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Examining the adoption and usage of Mobile Money Services: The Case of M-PESA in Kenya

Olga Morawczynski


This thesis will examine the adoption, usage and outcomes of a mobile money service called M-PESA. Since being launched in 2007, the service has seen phenomenal growth in Kenya. Over 7.5 million users, or 34% of the adult population, have registered with M-PESA. Such growth is impressive as it has surpassed other ICTs in the country. This includes the mobile phone, which has been hailed as the fastest growing ICT in Africa. It has also surpassed the growth of mobile money in the North, where many services have been discontinued because they failed to attract a sufficient number of customers. M-PESA thus provides an interesting case of an ICT growing rapidly in the South, and “failing” in the North. In this context, the first part of the thesis examines why such rapid growth occurred. This analysis is presented from two perspectives. First, the socio-technical systems framework is used to present M-PESA as a complex system rather than an isolated application. This perspective makes clear that M-PESA grew rapidly because it had a dedicated team of system builders. These individuals took numerous strategies to enroll the elements and maintain the stability of the entire system. They further worked to engineer the social, economic, legal and political environments of the technology. Growth is also explained from the perspective of the user. The thesis makes clear that M-PESA was widely adopted because it fit into existing social practices and systems of logic. In other words, it helped users to do what they were doing before the technology was introduced. This includes money transfers back home. It also includes savings. The thesis further reveals that financial practices began to change as M-PESA became integrated into daily life. For example, users began to send money home more often. They also increased the number of their savings transactions. Such changing practices engendered a variety of consequences to daily life. This includes rising household incomes in the rural areas. It also includes new struggles over limited resources. The impacts, or wider-scale implications of usage, are also discussed. The analysis shows that a whole industry for mobile money developed as a result of M-PESA’s success. The thesis makes a contribution to knowledge in several ways. It presents a case of domestication in the South and highlights the unique factors that shape this process, from wide-scale political violence to structures of debt and obligation. It further makes the relationship between technologies and impact more clear. It shows that the technology itself does not engender the outcomes. It does, however, have a role in shaping the practices that do.


Publication typePhdThesis
InstitutionUniversity of Edinburgh
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