In this technologically-advanced age, the first thought about digital money is cryptocurrencies, pioneered by Bitcoin. But, that is not the case in Kenya as M-Pesa is the order of the day.
In Kenya, it is hard to come across a business merchant who doesn’t use M-Pesa. It’s a top-rated mobile money service in the country. In fact, it has even overtaken traditional banking systems. It is accepted everywhere, at your local grocery story, bakery or supermarket. There are today even forex brokers in Kenya that work with mpesa.
Conversely, M-Pesa’s topic derailing bitcoin adoption in Kenya is a valid debate because Kenyans utilize M-Pesa to make payments, transfers, etc. from their mobile devices. This brings the question – why would Kenyans need to use Bitcoin?
Also, because bitcoin wallets, transactions, etc. are managed and carried out via mobile phones, it sure would seem no different from M-Pesa to Kenyans.
But, just to what extent is M-Pesa affecting Bitcoin adoption in Kenya?
M-Pesa’s Birth And Growth
M-Pesa was founded in 2007, two years before Bitcoin, which was founded in 2009. Hence, the mobile payment system has been around for about 13 years now.
Unlike Bitcoin, M-Pesa was launched by Safaricom, who was the dominant mobile operator at the time. The mobile operator currently owns about 70% of the Kenyan mobile market share, and it is still prevalent. It was easy for already existing Safaricom customers (a massive number of Kenyans) to sign up and start using the new digital payment system.
All they needed was an ID and a mobile phone, which they already had. M-Pesa wasn’t an app, as smartphones weren’t a thing. Instead, users carried out money transactions via SMS. However, five years after the launch, in 2012, Safaricom recorded more than 15 million active M-Pesa accounts.
With time, M-Pesa’s functionality was extended to loan applications, and that was when lots of businesses became majorly interested in the mobile payment platform. This was made possible by a partnership between Safaricom and the Commercial Bank of Africa. The partnership birthed M-Shwari, which alone has attracted about 1.6 million users.
At this point, M-Pesa provided essential financial services that Kenyans needed, which made it very popular. Without the need to visit the traditional banks, they could open savings accounts, deposit money, withdraw, transfer, pay bills, and request loans from their mobile devices.
Why Did Kenyans Accept M-Pesa?
Why did Kenyans welcome M-Pesa with open hands? There’s one answer, and that’s “Access.” M-Pesa was readily accessible to anyone in Kenya with a mobile phone, irrespective of their location.
I was comparing this to banking services. Not all Kenyans at that time had access to banking services. In fact, several Kenyans preferred managing money at their convenience via mobile phones instead of paying visits to the bank offices.
There are currently bank mobile apps that let you manage your bank accounts at your convenience, but that wasn’t the case then as there weren’t any smartphones in Kenya. Fortunately, M-Pesa gave Kenyans easy access to the financial services they needed.
Are Kenyans Interested In Bitcoin?
Kenyans have been making use of mobile money for more than a decade, so the digital currency isn’t new to them. In fact, the country with the highest interest in Bitcoin in the world is Kenya.
This is proven by a Blockchaincenter study on most Bitcoin maximalist countries. Kenya came out on top with 94.7% and followed by Brazil at 92.6%. The 2nd highest African country was Nigeria at number 5 on the list with 89.4%.
This shows that Kenyans are interested in Bitcoin, but this doesn’t reflect the number of Bitcoin users.
M-Pesa’s Effect On Bitcoin Adoption
It would be wrong to say M-Pesa, as a factor, is why Bitcoin is yet to be accepted in Kenya. There are many countries in Africa (and in the World) where M-Pesa is non-existent; however, Bitcoin is yet to be adopted.
However, M-Pesa does have an indirect effect on Bitcoin use in Kenya. It’ll be challenging to make Kenyans switch to using Bitcoin from M-Pesa, a platform they’ve been using for more than ten years.
A lot of sensitization needs to be done about the wide range of possibilities available with using Bitcoin. Even it would be impossible for Bitcoin to replace M-Pesa in the country completely. However, M-Pesa is helping the Bitcoin movement.
How Is M-Pesa Helping Bitcoin Adoption In Kenya
Interestingly, M-Pesa supports Bitcoin. Kenyans can purchase bitcoin from platforms like Paxful, LocalBitcoins, Remitano, BitPesa, etc. using their M-Pesa account. This has resulted in a significant increase in Bitcoin transactions in Kenya across the cryptocurrency exchange platforms.
Furthermore, M-Pesa works with Bitwala to offer zero-cost Bitcoin to M-Pesa transfer service/ That way, Bitwala users can send Bitcoin from their wallets to their M-Pesa account free of charge.
There are many factors derailing Bitcoin adoption in Kenya, but M-Pesa cannot be named as one. However, M-Pesa’s presence acts as a driving force for Bitcoin adoption in Kenya. Besides, Kenyans won’t have a hard time understanding how digital money works as they’re already used to it.
Support for Bitcoin via several crypto platforms also means M-Pesa supports Bitcoin adoption. Nevertheless, Bitcoin usage is currently on the rise in Kenya. Still, the primary factor affecting its adoption is the government’s resistance via the Central Bank of Kenya and financial regulators in the country.