Kenyans defy 2017 poll jitters to move 36 bln USD on mobile phones

Kenyans transacted a record 36 billion U.S. dollars on mobile phones in 2017, defying jitters arising from two elections held in August and October.

The transactions were an increase of 3 billion dollars from 2016, latest Central Bank of Kenya figures showed Thursday. In 2016, mobile money use stood at 33 billion dollars.

The east African nation had a lengthy electioneering period in 2017, with political activities stifling business.

The general election was held on Aug. 8 last year, but President Uhuru Kenyatta's win was annulled by the Supreme Court and a fresh poll called on Oct. 26.

The happenings affected business and consequently movement of money in the economy but the Central Bank data showed use of mobile money remained resilient.

The highest mobile money transactions in the entire 2017 were recorded in December, where they stood at 3.3 billion dollars, thanks to Christmas festivities.

The period is characterized by vibrant spending, with Kenyans using the service to send money to their loved ones, shop and pay bills, among others.

During the entire 2017, monthly mobile money use averaged 3 billion dollars, with the least transactions, 2.7 billion dollars, recorded in February.

The number of people employed as agents by the several mobile money service providers surged considerably in 2017, peaking at 182,472 in December, having risen from 150,000 in January, the Central Bank said.

Similarly, mobile money subscribers hit 37.4 million at the end of 2017, having grown by about 4 million people during the period.

Monthly mobile money transactions, on the other hand, hit a record high of 139 million, from 130 million in January.

"The growth of mobile money in Kenya is unprecedented," said Ernest Manuyo, a business management lecturer in Nairobi. "A number of reasons can be given, which include intense sports betting and banks taking their services on mobile phone as they seek to cut costs."

"At 36 billion dollars, I believe we are almost hitting the peak before use stagnates. This can be at 40 billion dollars," Manuyo said.