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Mobile Money Moves Ahead in Africa

by Tomasz Smilowicz, Managing Director, Global Head of Mobile Solutions Global Transaction Services, Citi and Filippo Sabatini, Managing Director, Global Public Sector Head, Global Transaction Services, Citi

Economic and political commentators are saying that the 21st century will be Africa’s century, and that the continent is finally about to realise its potential. There are many favourable conditions at work for this to happen: economic growth, global demand for Africa’s commodities, greater political stability, and investment in infrastructure, education and social services.

The mobile phone is a major catalyst for Africa’s transformation. It is not just a means of communication for the continent’s citizens, businesses and governments, it is also a major medium of economic, social and political development. One of the mobile phone’s most important and exciting uses is to deliver banking and payments services to Africans, particularly those from the lowest income strata who have had little or no access to formal financial services.

A conference in Nairobi, Kenya last December, organised by Citi and the GSM Association (GSMA), the trade body for the worldwide mobile telecommunications industry, discussed trends in mobile banking and payments in Africa. The two-day event, ‘Mobile Money Policy Forum: Partnerships for Financial Inclusion in Africa’, focused on the successes of governments, financial regulators, development entities and other business bodies in the region, and assessed how further progress could be made in delivering mobile financial services to the continent’s poor.

Maria Otero, US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, and James Wolfensohn, chairman of Citi International and a former president of the World Bank, gave keynote addresses. Professor Njuguna Ndung’u, governor of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), also gave a presentation, as did government representatives from Tanzania, Uganda, Congo, Cameroon and Gabon.