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Cellphone banking takes Kenya by storm

Less than two years after introducing mobile banking, M-Pesa has registered one-sixth of the population as customers and moves more than $4 million each day.

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– Before, when Malit Kuronoi needed to pay the cowherd who watched over his cattle in faraway northern Kenya, he made the 500-mile round trip himself. For four days, Mr. Kuronoi rode ramshackle buses across roads patrolled by bandits and bribe-seeking cops, sometimes sleeping by the roadside when a bus broke down, just to deliver the money.

Now he sends it by cellphone.

The Kenyan farmer is among millions who are at the forefront of a pocket-sized financial revolution that's sweeping Africa. Mobile banking, powered by cellphones, is allowing people who could never afford traditional bank accounts to send, receive, and save money, often just by writing text messages.

Cheap and efficient m-banking services are cropping up from South Africa to Senegal. They're the latest example of how the cellphone has transformed life in sub-Saharan Africa, where over the past decade mass-market mobile networks have stitched together countries and families long separated by distance, poverty, and shoddy infrastructure.

Less than one-fifth of Africans have bank accounts, and far fewer access the Internet. The continent, however, recently surpassed the United States and Canada with 340 million cellphone users and is adding another 70 million each year, according to Wireless Intelligence, a market research group.


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