Uganda:Welcome to mobile money Christmas

DEC 23,2013.

The Observer.

Remember those days when the entire family had to wait for you before Christmas festivities could kick off?

You were probably the only family member working in Kampala and the rest banked on you for the beef, sugar, rice, chicken, name it. Christmas was only Christmas once you alighted from that bus or taxi. You, therefore, could not afford not to go. You could not send them money since there were hardly any banks in the village and the other option of putting the money-envelope on the bus was a huge risk.

You just had to make that journey. But things have changed. After a busy December 20, Juliet Nafuna rushed to a mobile money (MM) booth at Qualicel building and sent Shs 200,000 to her mother in Tororo.

After the transaction, Nafuna pulled out her phone and placed a call.

“Mother, have you received the money…? Good; Merry Christmas to all,” she said.

After Nafuna, another man came and sent money to his second wife in Lyantonde because he would spend this year’s Christmas with the first wife in Jinja. That’s how easy the telecom companies’ mobile money revolution has made sharing love at Christmas. For Nafuna, it is better to send enough money to her mother than incur the high transport costs and reach home without any money.

“I work until Monday and transport then will be Shs 50,000 to Tororo,” she says. During the festive season, transporters double the fares upcountry, because they fear they could be driving back to Kampala without passengers.

“My mother has never been to a bank, but she has received the money in just a few minutes,” says Nafuna, who sells babies’ clothes in St Balikuddembe (Owino) market. Two of her three children are in the village with her mother.

Generally, the mobile money business has shot up during the festive season with more people opting to send money to their villages than make the trip.

“We have realized more deposits than withdraws in the past days,” says Justus Kabiito, a mobile money agent at KK building. This means more commission for the agents since sending money attracts a bigger percentage than withdrawals.

“I had float of Shs 4m on Friday morning but it was finished by midday,” Kabiito says. “But unlike banks, we need some withdrawals because they act as deposits to our phones so that we get the float that we use to send.”

As we chat, Jalia Mutetsi comes and withdraws all her mobile money savings – Shs 365,000 – to prepare her shopping and go home.

“I have worked for a full year without going home.  I have to go at any cost,” she says without any worry of spending Shs 60,000 to Kyenjojo.

Wherever they are, mobile money agents have made a kill this Christmas season. It is evident that people are embracing the platform, considering that it is the only ‘banking’ system that reaches the last man at the grassroots. While many are sending money to their loved ones, others are withdrawing their savings.

“I save with mobile money because they have no monthly charges, [in addition to] their accessibility and convenience in the villages,” adds Mutetsi.

On Saturday morning, one Maggie, an agent at Wandegeya, said 20 people had sent money compared to only three withdrawals.  Christmas is certainly here!