Monday, January 25, 2010

Kenya Plans for a new city - A Technopolis

It was an excited and anticipatory crowd of ICT stakeholders that gathered at the UNES conference room above the Arziki Restaurant at the Nairobi University last Thursday. The reason for the gathering was for a talk by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information & Communication - Dr. Bitange Ndemo - presenting the concept paper for a new city in Kenya - "Malili Technopolis"

The room was packed to capacity with approximately 60 of Kenya's top ICT minds from industry, academia, the financial and public sectors. Dr. Ndemo, in his usual succint, matter-of-fact and friendly tone went through the presentation very easily and sparked a set of responses and a Q&A session that went on for well over 1 hour.

The bottom line is that most of everyone walked away from the meeting with a very positive buzz. This is definitely not another "white elephnat" project being promoted by Government. It definitely looks like a winner. If things go as planned Kenya should have her next city - a technopolis - in Malili (60kms from Nairobi along Mombasa Road) within the next 5 years.

Concept paper presentation is available for download at

Friday, January 22, 2010

I&M Bank pioneers Online Merchant Services in Kenya enabling e-commerce

Kenya Wednesday made a big leap into the world of electronic commerce with the conclusion of a deal for an online payment portal that allows consumers to buy goods from the internet in local currency using credit and debit cards.

I&M Bank unveiled plans to establish the electronic payment platform in partnership with the global financial services provider Visa card, removing one of the major obstacles to the growth of e-commerce in the country.

The e-payment portal is the first in East Africa and is expected to relieve recipients of online payments of the trouble of engaging offshore electronic gateways to receive money. Besides raising the cost of online transactions, use of offshore gateways to settle payments made locally also means the businesses cannot immediately receive the cash and often incur heavy losses in the event of exchange rate fluctuations.

It also forces local consumers to make special arrangements to pay for goods online – a process that has proved more time consuming than walking to a shop for a simple cash transaction. Millions of Kenyan consumers have instead turned to the use of mobile money in the consumer goods market, opening a robust revenue stream for companies such as Safaricom and Zain.

Jump-starting electronic commerce has been a niggling issue for financial and internet service providers, a challenge that has inspired innovation and the introduction of new products.

Analysts said last year's enactment of the Kenya Communications Act, which allowed e-commerce, has become the main driver of growth in the sub-sector.

Local financial institutions have been reluctant to establish electronic payment gateways curbing the growth of e-commerce in the country and giving Kenya the distintion of having one of the lowest levels of electronic transactions in the world.

Low uptake of e-commerce in the country is also thought to be a stumbling block to growth in key sectors such as tourism, where the internet is the main platform for transactions.

I&M launched the electronic payment gateway after it acquired an e-commerce licence from Visa International, making it the first bank in Eastern Africa to offer the service.

Apart from removing the many bottlenecks that have prevented Kenyan consumers from buying goods through the internet, availability of a local electronic payment gateway should help e-commerce merchants such as airlines, tour and travel companies, and utility service providers expand their sales globally at significantly reduced transaction costs.

Mr Arun Mathur, the chief executive of I&M Bank, said the gateway opens yet another business opportunity for web site developers to earn additional revenue by helping potential online traders establish online platforms that can use I&M's system to receive payments.

"Many of these traders have been looking for ways of using technologies to expand their businesses but have been constrained by the scarcity and high cost of online payment gateways," he said.

I&M did not, however, give details on its charges but promised they would be much lower than those levied by offshore service providers.

Users of the system will have to open a payment and settlement account with I&M Bank or opt for transfer services.

Initially, the service is expected to become an attractive proposition for the four million credit and debit card holders tying its growth to increased use of plastic money in Kenya.

Kenyan merchants have lost billions of shillings worth of business deals in the global market because of their inability to accept online payments.
Electronic commerce is expected to get a further boost beginning later this year when the government is expected to launch a five-year plan that aims to place the public sector on an online transactions mode.

The plan is expected to begin with the establishment of an electronic market for public procurement that will see government departments and state firms buy goods and services online.

In the private sector, e-commerce is particularly expected to benefit industries that depend on foreign supplies such as cars and tourism.

"The fact that most used car dealers are based abroad offers providers of e-payment solutions a huge opportunity for growth," said Dr Bitange Ndemo, the Information permanent secretary. Kenya is a major importer of Japanese used cars, taking in 30,000 units in the first nine months of 2009 according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

In tourism, the application of the technology has enabled the players to offer new and flexible services that are cost- competitive and convenient to consumers such as on-line booking of airline tickets, hotels and transfer services.

Mr Gerson Musimi, the managing director of Tamarind Group, said that although the company has been using the internet to market its services, it could not offer complete e-commerce solutions because of lack of a local electronic payment system.

Online sales have been one of the few sectors that recorded growth last year as the world sunk into a recession. Travel is the number one selling commodity online that generates more than $110 billion annually in sales said e-tourism Africa chief executive Damian Cook.

The launch of two undersea fibre optic cables in Kenya last year has boosted e-commerce through increased broadband capacity and greater online access at reduced costs.

