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Friday, 14 December 2007

Mobile banking....

The impact of mobiles on development has been well document. For example, on New Zambia alone we have discussed how fishermen in India are using mobile phones to dial out poverty; and farmers in Zambia are using SMS to power their farming . Its therefore not suprising that the little gadget is doing so well in another field. The provision of basic financial services via mobile phone. An interesting report in the Post (December 10, 2007) suggests Celpay Zambia Limited has grown significantly during its five-year existance in Zambia, with sales volume now at US $18m (approximately K69.2 billion) per month. Here is Celpay's vision from its Chief Executive, Lazarus Muchenje:

"Celpay’s banking platform has afforded previously un-banked small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) access to banking services. Its product offerings such as the electronic airtime distribution suite, business-to-business payments, bill payments module are adding great value to corporates and their customers by affording them security, convenience and real time payments solutions.....we can safely say that mobile banking is here to stay and will continue to grow significantly, faster than online banking, as has been the trend globally.......In the next five years, the mobile banking end-game will not be about checking balances and paying bills. It will evolve into a mobile wallet and the youth of today enjoy the benefits of hassle free technologies that allow greater convenience and for us, that means looking at more innovative ways to do things......Blue chip companies are also set to benefit as the vision for the next five years has a multi-pronged mobile banking strategy, featuring potential new solutions for banking services for small to medium enterprises as well as international money transfer."


  1. This is brilliant! It underpins the mobile device's importance in Africa. It's all about ubiquity of services, portability, and affordability.

    Of course computers can do a lot more, but do not have the above qualities to suit the environment. That's why even the "One Laptop per child" project may fall short of it's objectives and actually fail, if it doesn't evolve likewise.

    Mobile commerce is still in the testing phase even in the West where the mobile phone originated. I've heard analysts say that the West is actually looking to the third world for advanced mobile applications. Well done Zambia!

  2. Zedian,

    Interested to hear your views on the "one laptop per child". Do you really think that is likely to fail?

  3. Cho,

    I think in its present form it is likely to fall short of some of its objectives. Several reasons; technology adoption succeeds mainly because some group of people (however arbitrary), find a need for it, not necessarily because the inventor thinks they need it. There are countless inventions that never took off because they just didn't catch on with the users.

    Having said that, it's also important to note that some of the advanced technology people are using today initially failed to catch on some years back because then, people were probably not prepared for it. The technology jumped an evolutionary step. An example is SAT NAV.

    Of course, what naturally follows that argument is the targeted group. If the "One laptop per child" is targeted at the children pictured on the front page of your blog, then I'd wish the project the best of luck, because my argument above is likely to apply and those kids are facing bread-and-butter issues. Remember, that's the majority of school kids in Zambia.

    However, if it's targeted/piloted at selected schools, probably in the urban areas, then that may well boost it's chances of success.

    The mobile phone has succeeded because it's evolved from that familiar (but difficult to obtain) telephone, and its evolution is being accelerated by the technology and need cycle.

  4. I guess the real question is whether having a lap top per se is of any use...without a broader environment learning...

    As you say, kids in rural areas face deeper challenges...

  5. Cho,

    Let there be content, local content that is.

    This applies all the way across to general internet access in Africa, save for SA and a few others. As you know, people are crying about lack of internet bandwidth, but that's only because the content they are seeking is in the Americas and Europe!

    This is one important factor in the success of the mobile phone, because the non-voice applications it is being used for require local content, such as mobile banking, which is where this discussions began. So the device is enhancing what people are already doing.

    So there's need for local content for internet as well as school needs. In your other blog Important Zambian Websites, you posted a few good Zambian websites, but if the lack of response to your request for more such sites is an indication of their rarity, then there's a problem.

    However, it's my view that this is an area where student entrepreneurs could come in and fill the gap.

    What do you think?

  6. I agree. I guess it is chicken and egg problem....local content may well be driven by wider internet access. As more and more Zambians use the web they recognise the role it can play to overcome different boundaries...and hence we may see more local content!...but as you say, local content is critical in getting us there..and encouraging Zambians to take suspects it will be a while before I turn on my computer and find a wikipedia version in bemba or Nyanja!

    The other problem of course is that government really has not done enough to lead by example. At the moment you cant even find a Ministry of Education website. Even the Ministry of Finance does not have no functional website. If the government has not grasped the role that the internet can play, what about the people?

