Who Created M-Pesa?

M-Pesa is officially over five years old and is celebrated as the greatest use of mobile money in the world with about 15 million users. But the question of who created M-Pesa has never been resolved..until now. 

On Sunday, there was a day-long outage of M-Pesa which Safaricom attributed to a power outage on a Vodafone server in Germany and this started quite a bit of discussion on twitter about why the service is run from Germany and how authentically Kenyan M-Pesa really is.

I’ve been in touch with Paul Makin before and so I invited him to join the conversation by tagging him and he went on to engage by giving answers to questions from twitter pals like @MediaMK @IddSalim @TerryAnneChebet and @Coldtusker who were genuinely interested and drove the conversation.


  • No-one GIVES me authority. As the original architect, I TAKE it.
  • Original team was Nick Hughes and me. I came up with concept and architecture.
  • Nick forced it through the business. Susie Lonie joined after about 6 months.
  • This was all back in 2004. Took 3 years to get to launch.
  • Susie made sure it worked on the ground. She went around forcing people to work together.
  • We chose Sagentia to do the build. They did a good job. M-Pesa was a good team in those days.. didn’t say that. The TEAM chose Sagentia.
  • So I didn’t build it, the team did. It was my concept and original design, though.
  • DFID money said KE and/or TZ. We couldn’t find the right partners in TZ.. plus we liked entrepreneurial culture in KE. People were keen to work with us.
  • It was matched funding. DFID money only helped (the) pilot. VF money funded the live service. VF invested a lot.
  • VF own all the IP. They paid for it.
  •  There was a small pilot. Once proven, VF turned it into a commercial service
  • SF extremely helpful, and KE a good environment for innovation. People willing to try new things and try to make business!
  • No, but they were a good partner network. Very supportive. And you can’t do proper security without being in the network!
  • We spent a lot of time in KE, talking to ordinary people (not big business). That’s where the idea came from
  • I get annoyed when I see people who joined months/years l8r claiming they designed it!
  • We talked as a team in a Nairobi bar. Came up with it, asked the barman (edit). He liked it, so it stuck. VF didn’t like the name. Not corporate enough. But Nick fought for it, and won.
  • Wouldn’t have happened without him. He made sure SF worked with us, and worked with Nick to get it through VF
  • There were the agents, who worked very hard. Without agents, M-Pesa is nothing.
  • Lots of people came out of the woodwork, trying to claim it. Not good.

What’s Else is Known?

The 2008 Safaricom IPO prospectus noted that; 

All intellectual property rights in M-PESA belongs to Vodafone and are licensed to Safaricom under a trademark license agreement…Vodafone shall provide the managed services to Safaricom and shall authorize Safaricom to operate the M-PESA service in Kenya. Safaricom shall market and offer the M-PESA service to prospective customers, agents and merchants in Kenya and will be responsible for all associated end user-facing activities …

When (then CEO) Michael Joseph spoke at the iHub in 2010 he said this about M-Pesa;

…Vodafone won £1 million DFID (UK) award for deepening financial penetration for the unbanked, which they also had to match financially – and they were to develop a system for the disbursement and repayment of microfinance loans. They tested in Thika for 6 months and realized that it had more potential as a money transfer tool, and they launched M-pesa in March 2007… also that big multinational banks who had shut down rural branches abandoning their customer opposed m-pesa and fought in government & parliament and would have succeeded till he persuaded acting finance minister John Michuki to green light M-pesa.

Other attributes on the origin and prevalence of M-Pesa in Kenya include:

  • Different groups of Kenyans who say they invented M-Pesa.
  •  There’s a lawsuit hanging over M-Pesa
  • The agent network or the branding as the reason for its success.