A recent study by Forrester, eMarketer, and IDC, global e-commerce is set to continue growing steadily in the next five years. The value of e-commerce sales is expected to reach $711 billion by the end of this year, growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 19 per cent.

In Africa, e-commerce has been growing in the past five years though shackled by poor infrastructure and low internet literacy.

Some of the companies that are now offering e-commerce are Mamamikes. Kalahari, Vuma an online Kenyan based business selling music by local Kenyan artists and a number of hospitality providers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Global firms vie to provide Ethiopia with Global fiber optic links

Ethiopia has become a market for owners of high bandwidth fibre optic cable systems; at least four foreign companies are aiming to get all or a slice of this vast potential market, reliable sources disclosed.

A team of three people from SEACOM, the latest visitors in town, arrived last week. They were here to persuade senior officials in the telecom sector that Ethiopia should connect its domestic networks of fibre optics (believed to have surpassed 10,000km) through Djibouti to an undersea cable system they have brought to the shores of the Red Sea, also known as a cable landing point.

Other western companies eyeing Ethiopia as a potential market are SEMEW 3, with cable from Southeast Asia to Europe; TEAM, from Kenya to Dubai; and the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), with landing points in six countries, from Mtunzini in South Africa to Port Sudan, (9,900km), these sources disclosed.

If Ethiopia leases from EASSy, it will be one of the five landlocked countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa to be connected with marine fibre optic cable, which is cheaper and much faster than other options.

Landlocked countries such as Ethiopia, who have to depend on neighboring countries with an outlet to the sea, are called backhaul. They have to choose a landing point that offers the highest bandwidth and cheaper prices, according to experts in the area.

Ethiopia's lease of marine fibre optic cable from at least three neighbouring countries would dramatically change the way people communicate through data, audio and video. The state owned telecom monopoly, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), has been providing data and voice services largely connected via a very expensive and slow satellite connection, operated by Hughes International. There is also a low capacity bandwidth connected via Port Sudan.

Not only has this arrangement made the lease of bandwidth very expensive, but also limited the capacity at 895kB per second.

"This will be expounded by thousands of [units of] bandwidth at a cost that will be a thousand times cheaper," an industry analyst, with profound knowledge of the telecom sector, told Fortune.

Ethiopia has multiple choices, according to this analyst.

It could connect to any of the cables owned by the contending companies, either through Port Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia or Kenya. And it has a far larger population than any of these countries, thus offering ETC managers the leverage to negotiate better deals.

"Indeed, we are negotiating," Amare Amsalu, chief executive officer (CEO) of ETC, told Fortune. "But it is too early to comment on the direction of the negotiations."

However, the most potent contender so far is SEACOM, with its landing point already installed in Djibouti, reliable sources disclosed. SEACOM is a privately funded venture which sells international capacity to global networks via India and Europe after it launched operations in July 2009. It is the first company to offer broadband services to countries in East Africa.

South Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya are interconnected via a protected ring structure on the continent. A second express fibre optic cable pair connects South Africa to Kenya. These two pairs have a combined designed capacity of 1.28TB (terabytes) per second, of which 100GB per second is currently active, the company claims on its website.

Source: Addis Fortune, Tamrat G. Giorgis

Monday, January 18, 2010

New Online Payment System Comes to Phone Users in Tanzania

Mobile phone users in Tanzania will from March be able to shop online using a new payment system developed by a local firm, Wide International Network. According to the firm's chief executive Isaac Kitinya the proposed system integrates the Internet and mobile phone technology in such a way that users can pay for services offered by a cross section of firms courtesy of mobile telephony operators. "People will be able to transact business online in tourism, travel, sports and entertainment, web maintenance and solution and ticketing," Kitinya said.For instance, the tourism sector will be able to reach customers worldwide and get payments directly "once a deal is struck." Deputy Director National Payment Systems at the Bank of Tanzania Benard Dadi welcomed the system but argued it would be used more if the country speeded up the issuance of a national identity cards.

According to Wide International Network, the system will offer about 30 services that run across businesses, government, learning institutions, faith-based organisations, health institutions, manufacturing and financial institutions. The banks will have an online banking facility which will provide online support, reasonable response time, easy to use interface and a secure environment. All transfers will end up in the hands of the bank thus increasing banking access and creating virtual customers worldwide. Despite the many players in the tourism industry -- booking offices, travel agents, site owners, hotels -- the Wide International Network system will merge all services into a single transaction performed anywhere.

"Using the system, consumers will be able to simplify their tourism arrangements, facilitate bookings and pay bills for local services like water, electricity, insurance and others," said Mr Kitinya. The state-of-the-art online payment system, the first of its kind to operate in Tanzania, is hosted by IX Webhosting of the United States. The development of the system has been accomplished by a multidisciplinary team of experienced experts in ICT, business, law, banking, economics and finance.

The system has been accepted by several organisations including Azam Marine Company Ltd, Vodacom and Zain Tanzania. Wide International Network's bankers are Barclays Bank Tanzania and Commercial Bank of Africa Tanzania. The system reduces the need for using hard cash, and physical movement of people and paper in effecting business deals.

