The future of Lipa na M-PESA – Part 1

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Dennis dashed into the busy fast food restaurant away from the drizzling chilly drops of rain in the darkening Moi Avenue. It was 7.30 PM. He didn’t care to read the name of the restaurant as his immediate need was to get warm or else his asthmatic lungs would start whistling uncontrollably; he wasn’t ready for the coughs. Gasping for breath, he joined the already lengthening queue as he attempted to make up his mind on what to order from the self service counter. “Hot, very hot coffee and two samosas would do”, he convinced himself.

The queue moved fast and it was his time to make an order, “very hot coffee and two samosas please”. “That will be 60 bob”, answered the cashier. He produced a one hundred shillings note but the rather tired looking cashier looked at him and pointed her fingers upwards. He looked above his head and noticed the sign that read, “Lipa na M-PESA ONLY. Order by Management.” He took out his phone and sent sixty shillings to the till number indicated at the Lipa na M-PESA sign. Shortly he received a confirmation SMS indicating that the transaction was successful and also showing him his M-PESA balance as Shs 7. After verification the cashier gave him a receipt that he used to collect his order from the next counter.

He carried his order carefully to a free seat at a corner. He always liked the mirrors in the fast food restaurants as he didn’t have time at home to check on the growth rate of his mustache and beard. “It is time to see the barber”, he noticed as he touched the edges of the mustache that were turning to whiskers.

After taking his hot coffee for more than an hour, Dennis looked at his watch and realized he was getting late to the bus station to take his mat to Buru. He stood up and walked out of the restaurant and again was greeted by the freezing cold outside that reminded him that it was already August, a month that ought to be slightly warm in Nairobi but thanks to global warming the cold season had migrated from June to August. The year was 2014. “Maybe by 2044 it will be January or February that will be freezing cold” he told himself as he hurried past National Archives to cross over to Ronald Ngala street…his mind was already at the Bus Station. “I hope those long queues for the mats are long gone, otherwise I’ll spend the next three days in hospital bed”, he mumbled to himself as he cursed the asthma that he had inherited from his late father who had died from the same illness during the cold season of 1997.

It wasn’t such a bad day after all. There were several Buruburu mats waiting for passengers who were hardly available. Dennis helped himself into a seat in the middle of the mat he thought was warmer. It wasn’t long before the mat was filled to capacity and off they went. Immediately they were on Jogoo road the conductor started collecting fare from the passengers. Dennis noticed something strange. No one was giving cash. Everyone was either showing the conductor a message on the phone or was producing a card he recognized as BebaPay. This made him feel a little uneasy but he waited for his turn.

When the conductor reached his seat he reached into his pocket and produced the one hundred shillings note, the same note that had been rejected in the fast food restaurant. “BebaPay or Lipa na M-PESA”, the conductor told him. He didn’t have a BebaPay card and his M-PESA balance was only Shs 7. “I don’t have either of those”, Dennis politely answered back. “We don’t accept cash”, conductor responded pointing at a sign near the door. “Hey man I’m sorry I don’t have BebaPay nor M-PESA. It is not like I’m unwilling to pay, as you can see I have money that you have declined to accept.” “It is not me that has declined to accept. It has been the government’s policy for almost a month now that all matatus accept only M-PESA or Beba Pay for fare. Go and complain to the government”. The conductor responded rudely and went ahead to attend to other passengers.

Dennis realized that he had not been following the country’s events very closely; how else would he have missed an important announcement that the mat fares will be cashless from July that year? Probably it is because he was so mesmerized in his job or his endless driving that had made him be disconnected with current affairs – at times he thought Kibaki was still the president. His days began well before 4AM when he woke up to prepare for work and drove back home well past 9PM to avoid traffic. It was his routine to head straight to bed once at home, hardly having time with his family or home cooked food. But this day he had to take a mat back home as earlier in the day a friend of his had borrowed his premio to go and impress a certain girl who was playing hard to get. At around 6PM his friend had called – apologetically letting him know that the car would be returned the following day as the girl was now in the box and he needed to drive her to Nax Vegas and back same night. It was a Friday night so Dennis had to oblige to his request and contend with taking a mat back home.

“Sweet-talk your neighbor; he can pay for you via his BebaPay then you can refund him in cash,” the conductor told Dennis after he had finished collecting fare from the other passengers. Dennis did as suggested. His neighbor was kind and paid for him via M-PESA but declined to be refunded. “It’s OK, one day you’ll be the one to help me out an ignorant situation”, the neighbor commented.

Shortly before they were off Jogoo road they got caught in a heavy traffic jam. Not knowing when the Jam would clear, Dennis relaxed his head and went into deep thought. Immediate on his mind were the weather, global warming, homosexuality and the future of cashless transactions in Kenya. Being a bank manager he decided to think more about the directions businesses were headed to in regards to cashless transactions. He imagined that there will be a time when the country shall have adapted cashless transactions across all sectors of the economy; right from mama mboga to payment for property, cars, and clothing. He could see the notes and coins disappear in not so distant future.

Then he thought about government’s control of a cashless society. He imagined the transformations payment platforms like M-PESA would take. “Will everyone, individuals and businesses, operate a Lipa na M-PESA till number?” Then he thought of the many requests he had received from the police regarding certain clients’ bank accounts and transaction history and the freezing of suspicious accounts. What would happen if Lipa na M-PESA and a few others become the only means for making and receiving payment and the government freezes all my M-PESA line?

Then he thought about Karanja and put on a worried face…the mat started moving…

Part two continues next week.

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Maryline Ajuma
Maryline Ajuma is a trained Journalist at Nairobi Aviation. She is currently doing freelance journalism and creative writing.
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