Right - where there is a crush of international press, all the major media houses, the tech sites, bloggers combined with major IT companies and bankers, a Kenyan will hardly make waves. This is Barcelona, Mobile World Congress 2010 where more than 50,000 people have congregated at the meditarranean City known more for its FC Barcelona soccer team back home and perhaps from a distant past, for its hosting of the 1992 Olympic games.
I count few Africans at this convention of would be pushers of the next frontiers of technology particularly for the mobile and I expect little recognition. It is however a pleasant surprise that hardly have I said I´m Kenyan at most exhibitions that people´s eyes light up, ¨Ah so you know about M-PESA,¨ they say.
M-PESA is a global icon believe it or not. At all the major mobile payments exhibitions I´ve visited, people are instantly more willing to talk about their technology because they feel I understand exactly what they are talking about.
And it seems they not only know about it but they also keenly follow developments associated with it.
¨The difference between this and M-PESA is...,¨started Bruno Errico of beeweeb technologies a firm selling mobile payments systems to SMEs in the US. The import of the statement being that Bruno also knows the intricacies of m-PESA and how it works.
Here at last, I feel on solid and sometimes higher ground than some of the guys showcasing so-called cutting edge technology in mobile financial services.
Gerhard Romen, the diretor of alliances for Nokia Money is another person quite familiar with M-PESA. He uses the development cycle of M-PESA to benchmark the gestation period for Nokia Money service.
¨If you look at M-PESA, they piloted in 2005 and launched in 2007, we see mobile money as a long term development business,¨said Ramen.
Interestingly, for Nokia Money, some of the marketing spiel that Romen pitches are basically ¨Been there, Done that¨for M-PESA.
Par example: ¨We see it (Nokia Money) as a tool for financial inclusion. You can use it the cash for storage if you don´t have a bank account, we are looking at micro finance, government benefits, M-PESA is a great example of this.¨
At the MWC, M-PESA is coming up for yet another award this time as a bulk payments services system but unlike the previous years, the competition keeps getting stiffer even as they use M-PESA as an inspiration and a learning template.
I hope to be in the audience to see how the green giant of Kenya fares against such competition as Monitise International, Fundamo, T Cash from SK Telecom among others. But be warned, unless our regulator, Communications Commission of Kenya gets their act together and ropes in the Central Bank of Kenya to loosen the leash on M-PESA, ZAP and others in terms of innovations, come next year, Barcelona MWC 2011 and M-PESA, CCK and Kenyans in general will be doing the catching up. Time waits for no man not even CCK director general Charles Njoroge.