M-Pesa hits $1bn mark transfer in EA states

Zephania Ubwani

The Citizen Bureau Chief

Arusha. At least $1.05 billion (more than Sh1.7 trillion) is transferred monthly through M-Pesa in East Africa.The mobile money transfer started in Kenya a few years ago, but has now spread across the region, and is replicated by almost all mobile phone companies.

Information Technology (IT) experts are now worried over the increasing volume of money exchanged through mobile transfers in the region.

They have suggested that the concept, which has gained popularly in all corners of the region and now popular with people in all income categories, should be guarded against cyber crime.

“This volume of business must be anchored on an effective regulatory framework and a robust cyber laws regime,” asserted the East African Community (EAC) deputy secretary general (Planning and Infrastructure), Dr Enos Bukuku. He was addressing a meeting of the EAC Task Force on Cyber Laws which started in Zanzibar on Wednesday.

He said the realisation of a solid cyber laws region in the EAC would underpin implementation of the EAC Common Market Protocol, especially on the services. He described the area as having a big potential in the region’s economic development.

According to him, the EAC Cyber Laws reform programme began in November 2006 following approval of the regional e-government strategy by the EAC Council of Ministers, the EAC policy organ.

He said in a speech availed to The Citizen in Arusha that since then the EAC legal framework for Cyber Laws (Phase One) has been under implementation and had been adopted by the Council of Ministers. It covers electronic transactions, electronic signatures and authentication, cyber crime as well as data protection and privacy, he said.

He told senior officials from the five partner states that the region has been ahead of other parts of the world in electronic money transfers, with M-Pesa having taken the lead in terms of innovation.

The official lauded experts, consultants and supporters of the EAC cyber laws development process for making it possible for the region to stand tall in the development of laws that will enable it to tap into the multi-billion dollar e-business world.

The deputy SG also applauded the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) for the technical and financial support to the Cyber is Laws Phase II Framework that focuses on intellectual property rights, competition, e-taxation and information security.

Dr Bukuku appealed for continued assistance from UNCTAD, bearing in mind that partner states were at different stages of developing national cyber law regimes and, therefore, capacity building will be required for some of them.

The former deputy governor of the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) floated the idea of establishing a Centre of Excellence in Cyber Science in the region. He said this was a growing field that would require better preparations if the EA region was to fully exploit potentials in the e-business sector.

Then growing of mobile money transfer in the region has been apparently sprouted by expansion of the mobile phone industry.

Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda currently have a combined active mobile subscriber base of 43.3 million. Of these, Kenya has the largest share with 18.7 million subscribers, followed by Tanzania (11 million) and Uganda, (8.7 million). Rwanda has the smallest mobile telecommunications market with only 1.6 million active subscribers.

Mobile penetration rates of these four East African countries were below 40.0 per cent in 2008. Kenya’s penetration rate of approximately 42 per cent is the highest in the region, whereas Rwanda has the lowest with 13 per cent.

Most transactions between individuals and businesses which sell goods to consumers are cash based. This is in part a reflection of the low number of bank accounts in the region.

In contrast to mobile subscriptions, there are only an estimated 14.5 million bank account holders in East Africa. This indicates that for every bank account holder there are three mobile phone owners. It translates to 90.3 per cent of the total population of 121.9 million people not having a bank account.

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