All posts by atan

A Success Story: How Platforms Like M-Pesa Are Changing Commerce In Africa?

When futuristic Hollywood sci-fi films and rapid rotations of iPhone models constantly influx our reality, it’s not hard for an average human living in the 21st century to imagine a future where the cash system has become passé. Imagine going to dinner with friends and  instead of fumbling through the wallet for the right amount of dollar bills or collecting a tray full of seven credit cards, a simple few swipes on the phone will do the trick. It’s the future of mobile money. 

Well, that has become the reality of sub-Saharan Africa, one of the earliest mobile money adopters in the world. Since 2012, mobile money– aka. digital payments – are emerging as the leading finance system in over ten African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. Launched in 2007, M-Pesa, a phone-based money transfer service developed by Safaricom, Kenya’s major telecommunication firm, has transformed day-to-day payments, moved money from mattress to virtual account, and brought millions into the formal banking system. The continent that still struggles to provide clean water, electricity, and basic infrastructure to the majority of its population has beaten Silicon Valley in embracing digital transactions.

There are a lot of reasons that can account for the explosion of mobile money in Africa. From the moment cellphones entered the mass market around the early 2000s, mobile phones have become ubiquitous in Africa as the continent skipped over the landline. A vast majority of phones were the basic $25 models, and all apps work via SMS with a wide reach, creating the potential market for virtual transactions. In Kenya, nearly all households owned a mobile phone. Yet, what wasn’t ubiquitous is a highly accessible banking system. Kenya had one ATM for every 18,000 people – comparatively, the number was one for every 740 in the U.S.– and more than 75 percent of the sub-Saharan African adult population had no bank accounts as of 2011, the year when M-Pesa started to ascend to popularity. Mobile money provided life-changing alternatives to countries that poorly manage the flow of cash. 

Before mobile money, money transfers had been a problem in countries like Kenya. Despite a growing number of city workers who wish to send money to families and relatives in the rural area, the methods to do so remain limited, unsatisfactory, and often delayed. People could buy a money transfer at a bank, which takes multiple days to process and requires the recipient to travel to the nearest town to retrieve it, or press an envelope of cash to a friend or a bus driver who happens to be heading home. Often, the money either didn’t reach the recipient, or it was less than the intended amount. For millions of informal-sector workers who have no checking or savings account, no credit card, money transfers were difficult, and the cash economy tended to lock people in poverty. 

The genesis of mobile money changed the game. Platforms like M-Pesa, Orange Money, MTN Mobile Money, EcoCash, Tigo Cash altered the way Africans interact with each other economically, granting access and opportunities to rural communities that were often under-developed. For a small fee, mobile money could be sent to any other phone number in the same network, and people could easily withdraw the digital balance in cash from a local agent. Instead of face-to-face interactions, payments and collections of debts turned virtual as daylong queues to pay utility bills disappeared. As of 2012, 86 percent of Kenya’s mobile phone owners used some form of mobile money. In 2013, daily transactions on M-Pesa amounted to approximately $35 million, making up more than a quarter of Kenya’s GDP. Access to M-Pesa not only created robust consumptions that stimulated the economy, it also lifted 194,000 households, around 2 percent of the country, out of poverty. Before mobile money, the rural populations who didn’t live near banks lacked credit histories and collateral to own bank accounts. M-Pesa brought millions into the formal banking system by introducing an alternative called M-Shwari, a bank that offers basic saving accounts and allows the users to earn credits by, for example, paying the water bill on time. 

Mobile money is pushing countries like Kenya forward by providing a public safety net and pushing female financial independence. Since the M-Pesa was first introduced, it has been the public’s emergency cushion. When disasters happen, if a child needs medicine or a car breaks down, people can reach out for help anywhere in Kenya through the platform. M-Pesa also encourages female independence. According to a recent study, it improved the lives of many female-headed households, helping women graduate from subsistence agriculture to small businesses. Having an M-Pesa account gives a woman agency to control her finances, rather than depending on her husband or parents. In the long run, mobile money might be the key to a modern Africa. 

By facilitating commerce and introducing millions of people into the formal banking system, mobile money transforms Africa’s major payment venues onto digital platforms and pulls rural areas out of poverty. In a continent used to making do with little, African countries embrace mobile money as a radical leap of faith into the future. And it may be working out just fine. 

Return to the Age of Innocence – Cow Vigilantes, Hindutva, the Angry Young Men Behind Modi’s Hindu Nationalism

When India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, envisioned the modern republic born of the British partition in 1947, he exalted the idea of a country founded on secularism. Resembling a palimpsest, India was to be a place of tolerance, where layers of thought and reverie can be inscribed without erasing what has been written previously, and centuries-long religions, languages, ethnicities, cultures flourish in harmony. Even its name, India, a term that originates in Latin, contains an impressive etymology – sindhu in Sanskrit for “river,” hind in Persian, and indos in Greek – reflecting a rich history of inclusion and diversity. Since its founding seventy years ago, the Western world often views India as its potential heir of liberalism. Embracing democratic systems, free-trade, and globalization, the second most populated country in the Asian continent was poised to become the world’s new beacon of hope. 

