Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Mulishani? Bwino sana!

By: Sara Taylor (Lusaka, Zambia)

That’s Bemba, one of over 70 languages spoken in Zambia, for “How’s it going? Very well”. And so far, it is…apart from England crashing out of the World Cup on Sunday of course. I will now be focusing my attention on Spain and hoping they get through to the quarter finals, particularly as I will be at that match in Johannesburg this weekend.

My first two weeks here seem to have flown by. It feels pretty normal, and quite liberating, to be back in a full time job after a year of writing papers and taking exams. Lusaka is a sprawling city, with a population of about 3 million people (out of a total of about 13 million, making Zambia one of the world’s least densely populated countries). It is not a very pedestrian friendly place and many people get around by car. I live about a 20 minute drive from work although this often takes longer during peak hours when the three main roads leading to the town centre get clogged up with traffic. I have been feeling slightly less housebound since discovering how to get to work on a minibus and befriending a few cab drivers. I get the impression that the local blue and white minibuses are not the usual form of transport for a "muzungu" (foreigner) but at a cost of 30 cents, it’s a useful option to have in the morning.

It has not taken long to find things to keep me busy at Mobile Transactions. Looking into the regulatory environment for the mobile money sector is proving interesting. Ever since the success of M-Pesa in Kenya, the mobile payments business has experienced massive growth across Africa and the developing world in general. Regulators in many countries face a steep learning curve as they try to ensure that risks are managed and consumers are properly protected, while at the same time promoting the development of a more dynamic and inclusive financial sector.

I have opened a ‘1 Account’! The 1 Account is part of Mobile Transactions’ vision of a Cashless Africa and allows people without bank accounts to store value on their mobile phones (depositing or withdrawing funds through any of the company’s agents), make transfers directly to other accounts or buy airtime. My colleague Claudius takes a few details and uploads a photo of me and of my ID onto the system. About 3 minutes later I’m registered and ready to use the account from my mobile phone with my secret PIN.

It can get pretty chilly here in the evenings and I have been warned that it will be much colder in South Africa. As I look through my wardrobe to pack for the weekend, I find many clothes appropriate for an Italian summer and a variety of anti-mosquito measures (I have not seen a single one since I arrived). It may be time to borrow a hat and scarf as I seem to have come a bit unprepared for the African winter!


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