Skip to content
Subscriber Only

Kenyans Find the Unintended Consequences of Mobile Money

Kenyans Find the Unintended Consequences of Mobile Money
Photograph by Trevor Snapp/Bloomberg

In Western Kenya, “Sambaza” is both a marketing slogan and means for despair. It means “to spread.” Vodafone-owned Safaricom, the dominant mobile provider in Kenya, uses it as a brand name for a service that allows customers to transfer airtime to each other. According to a new study (pdf) funded by the Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMFTI), the word has also come to refer to the way money in a mobile account slips away, drip by drip, as friends and family ask for favors.

People who work in economic development use the term “unbanked” to describe the roughly one in three people in the world who don’t have a formal bank account. According to the World Bank, the unbanked include almost 60 percent of adults in developing countries and 77 percent of adults making less than $2 a day. In richer countries, banks provide a source of credit and a means of saving to smooth out earnings and accumulate wealth. The World Bank sees bank accounts on mobile phones as a way to give these things to the rural poor, too.