African Cities and Mobile Financial Technologies: Exlporing Local Ecosystems of Innovation
William Grimes (Boston University)
Paper short abstract:
The paper explores the centrality of mobile-phone based financial technologies in the social and economic lives of African cities. What are the human, material and ideational components and broader impact of these mobile ecosystems of innovation?
Paper long abstract:
Over two billion people live outside the formal financial sector. Many of the new financial technologies that have a potential to expand financial inclusion in Africa focus on mediating the growing mobility and facilitating ties over geographical distance and among increasingly diverse consumer groups. This paper looks at mobile money as one of the most prominent and successful novel financial technologies in Africa that is reconfiguring urban spaces, relationships, and livelihoods. Mobile money has become central in the grassroots economies in many parts of the developing world, creating new creative ways for people to send and save money, but also reshaping conceptual and social relationships. Sending mobile remittances in Africa constitutes an important bond between urban migrants and their families in the countryside, altering urban-rural dynamics and impacting livelihoods on both sides. Comparing mobile money use and impact among urban consumers in three East African countries - Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, the paper argues that the dynamics of urban financialization through mobile money entail a complex interplay between formal and informal institutions, actors, and financial practices. It roots the phenomenon in local innovation, creativity, and existing patterns of money management. The paper analyzes the constellations of actors who form the 'ecosystems of mobile financialization', including telcos, banks, money transfer companies, MNO agents and other financial intermediaries, urban entrepreneurs and mobile money customers, but also regulators and development policy experts. It reveals how in these financial ecosystems, urban livelihoods and identities are redefined by a plurality of financial practices, knowledge, and institutions.
Urban technologies and technologies of urbanity in Africa