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'All you need is mobile money'

Poster advertising mobile money from mobile operator MTN. Photo: Niamh Griffin.Ugandans have found a way to deal with all that bank stress. They say all you need is mobile money.

Walking down Kampala Road in the capital you notice bright yellow buildings at regular intervals in-between the faded browns and ochres. Life-sized posters of beaming, beautiful people look out from the windows, clutching their phones.

And mysterious signs promise mobile money will solve all my problems. It took Joseph, a salesman at one of the many, many phone shops, just five minutes to explain.

Customers can swap their regular SIM card for a MobileMoney-enabled SIM, load credit and that’s it. The mobile phone number does double duty as an account number so there isn’t any paperwork or need to write down strings of digits.

They can pay bills, get paid or send money to a niece for her wedding. And he said the transfers work for all networks too, not just the start-up company.

So far, so hard sell but ... According to an article in local paper ‘Daily Monitor’, experts predict some Ugandan companies will make 10 per cent of their profit from this one segment of the market by 2015.

Unlike Ireland where Smartphones are the thing, mobile money works on the most basic of phones. Just as well as the cheapest Smartphone I’ve seen was 190,000 Ugandan shillings or almost two-thirds of the average monthly wage here.

But sadly for Joseph, I don’t need to send money anywhere, so he had to settle for selling some regular Airtime instead.

Mobile phone company MTN have partnered with Western Union on this, which could explain why the system has gotten up and running across the country in less than three years.

However, some commentators draw attention to the fast expansion of the mobile money system and say it is not adequately regulated.

In May of this year MTN admitted USh9 billion (approx. €2.5 million) had been stolen by company employees. The money was taken from an account holding incorrectly transferred money until claimed.

A recent editorial in one of the national newspapers called for a financial regulator to be set in place, possibly to work with the Ugandan Communications Commissions on this issue.

Niamh Griffin travelled to Uganda with support from the Simon Cumbers Media Fund The fund was set up in memory of Irish journalist Simon Cumbers. In June 2004, at the age of 36, Cumbers was shot dead in Saudi Arabia while working with the BBC.


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