In Kenya, sending money home to villages and farms from the city used to be problematic. Many people in rural areas do not have access to banking, making it difficult for them to receive and send money. But a revolutionary mobile telephone system is making it easy to move money, changing Kenyan society. The system was the first of its kind in the world.
As Stephen Mbugua works on his farm a half-hour drive from the capital Nairobi, his mobile phone beeps. He is getting a text message saying that his son has sent the elderly farmer some money - through the mobile telephone.
Mbugua is a customer of a service called MPESA, offered by a mobile phone company called Safaricom.
People who wish to transfer money through their mobile phones can do so at locations across Kenya.<!-- IMAGE -->
And that is good news for Mbugua, who says the service saves him time and money. "I used to go to Nairobi or to any bank to pay my bills. But right now, since MPESA came, I do not go to Nairobi, I just pay my bill from here," he said.
Phelister Omari, 22, who works in a hospital in Nairobi, is sending money to her mother. She fills out a form with the amount she wishes to send, plugs that amount into her telephone, and gives the clerk the amount plus extra for charges.
People who are sent money go to the agent with their mobile phone, sign a form, and receive the cash.<!-- IMAGE -->
Omari says she appreciates the service. "It is very fast. The MPESA, they are available everywhere. Once you are going somewhere you can drop and get some cash and you proceed. If there is a problem upcountry, you can save those people. Once you have sent them 1,000 [or] 2,000 (shillings), that is enough for that time," she said.
The MPESA service was launched in Kenya in 2007. Similar services have since been introduced in other countries.
"What MPESA provided is a safe and affordable way of doing this instantly from your phone so you longer have to have a third party," said Betty Mwangi-Thuo, the chief officer of new products for Safaricom.
Having a money transfer system that goes directly from phone to phone is changing Kenyan society.
Sociologist Beneah Manyuru Mutsotso says that, while MPESA has not closed the rich-poor gap, it has allowed people to increase their social and financial status. "One, to own the phone enhances status. Two, the fact that you have money in the mobile phone in a kind of bank in which you have total control, full control, with almost no charges, and the fact that it works almost, I would say, 24 hours. It has no limitations; it has no obstacles and constraints of time or other physical constraints [such as] the fact that you don't have to queue for long," Mutsotso said.
Mutsotso says people no longer have to go without food or other basics if they can reach out for help through the telephone.