer money almost instantaneously, which cuts out a lot of the transactions costs. It’s literally mobile money — they can take it and redeem it in lots of places.
Kenya’s system is called M-Pesa, which is so common it’s a verb. As in, ‘Did you just M-Pesa while driving?’ Yes, my cabbie Peter just texted in a church tithe.
Peter: I am almost 500 kilometers from my home church. And the fundraiser is going to start at 11; I had to send a donation.
In a minute, he gets a text.
Peter: Which has confirmed that I’ve sent…
Tong: I tell you what, you drive.
Turns out you can M-Pesa at the grocery store, pay utility bills, etc. So I join in.
Teller: How much? 1,200
In Nairobi, I shop for a soccer jersey for my kid. And then, out comes the phone.
Tong: Can I pay you M-Pesa?
Merchant: Yeah, yeah it’s OK. No problem.
Tong: OK, now what? Enter the amount.
I text over $12 for the jersey, plus another 26 cents for the transaction. Twenty seconds later, text message.
Tong: Confirmed. Oh cool.
He gets his money, I get my shirt. It’s that easy — for farmers, herders, refugees across Kenya.
At the intersection of I.T. and development, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.
If you’re a member of your local public radio station, we thank you — because your support helps those stations keep programs like Marketplace on the air. But for Marketplace to continue to grow, we need additional investment from those who care most about what we do: superfans like you.
Your donation — as little as $5 — helps us create more content that matters to you and your community, and to reach more people where they are – whether that’s radio, podcasts or online.
When you contribute directly to Marketplace, you become a partner in that mission: someone who understands that when we all get smarter, everybody wins.