(Source: The East African)

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Partnership between Mobile-Money provider M-Pesa and Kenyan bank expands reach to Neighboring Countries

Safaricom mobile money transfer service subscribers can now withdraw cash from Equity's Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) following a partnership with the bank that will not only increase the withdraw points but also deal with the challenge many of its agents at times face of lack of liquidity.

It will also allow non-Equity account holders to withdraw their money from the M-Pesa account at any of the bank's branches including those in neighbouring countries such as Uganda and Southern Sudan.

The move will also enable Kenyans in Uganda and Southern Sudan to with draw money from M-Pesa at official rates by the provider.

Although, Safaricom has not officially launched M-Pesa in Uganda, some agents have been offering the service there and charging their own rates.

This partnership follows a similar one which Safaricom signed with Pesa Point in August last year that allows M-Pesa subscribers to withdraw from the firm's access points.

Previously Safaricom has entered into partnership with other financial institutions which act as super agents who offer cash to their M-Pesa agents.

However, this deal signals , Safaricom's official first step to join hands with a bank to enhance mobile banking other than paying of bills using the service.

The M-Pesa ATM withdrawal service will target over 8.5 million Safaricom's M-Pesa customers who will now be able to use their mobile phones to access money from equity bank's over 550 ATMs.

Safaricom chief executive Michael Joseph says the deal will not affect the current agents as their services will still be required in sending and depositing the money.

"The partnership with equity will increase access points M-Pesa customers can withdraw money and presents a novel way of dealing with liquidity challenges customers may experience when with drawing money from M-Pesa agents given they will now have access to their cash countrywide 24 hours a day" said Mr Joseph.

M-Pesa has 14,700 agents and has handled over Sh300 billion in person to person transfers since launch.

The service will enable registered M-Pesa customers to withdraw amounts ranging from Sh200 to Sh35,000 from any equity bank ATM and will be charged normal M-Pesa charges which range between Sh30 and Sh175 depending on the amount being withdrawn. Consumers of the financial service do not need bank card to access the service, making it available to many unbanked Kenyans

Customers wishing to withdraw money will be required to go to the ATM withdrawal menu on the M-Pesa menu where they will input the equity agent number 286286 and they will then receive a one time ATM authorisation code. They will input this code into the ATM together with their Safaricom phone number and the amount they wish to withdraw. The equity ATM will then dispense the required cash and a transaction receipt.

Equity Bank's chief executive officer Dr James Mwangi said the new service would not only lay a strong base for the low cost banking, but would also enable many unbanked Kenyans excluded from the formal financial system to access their money using mobile phone technology.

"The beauty of this new service is that one does not have to have an account with Equity Bank to withdraw money from the banks ATMs," said Dr Mwangi.

Equity now anticipates an increase in volume of ATM transactions and overall bank revenues.

Source: The Daily Nation

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

$4.2 Billion Sent Through Mobile Phones in 12 Months in Kenya

Safaricom and Zain transferred a whopping Sh318.4 billion through their mobile money transfer services in 12 months up to June last year, according to the Central Bank of Kenya.

The bank says Safaricom and Zain transferred the money, which translates to about Sh1 billion per day, between June 30, 2008 and June 30, 2009 through their M-Pesa and Zap services respectively.

This represents a 421 per cent growth over the Sh61.1 billion transferred in the year to June 30, 2008, the speed and size of the transferred funds clearly indicating the power of the mobile telephone industry in opening up the economy.

This is critical especially to the millions of rural and unbanked Kenyans who live in abject poverty, most on less than a dollar (Sh75) a day, and have to rely financially on relatives and friends in the cities.

"Similarly, the number of transactions increased from 21.8 million to 125.1 million over the same period," CBK governor, Prof Njuguna Ndung'u, says in the bank's annual report to be presented to Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.

Registered mobile phone money transfer customers increased from three million to 7.4 million last year.

Given that Zain launched Zap in March 2009, Safaricom's M-Pesa accounted for the lion's share of the transactions, overall transfer and customers. Zain had another service, Sokotele, operating before then but was phased out in late 2008.

Yet, significant changes have not only taken place, but are also likely to continue unfolding with the incumbents digging in and new players joining.

For instance, M-Pesa has almost 8 million registered users and the value of cumulative person-to-person transfers since inception had hit Sh230 billion by August 2009.

Zain Kenya managing director, Rene Menza, said they are engaged in partnership discussions with various companies for third party payments.

"Cumulatively, we have moved more than Sh750 million in person-to-person transfers. We have over 400,000 customers on the Zap platform but this year, we project to have more than 1.5 million customers using the service," said Mr Menza.

The service has been launched in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Niger, Sierra Leone and Malawi.

As Telkom Kenya's Orange, the country's third mobile phone operator, is said to be planning to venture into the sector, Essar Group—the fourth operator, yu, brand owners—partnered with Obopay, a mobile phone money transfer service company, to launch its yuCash service in December 2009.

Contacted on Friday, yu chief commercial officer Kunal Ramteke said they are rolling out a countrywide network of agents and target over 3,000 agents.

Source: The Daily Nation