That reality has changed. Since prime minister Narendra Modi’s election in 2014, a discriminatory citizenship law amendment (CAA) passed; Kashmir, India’s sole Muslim-majority state, lost its constitutional autonomy; heavy-handed government crackdowns against demonstrations swung across the country. Despite widespread criticism of such policies, Modi and his nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) rode the wave of millennial support to a second term in 2019. A movement made up of cow vigilantes, and Hindutva believers, Modi’s re-election victory, fueled by a base full of chauvinistic, disillusioned, and violent Hindu young men, solidified the country’s growing nationalistic trajectory, enchanted by vague mythology of a holy past. 

The last two summers in India were plagued by turmoil and violence: Cow vigilantes patrolled neighborhoods, assaulting any who allegedly smuggled or consumed beef, and dozens have been killed by lynch mobs, most of whom were Muslims. Though many blame India’s descent to mob rule on Modi and the BJP’s promotion of a Hindu Nationalistic agenda, the root of its male rage goes beyond the current government. India is a country of low median age and gender imbalance, where its youth face a harsh reality – a job crisis. With more than 600 million people under 25, the millennials in India came of age in a period of slow economic growth. Despite greater access to technology and education, millions face the grim prospect of not finding well-paying jobs: many college graduates are forced to seek menial labor while work and wages steadily decline. Each month, more than 1 million job seekers enter the labor market, yet in 2017, India only created 1.8 million additional jobs. Leaked data from a national survey in 2018 show that India’s unemployment rate rose to 6.1%,  and youth unemployment, people between age 15-29, reached between 13% to 27%, a trend that can only be exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic. 

In many ways, public angst and group grievance in India are sentiments uniquely masculine. A generation of families aborting female fetuses in preference for sons has resulted in a “bachelor bomb” – there are more than 37 million surplus men, who will remain single between 2020 and 2080, in a country that harbors masculine aggression and sexual violence. Drifting without purpose, young Hindu men gravitate toward the growing right-wing organizations for a sense of direction, forming a stereotype that isn’t unlike their western counterparts: keyboard trolls with little education,  in their childhood bedrooms furiously tweeting angry rebukes against every perceived slight to Hinduism and Modi. Most of them can be found congregating on Twitter, Hindu-pride-focused WhatsApp groups, and alternate-history websites, circulating conspiracy theories, truncated quotes and speeches taken out of context, and vicious attacks against minorities, women, journalists. Ideas like Hindutva, roughly translates to “Hindu-ness,” promotes a sense of exclusively Hindu national identity among young men, painting the myth of a glorious ancient civilization before Mughal and British invaders. Hindu young men, enraged by – as Modi’s put it – India’s “1,200 years of servitude,” strive to purify the country into the old Holy Land and demand to return to an age of innocence that is half-imaginary. 

  An identity crisis is plaguing the Hindu young men, harboring rage, frustration, and a deep sense of victimization. In the last election, misinformation in the social media ecosystem promoted a line of identity politics, where video snippets of Modi’s principal opponent, Rahul Gandhi, spread virally on the internet, portraying him as an incapable and entitled dynast. Jobless, without a stable family, lacking any competitive market skills, young Hindu men rejected Gandhi’s elite background. Instead, they identify with Modi’s personal story: the son of a tea seller who climbed the competitive ladder in politics and rose to power. The BJP’s hardline rhetoric provides a direction for these young men to unleash their anger, often towards minority groups. Passing stringent laws that punish religious conversion in marriage, the party fuels the flame for conspiracy theories like “love jihad,” pushing a false narrative that Muslim men are wooing and impregnating Hindu women as part of an elaborate scheme to alter India’s demographics. Modi’s vow to protect India’s sacred cows sparked mob-lynchings in states such as Uttar Pradesh, where many Muslim populations reside. Convinced of their victimhood, young Hindu men adhere to Modi’s inflammatory rhetoric and commit grave violence against the Muslim community, channeling a collective frustration to participate in a political struggle between Hinduism and Islam. 

Young Hindu men, embolden by virulent right-wing agenda, has become the driving force behind India’s pivot toward nationalism. Religious toleration retreats to a thing of the past as a Hindutva identity emerges. The original answer to who is an Indian, the founding fathers’ vision of diverse communities coexisting in peace, is disappearing in Modi’s era of male rage. If there is an age of innocence that India has lost during the past few years, it’s the age of secularism.