You don’t have to look far to find problems in Kenya. The Fund for Peace reckons things are so bad here the country ranks number 14 on its annual list of failed states. That’s worse than North Korea. [Somalia, unsurprisingly, is number one].
But while the mechanisms of the state may be failing, Kenya still has a lot going for it. I went to watch the Kenya vs Mozambique football match with a bunch of friends a week or so ago. The tickets were 400 bob each (about $5) and we wanted to make sure we all sat in the same section so Alice bought all 10 tickets. So that she didn’t have to shell out 4,000 shillings up-front everyone sent her the money by M-Pesa, the mobile phone money transfer system run by Safaricom.
It would have been impossible to do the same in the UK. With online banking you can transfer money to friends if you’re on a computer but unless you have an account at the same bank then it will take three days before the money appears. M-Pesa is instant. I sent Alice a text with the right code and a minute later she had my money.
The service was originally aimed at the millions of un-banked Kenyans but it’s been used by everyone. I’ve used it to pay taxi drivers and electricity bills. Safaricom’s success has spawned competitors. Zain has introduced Zap and Orange is planning to introduce its own version by the end of the year.
The government may be corrupt and the security forces may be little more than thugs with guns, but Kenya has a spirit of entrepreneurship and private sector innovation that any western Euoprean country would be proud of.