FINANCIAL INCLUSION: Two 'killer' snapshots of a brave future

Developments in energy and national IDs could just send mobile payments into the sky – though it might not look so at first

Mastercard in Nigeria

IMAGINE an ID card that is not just for identification – it is your drivers licence and voters card, holds your insurance details, tax information, and, crucially, can be used to pay your bills and even receive social welfare payments from the government. 

Several African countries are in the process of launching ID card programmes; apart from the African countries that had a big settler population like Kenya and Zimbabwe, which had to segregate and control the African population, most other African countries do not historically have a national ID card system. 

But today’s digital era offers a unique opportunity to piggy-back some essential functions onto the ID card, in effect killing several birds with one stone. 

MasterCard launched such an initiative in August, branding new Nigerian national ID cards and embedding its chip in them, to allow them be used as a payment device. Estimates put the eligible population (age 16 and over) at about 120 million- easily making this the biggest financial inclusion initiative on the African continent. 

At the completion of the pilot phase of the program, 100 million cards would have been issued, the National Identity Management Commission said. The card has 13 applications including MasterCard’s prepaid payment technology. 

But the programme has already run into headwinds, with some calling it “Orwellian” and expressing discomfort at a private company having so much sensitive information on Nigerians, which they see as a threat to the country’s national security. 

Still, its just one example of how technology is able to be ‘short-circuited’ to bring more people into formal financial products. 


You wouldn’t think it, but solar lamps are being used to do just that. The ‘energy poverty’ is Africa is huge, Sub-Saharan Africa has more people living without access to electricity than any other region – more than 620 million people, and nearly half of the global total. 

In East Africa, for example, off-grid households spend about $0.44 to buy half a litre of kerosene daily, another $0.22 daily on charging their phones at a nearby town and the routine purchase of dry cell batteries for flashlights, the total spend in the region is about $3billion a year. 

M-Kopa Solar, a company funded partly by grants and partly by debt and equity, is seeking to capture that market by selling solar panel units that come equipped with two lamps, a phone charger and a chargeable transistor radio. 

The solar units are given to customers on credit, by which they pay back using mobile money. Thus customers not only get cleaner and brighter light, they also become mobile money users if they weren’t so previously. 

M-Kopa Managing Director Jesse Moore says that the company was looking for a way to “leverage mobile money to give people something better for their hard earned money than smoky, bleary eyes.” 

Now operating in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the company developed the solar solution where a user also pays by the day, just as they would for the ‘poor energy substitutes’, but it is significantly cheaper at just under $0.50 US cents a day. 

Over those mobile systems people can conveniently pay for their power, wherever they are and whenever they want to. 

Mkopa Solar now has over 130,000 customers who it has supplied; its model has been hailed as a ground breaking asset-financing programme for the poor. 

It is one of the biggest movers of mobile money transactions, doing well over 12,000 M-PESA paybill transactions daily ranking, just behind big utilities like Kenya Power.


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