Silicon Savanna: Mobile Phones Transform Africa
By Alex Perry (Nairobi)
Thursday, June 30, 2011
The buzz at Pivot25, a conference for mobile-phone software developers and investors held this June, is all about the future of money. Ben Lyon, the 24-year-old business-development VP of Kopo Kopo, wants $250,000 to produce his app for shops to process payments made by text message. Paul Okwalinga, 28, describes his money app — called M-Shop, it allows you to buy travel tickets and takeout via mobile phone — as "not reinventing the wheel but pimping it." Kamal Budhabhatti, 35, claims Elma, the latest product from his company Craft Silicon, lets a phone do and be almost anything financial — act like a credit card or an online bank (a "digital wallet," he says), trade shares or forex, organize a company's payroll and (incidentally) surf the Web and phone home. Cash suddenly seems very old. The previous week, Joe Mucheru, a senior manager at Google, declared credit cards prehistoric. Adding to the giddy mood is the thought that the inventions on display might make some lucky Pivot25ers gazillionaires. And where are these extraordinary futures being imagined and plotted? The giraffes and zebras grazing in the game park outside rule out Silicon Valley, Seattle and Bangalore. Try Nairobi.