Category Archives: m4change

M4Change Nairobi


The Mobile Tech for Social Change camp (m4change) was held last Saturday (June 27 2009) at Strathmore University, Nairobi, and was staged by @afromusing and @jessicacolaco

More presentations and pictures are at the Wiki page, and these are my notes from attending a brief part of the talk on mobile applications in the morning

– With regard to mobile applications e.g. MPesa, (developers should) just create them, and let users sort themselves out e.g. a credit society that has 4 managers who are signatories, each one enters one (secret) digit of the society mobile PIN# to enable a mobile transfer transaction
– Wanahabari is a text to mobile application for journalists
– You can buy prepaid electricity via mobile phone in Rwanda
– Alternatives mobile browsers to opera include skyfire and mobileXL
Safaricom is buying out leading developers in Kenya who may develop applications that compete with them (is that a bad thing?)
– While there is demand for Safaricom to avail an API for Mpesa, it is owned and controlled by Vodafone (UK)
– If you have an account at Consolidated Bank of Kenya and others, you can use a mobile phone to transfer money from your bank account to your Mpesa account
Fibre mirage?
(i) The cost of last-mile connectivity in Kenya is still high e.g. one example cited was a quotation from a leading ISP in Kenya for $10,000 to extend the fibre just 300 metres
(ii) Even though fibre can make speeds more than 17X faster today, the ISP will only make gradual increments of 2X every few months to fool customers that they are always upgrading/improving
– There is no adequate consumer protection group/lobby in Kenya to agitate for better services. The communications commission of Kenya (CCK) regulator does not respond to consumers complaints
– Only Safaricom has a 3G license in Kenya (the cost is astronomical) and so far only deployed in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu
– Safaricom has developed Mpesa bulk payment/transfer systems. An example given was to enable payments to farmers in Mt. Kenya region
– A great resource for mobiles in development is the CGAP site (World Bank)
– M-pesa heralds a shift from branch-based banking to agent-based banking with examples (at CGAP)
– Safaricom partnership with Western Union to enable transfers from the UK to be sent to recipients mobile phones. Still being tested with Safaricom employees, but will probably be as expensive as a regular western union transfer.

How to Get an M-Pesa Refund

and other Safaricom tales

M-Pesa mistake: I interacted with two products over the weekend from Safaricom: One is of course MPesa from Safaricom (Kenya’s largest mobile company), the money transfer system that has been the talk of the remittance and mobile banking world; but what should be a Kenyan success story, is a Vodafone (UK ) tested, developed, and rolled out here as a Safaricom licensee. There was quite a bit of discussion of that at the mobile for change summit on Saturday in Nairobi, but that’s for another day.

My M-Pesa tale is one that many of the 6 million registered users have probably experienced. You go to a pharmacy/cyber café/supermarket and pay a Safaricom agent your money to load you phone up with funds (up to Kshs. 35,000 or ~$450) and zap it off to pay for anything – grandma’s medicine, farm inputs, auto spare parts, satellite TV, etc. the list of MPesa uses is growing

You then wait for a few seconds and get a confirmation message of the transfer, only to discover that you have sent the money to the wrong recipient! Somewhere in Kenya, there was a lady with an unexpected month-end bonus from an anonymous donor. Common rare courtesy calls for one to refund the money, but #$%* did not answer my calls.

It appeared that I would not be able to persuade her to refund my money and so I wrote it off as money lost. I went back to the same agent, and paid money again and sent it off to my aunt, this time with the correct number.

I was still mad and went on to @Twitter ranting and raving that I had sent the wrong person my money and that #$%* had probably gone on a celebration spree as some idiot had sent her a weekend bonus. But on twitter my prayers were answered – by @69MB (who’s traveling in Tanzania) and @Ngeny who sent tweets back, that I could halt that transfer unless #$%* had already withdrawn the money.

Next, I rushed and called the dreaded (always busy) customer service line at Safaricom (#100) to try and get my money back. After a dozen attempts, I got through and was asked to call another line at Safaricom (#234). This one was even busier, but I eventually got through to a gentleman, and I explained the error I made. He asked several questions – my name, intended recipients number, amount sent, number wrongly sent to, my birth date etc. I had all the answers and was very relieved when he said that my money would be refunded within 72 hours. EDIT (uhusiano add that there is an Mpesa Customer Care dedicated line 0722002200)

Oh and about a ½ hour after I finished with Safaricom #$%* tried to call me, perhaps she had raced to agent to withdraw her booty only to be told that the transfer had been held up. I was courteous enough not to answer her call and yell at her

So I now have my money back (still in my phone) and I’ve learnt, thanks to Twitter, and Safaricom, that it’s possible to get an M-Pesa refund


official advice from Safaricom

If you send money to the wrong number:

  • Call Line 234 immediately and provide them with the number that has erroneously received the cash.
  • Funds sent to a wrong number will be reversed only if still available in the wrong recipients’ account.
  • If successful, you will receive an SMS indicating that a reversal has been done

Micro air-time loan :

The other Safaricom product I tried to use was Okoa Jahazi (rescue a sailor in Swahili? – someone correct me) (Okoa Jahazi literary means save/rescue a ship/boat/dhow in Swahili) which works on the premise that you may be stranded somewhere and need to maker an emergency call but don’t have money or are not in a place where you can buy an airtime voucher to complete the call.

Okoa Jahazi is a 50 shilling ($0.65) airtime voucher, almost a micro-loan, which you can request from Safaricom by typing a simple code. It’s not free and will be deducted the next time you purchase a similar voucher. It also attracts a 10% levy, so you get just 45 shillings.

I requested the voucher, as an experiment and made some calls. I then bought a replacement 50 shilling voucher which paid off the micro-loan from Safaricom. But I had a bit of difficulty after that; I could not call a rival network (Zain, Orange) or browse the internet, using the borrowed airtime – it was strictly for making calls to other Safaricom users. So I had to buy another voucher, to get my credit up and out of my micro-debt. This comes when you don’t read the fine print. Anyway, it’s a useful service, but one that should only be used for emergencies.


So we have two products form Safaricom. One I have used several times, and will probably use again, one that I hope I will not have to use again (emergency only). The rules are quite clear, but few read the fine print of the offers made by service companies. It makes sense that the micro-loan is restricted to minimal emergency functions, but it would also be nice of Safaricom to inform their (6 million) MPesa users that it is possible to get refunds from M-pesa. If I was not on @Twitter I’d have lost a lot of money