M-PESA is not a Kenyan Innovation

Many Kenyans still believe that 'their' Safaricom owns the patents to the M-PESA innovation. Some Kenyans even claim that Safaricom hijacked their idea and developed it into M-PESA - a court case was once reported on this. The reality being that the system  was 'developed' by Sagentia on behalf of Vodafone, it goes without saying that the corresponding intellectual property (IP) does not belong to Safaricom. That is also not to forget that Kenya has enough software development capacity to build such a system on a robust platform.

Safaricom is paying patent fees to Vodafone just like any other network operator who will wish to use the money transfer platform. It might help for Michael Joseph to clarify if any benefits accrue to himself or others in Safaricom specifically for accepting to be the test platform for "Vodafone's innovation". Such a clarification should of course address the opportunity cost of a more direct contribution to Kenya's knowledge economy through the apparently foregone IP ownership.

I would like to suggest that if for any other reason M-PESA does not succeed in other markets outside Kenya, it will be because the M-PESA is merely a Kenyan innovation, whose success is a direct derivative of  Kenya's patriotism. As such the innovation's success may not be replicated where the corresponding patriotic emotion is inexistent.

Consider the patriotism displayed in the oversubscription of the Safaricom IPO of 2008. Consider the fanatical self imposed network (Safaricom) lock-in of over 14 million Kenyans. Then you might start understanding the success of M-PESA in Kenya. Many Kenyans found M-PESA compelling merely because it was supposed to be a 'Kenyan Invention'. Indeed the M-PESA success story may not be complete without mentioning the sense of belonging and patriotism of Kenyans as an aftermath of 2007/8 election crisis.


Had the 5+ Millions of M-PESA users initially learnt some of the facts in Olga Morawczynski's
article - What you don't know about M-PESA, the service might as well have been struggling as is the case with the Vodacom's attempt in Tanzania. Consider the question - why are ZAP and YuCash - alternatives to MPESA not yet success stories? In my opinion, the technological platform could have been developed by anyone else - including our own software developers. The business processes addressing the socio-economic context could only have come from the Kenyan populace - regardless of who eventually incorporated them into the software.    

I am sure at some point in history, the social scientists will have something to say about the role of Kenya's social-political crisis of 2007 and 2008 in the M-PESA success story.