    I think you are right that student entreprenuers can have a role to play in this. India has really shown us that if you invest in ICT you can create a whole new generation that is flexible in the work place...from call centres to health.

  7. Cho,

    The very fact that Zambians are mourning about international internet bandwidth means that they're accessing the internet in a not insignificant manner. Now, I'm not in any way suggesting shelving the undersea fibre projects around Africa, but looking at the costs involved I think there should be similar effort in calling for local content. It's probably less expensive!

    You said,
    " suspects it will be a while before I turn on my computer and find a wikipedia version in bemba or Nyanja!"

    Have you tried ? It's not quite in Bemba or Nyanja, but the boffins at Google realise the importance of local content! And it doesn't have to be in a local language either; I'd be fine with local content in the official language so as to serve the majority. Demand should drive the need for content in other languages, and it should be up to the content provider.

    "The other problem of course is that government really has not done enough to lead by example. At the moment you cant even find a Ministry of Education website."

    Well, evidence from around the world suggests governments are usually (amongst) the last to adopt hi-tech. The Zambian givt is struggling with an ICT policy. I would say let the private sector lead govt on this particular issue. The private sector is probably more flexible and certainly more aware of the internet.

    India has really shown us that if you invest in ICT you can create a whole new generation that is flexible in the work place...from call centres to health. And China too.

    I read somewhere that China is producing a shocking 3 million graduates a year!! We've seen what they're doing with them and now they're actually beating the West at their own game in ICT.

    Zambia can do the same with its student resource.

  8. Brenda Zulu (ICT Blogger / Journalist) incidentally shares the view on local content. She writes:

    "When we look at content package on the Internet, it is all in Africa’s foreign languages which are either in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish or Japanese to name but a few. There is need for African communities to locally adapt content and contextualise it. Also there is need for the communities to share content that will build on exiting systems to address diversity."

    Full post can be found here

  9. Brenda Zulu seems to be dwelling on localising the language aspect. I'm for contextualising content to make it locally relevant, of which language is only a subset. If we agree that most people in Zambia can communicate and transact business in English then that's all you need. You would probably want to start with local content that is applicable to the majority, because its cheaper.

    1. Dear Zedian

      What would be your answer after 5 years of a mobile boom in Africa? What would you say has happened to Africans who own phones that act as banks, pay for goods and services,pay for bills, have access to schools results for kids, act as governance tools in terms of being used as a tools for crowdsourcing information and also used for communication etc.

  10. Very interesting discussion, thanks for linking back to it Cho. I have supported the OLPC programme over the years, in part because of the wireless Local Area Networking capability the devices have. From what I have heard out of areas in South America and Asia where such laptops have been distributed, the main benefit is in eliminating the costs to the school and household for writing materials and books (which can also be updated far more easily and cheaply for students with LAN capability). Homework assignments are also greatly facilitated, as is general literacy due to the portable and manually rechargeable design. Many rural children are able to study later into the night due to the built-in light source, which is in some cases the brightest available and thus useful to the entire household.

    I'm not too worried about concerns over obsolescence either, it's a child's learning device after all, not intended to be adult state of the art, so the appropriate lifespan of any given model should be significantly longer. I remember the first computer I ever worked with had 4k of RAM and an analog cassette tape recorder for storage. Floppy disks were a revelation and a relief, but I certainly don't regret the experience! Children are so adaptable, I think that they will be able to transform basic computer literacy into a stunning array of individual innovations later in life.

    Certainly obtaining content in languages other than English can be difficult, but in the Zambian context I think that with the plethora of spoken languages in use, it is a valuable life skill for every Zambian child to, as Zedian wrote, "communicate and transact business in English". Transitioning to a LAN-based primary school would I think encourage greater inclusion of locally generated content in the curriculum. The built-in camera and microphone should help facilitate the preservation of Elders' wisdom in local languages, for later playback to young ears on demand. Thus even exclusively oral languages, lessons, and legends can find a way into the classroom. Students could even be tasked to transcribe such legends or translate educational articles from English as part of their studies, and to incidentally construct Cho's bemba and Nyanja wikipedias. [btw if such a project is started in Zambian schools, I can steer them to some helpful people who are very familiar with the wiki structure and organization, no doubt they'd be thrilled to host Zambian content.]



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