It is now 2016 and mobile phones are widely used in Tanzania, but can remember that in 2004 many parts of the country did not have cellular reception and you were only left with messenger pigeons to be able to keep in touch with people…
In Tanzania the biggest mobile network operators are Vodacom, Airtel and Tigo. Together they cover pretty much all of Tanzania regardless of how remote the area. Most of them started a mobile money transfer service in the late 2000’s. Each operator has a different name for their product; Vodacom call it M-Pesa, there is Airtel Money as well as Tigo-Pesa. ‘Pesa’ means ‘money’ in Swahili.
This mobile money system allows users to store funds in a phone account, so there is no need to have a bank account. Some operators do, however, integrate the user’s bank account with his mobile account.
All operators offer similar services and users can easily deposit, withdraw, transfer money, pay bills and make payment for goods with their phones. Paying bills has been made easy too; users can pay their electricity bills, water bills, government taxes, road licences, flight tickets and even satellite TV subscriptions with their phones.
There are also agents that work for operators as banking agents. Here you can go to top up your account, or collect money etc. These agents are called “wakala”.
This service is an incredible convenient way for people working in the cities to be able to send money back home to family and friends. A few years ago you could only do that in person. Now it is just a matter of seconds!
East Africa’s demand for smart phones is also growing and somehow it’s funny in Tanzania that most people have more than one phone. This is usually so that they can use two different operators making it cheaper to call others on a different network.